Monthly Archives: June 2011

When are Lincoln analogies legitimate?

By Michael Lynch

A piece on President Obama’s recent Afghanistan speech drew some analogies between those remarks and Lincoln’s second inaugural address:

Obama has made it no secret that he draws sustenance from Abraham Lincoln. And as he faces a challenging re-election season, he may be seeking more inspiration from the 16th president who also found himself facing re-election at during an unpopular war.

In 1864, many northerners had grown frustrated and exhausted with a Civil War that dragged on longer than they expected at its outset and which saw the Union Army suffer repeated setbacks. It had gotten so bad that Lincoln seriously doubted he would be re-elected. But he was, just as Obama hopes to be.

Obama obviously had Lincoln on his mind Wednesday evening. At the end of his Afghanistan speech, Obama said:

Now, let us finish the work at hand. Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story. With confidence in our cause; with faith in our fellow citizens; and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America – for this generation, and the next.

It was an intentional echo of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in which that earlier president from Illinois said:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

The analogies between Lincoln and Obama on the one hand, and between the Civil War and the conflict in Afghanistan in the other, have stirred up some criticism.  The Weekly Standard, for example, called the comparison “ludicrous,” arguing that Lincoln’s commitment to see the Confederacy defeated was of a different stripe than Obama’s desire to focus on domestic efforts: “So one leader (Lincoln) urged the nation to ‘strive on to finish the work we are in,’ shortly before winning the war the nation was fighting. And the other leader (Obama) says, ‘let us go about the work of extending the promise of America,’ immediately after calling for America to cut and run from the war the nation is currently fighting. See the parallel? Apparently it’s visible only to NPR hosts.”

An editorial in the Greensboro, NC News & Record argued that the strategic situation of the Union was fundamentally different from that of the U.S. in 2011:

Furthermore, NPR’s analysis of the military situation in 1864 is faulty. Union victory was all but assured after Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863. It was simply a matter of pushing through to the end. Obviously, Lincoln had to maintain the nation’s political will to complete the task. But the end was in sight, and he knew how to achieve it.

There is no end in sight in Afghanistan, no sure outcome and no clear plan to accomplish our objectives. Under those circumstances, trying to exit with honor makes sense.

It isn’t a matter that Obama isn’t Lincoln. Of course he’s not, but circumstances aren’t remotely comparable. Even Lincoln couldn’t be Lincoln in dealing with Afghanistan. So NPR’s analogy is a poor pretense and trying to make Obama appear Lincolnesque is flawed flattery.

Regarding the situation in 1864, I’m afraid that it’s the editorial writer’s analysis that is faulty, or at least highly over-simplified. The dual Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 were indeed critical.  Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was never so formidable after its defeat at Gettysburg as it had been beforehand, and Grant’s capture of Vicksburg was possibly the most decisive military achievement of the war.  But to say that after those victories the Union effort “was simply a matter of pushing through to the end” doesn’t fully capture the complexities or significance of the campaigns that took place after those two turning points. Formidable southern forces with considerable offensive capability remained in the field, and important points remained in Confederate hands.  This is not to say that the situation the Obama administration faces in 2011 is fundamentally the same as the situation Lincoln faced after 1863, but simply to point out that Lincoln had a much tougher slog ahead of him by that point than the writer seems to indicate.  Indeed, as late as August 1864, Lincoln was stating outright that Americans were so dissatisfied with the war’s progress that he would be “badly beaten” in his bid for re-election.

Still, the writer has a point.  Lincoln’s main objectives in the war were pretty clear.  He wanted the Confederate armies out of commission, loyal state governments restored, and (after the Emancipation Proclamation made freedom a war aim) slavery eradicated in the areas which had rebelled.  Lincoln knew what he wanted to accomplish; perhaps this editorial writer is correct in arguing that this isn’t true of the current American effort in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think the exactness of these analogies between Lincoln and Obama and between the Civil War and Afghanistan matter all that much.  Americans have been harkening back to Lincoln’s wartime rhetoric in virtually every conflict they’ve fought since 1865, regardless of how much the situation at hand resembled the crisis which Lincoln faced.  That Obama would try to echo Lincoln’s cadences and that some observers would try to extend the comparison seem to me little more than the latest variations on a very old American theme—drawing on the cultural capital of Lincoln and his struggle for Union in order to make sense of present-day challenges.  The NPR piece wasn’t the first occasion in which someone has visualized Lincoln’s shadow hanging over an embattled administration, and it probably won’t be the last.

—Michael Lynch graduated from LMU with a degree in history, worked at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum as an assistant curator, and now teaches survey-level history courses on campus.  He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Tennessee and blogs about historical topics at

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Lincoln as a Transformational Leader

This is the second of our discussions with graduates of LMU’s Ed.D. program who have completed dissertations on Lincoln and leadership theory.  As stated in our first interview, one of the Institute’s goals is to apply the insights of Lincoln studies to problems relating to leadership and administration.  As part of this mission, Dr. Charles Hubbard works with candidates in the program who are interested in researching the connections between Lincoln and leadership theory.

Cindy Bowman is a high school principal who received her doctoral degree in May 2011.  Her dissertation examined Abraham Lincoln as a transformational leader.

How did you get interested in doing a dissertation on Lincoln and leadership? 

Our first day of classes at LMU, I discovered this awesome history person named Dr. Charles Hubbard.  My undergraduate degree was in History, and here was this man who was filled with so much knowledge concerning Lincoln.  I was truly amazed.  Also, Dr. Cynthia Norris asked me to consider a dissertation on Lincoln and leadership.  So I had two experts asking me to do something different from my colleagues.

What is transformational leadership? 

Transformational leadership is a process where a leader engages followers by raising their level of motivation through empowerment, learning, trust, and communication.  The organization achieves goals beyond expectations.  The leader and followers work collaboratively on a shared vision for the present and the future of the organization.  The transformation of the organization improves and increases effectiveness, allowing for the organization to prosper and grow. Transformational leadership creates a positive organizational environment where stakeholders feel empowered and encouraged to take risks.

What kind of research does one do for a project that combines current leadership theories with history? 

I read an immense amount of literature on leadership theory and on Lincoln.  However, the benefits of focusing on the two areas outweighed the amount of time needed to focus on the topic.  I tried to read a couple of books on Lincoln every two weeks and then I would focus on research articles and books on leadership.

Were you able to draw on the work of any Lincoln specialists, or did you rely more on experts in the field of leadership studies? 

I used the work of many Lincoln authors in trying to determine if Lincoln was a truly transformational leader.  I decided early on in the research process to utilize Bennis and Nanus’ 1985 research on the characteristics of transformational leaders.  Students who go through the Education Specialist program at LMU are familiar with Warren Bennis, who co-authored Learning to Lead.

After reviewing several theories about the characteristics of a transformational leader, I chose to stick with Bennis and Nanus as the framework for my project.  The authors completed a study with ninety leaders and discovered four common characteristics of transformational leaders.  These characteristics included vision, being a social architect, trust, and deployment of self. From this point, I focused on the Lincoln literature and Lincoln’s own words in finding examples of each of the four characteristics from the Bennis and Nanus framework.

What are some ways that Lincoln exhibited this leadership style?

Upon Lincoln’s election, he made it plain that his vision was to preserve the Union. “I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of theses States is perpetual,” Lincoln stated in his First Inaugural Address in March 1861. He told Horace Greely in 1862 that he would save the Union even if it meant he would not free any slaves. In November 1863, as he made his famous Gettysburg Address, Lincoln discussed “a new birth of freedom.”  Here the vision for America changed to one that met the ideals put forward in the Declaration of Independence, where all would achieve freedom and America would be the world’s example of equality for everyone.

Another example of leadership by Lincoln included his letter to Ulysses Grant after Vicksburg.  Lincoln had criticized Grant’s tactics at Vicksburg and he sent him a letter apologizing for his criticism.  Lincoln told him that “you were right and I was wrong.”  Lincoln empowered Grant by showing self-deployment.  Lincoln was not afraid to admit he was wrong and he wanted Grant to know he should not have criticized him.  The letter led to Grant trusting and respecting Lincoln at a higher level, and eventually led to Grant being entrusted with the Army of the Potomac.

Do you think Lincoln was conscious of the “transformational” aspects of his leadership, even if the concept itself hadn’t been defined yet?  Were these characteristics that he worked to develop in himself? 

I believe Lincoln was aware of the transformational components of his leadership.  These characteristics were a part of him.  A good example of this would be Lincoln’s willingness to meet daily with normal, everyday people who might come to ask for a pardon for their son or who just wanted to sit down and talk to the President.  He made time for others and always placed the needs of others before his own.

He established trust with his cabinet by allowing them to do their jobs without his influence.  A good example of this would be Secretary of War Stanton, who had previously called Lincoln an “ape” at the McCormick Reaper Case in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Lincoln knew he had excellent organizational skills and when his first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, had to be replaced due to his involvement with corruption, Lincoln remembered Stanton.  Stanton reorganized the War Department and became one of Lincoln’s greatest supporters.  When Stanton’s son died, it was Lincoln who supported and comforted him in his time of need.  Stanton said upon Lincoln’s death, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Lincoln had the ability to empathize with others and he had a great deal of emotional intelligence.  I believe this is one of the main reasons he was successful in a time of immense crisis.

How did this style of leadership influence Lincoln’s presidency? 

Lincoln’s ability to understand human dynamics allowed him to keep the country together during the Civil War.  For two years, rebel forces won the majority of the battles.  Washington, D. C. possibly could have been taken by the Southern armies and when the threat became severe, Lincoln called on his nemesis and former leader of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan, to save the capital.  Lincoln’s ability to forgive and to take credit for the blunders of his ineffective military leaders allowed him to gain the trust of the soldiers of the North and eventually led him to find a General who was not afraid of conflict, Ulysses Grant.

In a time of enormous uncertainty, he provided leadership where the country changed from one more intent on sectional interests to one focused on the entire country.  Lincoln believed strongly that slavery was wrong.  He said this over and over again.  He witnessed the slave trade in New Orleans, where families were torn apart after being sold to different masters. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, knowing many in the North might not fight to free the slaves.  Government became more centralized, including the addition of the Department of Agriculture and the re-organization of the military.  The country saw an emphasis on internal improvements and a new banking system was initiated.  All of these things occurred during the conflict between the states.  Lincoln wanted America to be the great shining star in the world and the place people would call the last, best hope for freedom.  He believed strongly in the Declaration of Independence and through his determination America would grow and prosper.

What insights do you think Lincoln historians could learn from your research that they haven’t paid sufficient attention to yet? 

I believe my research could provide a framework to analyze the characteristics of Lincoln as a transformational leader.  Other leadership characteristics displayed by Lincoln could be evaluated based on the framework I used in my research.  I plan on looking at both Lincoln’s transactional and transformational characteristics in the future as the basis of showing how an effective leader needs to balance both characteristics to produce organizational success.

Is transformational leadership a trait that you see among many modern political leaders? 

Honestly, I see limited transformational leadership characteristics among our leaders.  How many of our leaders discuss their vision?  And if they do talk about vision, it’s their vision, not one on which they collaborated with their stakeholders  Another important transformational characteristic is trust.  How many of our leaders do we trust?

I think modern-day political leaders could learn a lot by studying historical leaders such as Lincoln.  Obviously, today’s leaders need a lesson in communication and empowering followers.  They need to “be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”  The ability to empathize and understand others is a lost art.

Since you’re an administrator, what lessons do you think you’ve learned from Lincoln during your research that you think would be useful to you in your own career? 

I have learned many lessons from Lincoln.  One of the most important is to work collaboratively with my staff to develop our current and future visions for our school.  This year we developed two school goals, one for literacy and the other to improve our ACT scores.  I started the process and then focused on our staff working together as a collaborative team in producing our vision for both goals.  Our mission has become our future vision for where we want our school to be five years from now.

Another important lesson is to practice active listening.  I have learned to keep my mouth shut and to listen to others and their needs.  Our school is successful because we have great teachers and great students.  My role is more of a coach, empowering others to be innovative and to take risks in order for all of our students to experience success.  Another lesson learned from Lincoln is that when you have great teachers, stay out of their way.  If they need help, I’m there to provide guidance.  Lastly, Lincoln taught me the importance of humility and giving credit to others for any successes.

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New Lincoln documents uncovered

A twenty-one-year-old intern working at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield has discovered previously unknown documents from Lincoln’s legal career.  The full story is available at HuffPost Chicago.

This isn’t the first time a young researcher has brought new Lincoln material to light.  Ronald Rietveld found the only known photograph of Lincoln’s body lying in state when he was fourteen.  You can read his recollections of that event at Abraham Lincoln Online.

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Lincoln, Horace Maynard, and the East Tennessee Unionists

By Natalie Sweet

Horace Maynard. From a photo by Mathew Brady in the National Archives, via Wikimedia Commons.

A little over 30 miles to the south of Lincoln Memorial University is Horace Maynard Middle School in Maynardville, Tennessee. Both the town and school are named after a former educator who was one of the few Southern members of the House of Representatives to remain at his post when war was declared in 1861. A staunch Unionist, Maynard repeatedly wrote to Abraham Lincoln, imploring the president for assistance in East Tennessee:

Westboro: Mass. Oct. 1st. 1862—


Having provided for the freedom of the slaves,can you not, I beg you, in God’s name, do something for the freedom of the white people of East Tennessee? Their tears & blood will be a blot on your Administration that time can never efface, & no proclamations can cover up. Every promise made to them has been broken — not one has been attempted to be kept, even to the ear. Hopes have been excited only to end in disappointment; suffering, long-continued, has been endured, only to be followed by blank despair.

The little force at Cumberland Gap was kept chained in the mountain passes for months, forbidden, though begging, to go forward to the relief of their homes, & now they are recalled from a position where they could, at least, keep hope alive in their tortured hearts. For more than a year have Gov. Johnson& I, with others, implored for aid in their behalf. Day after day have we attended in the purlieus of the White House, the War Department & at Military Head Quarters– We have entreated, we have besought, we have humbled ourselves, submitted to official neglect, not to say rudeness, annoying & mortifying, only to be put off with assurances, that I am now satisfied, & that at the time, we sometimes feared, were never intended to be regarded; accompanied by sneers from your most trusted supporters at “Border State dictation”; conditional loyalty,” with imputations upon our motives, very hard to bear– While our poor people, in whose behalf we labored, have been absolutely abandoned, to use no harsher word.

We are told that the Gap, through which we looked for aid to come, had been blocked up with rocks & made impassable. We begged for bread, you have given us a stone. We begged entreated you to erect our part of the State into a Military District, with a competent commander — you divided us by a line drawn through the middle & assigned one fragment to Fremont, & left the other to Divine Providence.

We asked for a fish, you gave us a serpent. For the moment you satisfied the clamors of a seditious press & the partisans of a seditious leader; but at a terrible cost to us.

For all this, you, you Sir, are directly, individually responsible. There has been no time when an imperative word from you would not have sent the people relief. But you have listened to the counsel of men who never wanted us relieved — who, when you attempted to build a military way for our relief, raised a howl that affrighted you from your purpose. These men do not intend to have us as fellow-citizens again, & they are, & from the beginning have, been counselling to prevent it. Their influence has always been against us; & you have acquiesced.

For a long time, I had strong confidence in you personally, & have  labored hard to inspire it in the country. You can judge how cruelly I have been disappointed, to write as I have done, & how great have been the sufferings of our people.

I am very Respectfully,

Your Obt. Serv’t.

Horace Maynard

(Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.)

Horace Maynard’s letter was penned a short time after the preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As others have pointed out, the letter demonstrates Maynard’s own conflict over slavery. It also, however, allows us the opportunity to put the distress Lincoln felt concerning East Tennessee into an interesting light. Horace Maynard “made it personal” with the attack on Lincoln’s leadership, and he was not the only member of his family to write to Lincoln. A little over a month before, Mayndard’s wife Laura wrote,

Buffalo, N. Y. Aug. 29th. 1862—


Pardon me for intruding upon you, when you are already overwhelmed with care & anxiety. But the brave, good men who went out from my home, E. Tenn., & have been struggling to free her from disloyal tyranny, the last twelve months are now in danger of being cut off, at a blow. At Cumberland Gap, just within reach of their homes, shall they now be butchered, or be made the menials of Mr. Jefferson Davis, for the want of more men? Excuse me, Sir, but let me entreat you to send a force into that country, sufficient to save these honest, loyal men, from so horrible a fate, & to deliver E. Tennessee from her present misery.

I have seen many men, now volunteering from Northern N. Y. & Vermont, who would hail with joy, an order to go, at once, to drive the rebels from that long-suffering region. Their sympathies are aroused & they would go with full hearts & strong hands, & they would accomplish that whereunto they were sent.

Pardon my importunity, Sir — perhaps you have a son– I have one in that little army at Cumberland Gap, & many another mother’s son is there– Shall they be saved?

With great respect,

Mrs. Horace Maynard

(Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.)

Perhaps Lincoln took Horace Maynard’s accusation to heart that he was “directly, individually responsible” for the misery of those in East Tennessee.  Evidence for this comes in a speech General Oliver Otis Howard made in the Cumberland Gap in 1896. The retired commander described how Lincoln presented him with a map of East Tennessee in August, 1863, and proclaimed, “They are loyal, there, General they are loyal!” Howard also alleged that Lincoln spoke of a desire to help the mountain people. Although the only contemporary letter we have of the meeting, written in 1863 to Howard’s wife, simply notes that Lincoln gave Howard the map, there is reason to believe that Lincoln was distressed about the situation in East Tennessee.  Letters such as the Maynards’ served as a testament to the sacrifices made by those caught in the crossfire of the Civil War, and reminded the president that his decisions had important ramifications even in the remote Appalachian Mountains.

As for Howard, his meeting with the executive leader had far reaching effects. In the same breath in which he remembered Lincoln’s exclamation in 1863, he also discussed Cyrus Kehr’s hope of designing an institution of learning to honor Lincoln’s memory. The university that Howard based on his meeting with the 16th president, Lincoln Memorial University, carries on Lincoln’s legacy to this day. How much the founding owes to Horace Maynard’s critique of Lincoln’s leadership in East Tennessee is up for debate.

—Natalie Sweet is a graduate of Lincoln Memorial University who holds an master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky.  She has created a number of educational programs that have been used in historical museums, and her research on Lincoln and the Civil War era has appeared in The Lincoln Herald.


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