It’s President’s Day, so I thought it would be good to glean a few life lessons from the one president born in Kentucky (not Illinois!), Abraham Lincoln. So, here are four quick lessons from Honest Abe.
- No prophet is accepted in his hometown. Abraham Lincoln was born here, but it didn’t gain him much politically. In 1860, two Kentuckians ran for president—Lincoln and then VP, John C. Breckenridge. Neither candidate won their party’s Blue Grass presidential primary.
- A friend sticks closer than a brother. Louisville’s Speed Art Museum was named for James Breckinridge Speed, the nephew of Abraham Lincoln’s best friend, Joshua Speed. Speed was courting a gal named Fanny Henning, but Fanny’s uncle, who was her guardian, was so talkative that the couple had little time together. One night, Lincoln joined Speed on a visit to the Henning home. Abe was a Republican, but he pretended to be a Democrat and engaged Fanny’s uncle in a heavy political argument so that the lovers would have a chance to be together. That night, Speed proposed and Fanny accepted.
- Injustice should torment us into action. Mr. Lincoln’s visits to Kentucky helped shape his attitudes toward slavery. In a letter to Joshua Speed in 1855, Lincoln wrote, “In 1841 you and I had together a trip on a steam boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border.” That Kentucky torment led to Lincoln’s greatness.
- Finally, if you’ve ever struggled to see eye-to-eye with relatives about how to discipline your kids, you’re in presidential company. Mary Todd Lincoln’s family was also from Kentucky, and the Lincolns would often visit. Once, Mary’s cousin, Joseph Humphreys, had traveled on the same train with the Lincolns without knowing who they were. He beat the Lincolns to the Todd residence and remarked, “Aunt Betsy, I was never so glad to get off a train in my life. There were two lively youngsters on board who kept the whole train in a turmoil, and their long-legged father, instead of spanking the brats, looked pleased as punch and aided and abetted the older one in mischief.” Glancing out of the window at that moment, he saw the Lincolns stop at the door in the Todd carriage. “Good Lord,” he said in a panic, “there they are now.” As the story goes, he wasn’t seen again during their visit.
Happy President’s Day!