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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Squire Kuhn Meets Mr. Lincoln

Sir James of Taylor and I went back two hundred years and spent the weekend in the Lincoln Pioneer Village in Rockport, Indiana.

(above photo by Melissa Miller)

We camped through extreme heat, a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, and finally turning to a cold front the next evening. Lady Suzanne and Lady Allwinky stopped by on Saturday and enjoyed a bowl of peach cobbler I baked in my
dutch oven (see below):

We attended the rendezvous as part of the bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. While there, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Mr. Lincoln and I asked him to tell me about his time here in Indiana:

“We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union (Indiana in 1816),” Abraham Lincoln reminisced. “My father removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer county, Indiana, in my eighth year. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called; but no qualification ever required of a teacher, beyond "readin, writin, and cipherin, to the Rule of Three. If a straggler supposed to understand latin, happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity. I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty two.”

Your father was removed?”

“This removal was partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Ky. He settled in an unbroken forest; and the clearing away of surplus wood was the great task a head. I was very young, but large for my age, and had an axe put into my hands at once; and from that till within my twenty third year, I was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument--less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons. I took an early start as a hunter, which I was never much improved afterwards. A few days before the completion of my eighth year, in the absence of my father, a flock of wild turkeys approached the new log-cabin, and standing inside, shot through a crack, and killed one of them. I have never since pulled a trigger on any larger game.”

He discussed how, in 1860, he became the 16th President of the United States and successfully led the country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserving the Union and ending slavery.

I asked him if he would please share some of his success strategies that I could share on this blog.

“Blog, what’s a blog?” Lincoln questioned. “What is this strange language of which you speak?”

Never mind, I said. Just share some helpful tips:

1. You can be humble and ambitious.

There is the part of the Lincoln legacy everyone knows—born in a log cabin, self-educated, and honest to his lanky bones. But, by the time “the rail splitter” was elected president, he was a wealthy, successful lawyer who had represented some of the nation’s largest interests, such as the railroads.

Bruce Levine, the James G. Randall Professor of History at Illinois, believes it was Lincoln’s skill in reading the public that people too often attributed to divine inspiration. In so doing, they missed the first lesson Lincoln holds for us: saints can be shrewd.

“Lincoln was a man of deep convictions,” says Levine, “but beneath these convictions was a shrewdness that enabled him to read a situation and make tactical decisions.”

2. To manage people well, it helps to genuinely like them.

During the early days of the Civil War, when the Union’s efforts met with continual defeat or stalemate, Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward paid an evening visit to the home of the Union’s contentious commander-in-chief, General George McClellan, to discuss war strategy. The general wasn’t at home, but Lincoln and Seward waited for more than an hour. When McClellan finally returned, he snubbed his visitors and proceeded straight to bed. Instead of chastising McClellan for his disrespectful behavior, Lincoln quietly left.

The story is often told to demonstrate Lincoln’s ability to place historical necessity above personal feelings, says David Herbert Donald, a Harvard historian and U of I graduate who wrote the bestselling biography, Lincoln.

“Lincoln reasoned that the war effort was more important than this slight to his dignity,” says Donald. “When McClellan later failed in battle, Lincoln was less forgiving.”

But Lincoln’s restraint in dealing with McClellan also highlights another lesson in greatness: ego must be kept in check to win friends and manage opponents. “There was a self-confidence underlying Lincoln’s modesty that enabled him to surround himself with strong, often discordant personalities,” says Donald.

3. Have a sense of humor.

One of his most powerful weapons for swaying others to his cause was his sense of humor. Donald says Lincoln used humor masterfully to disarm opponents and win supporters. A senator might march into Lincoln’s office to confront him about a bill only to leave befuddled and unsuccessful, after Lincoln sidelined him with a long, seemingly pointless anecdote from his days back in Illinois.

4. Don’t hold grudges.

“Lincoln never held grudges,” says Donald. “He easily separated political disagreements from personal ones.”

5. Never stop learning.

A case in point, says Levine, is that Lincoln came to the presidency with almost no military experience, yet sat down with the ranking generals of the army, read a load of books on military tactics, and, in short order, was a perceptive and able military commander.
But the most notable example was his change in position on racial equality. Although always opposed to slavery as a matter of human rights, it was through his friendship with the black abolitionist Frederick Douglas that, according to historialns, Lincoln came to insist upon a new understanding of liberty: “equality of opportunity in the race of life.”

When criticized for his shifts in ground, his response captured his commitment to growth: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. The case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

6. Build a strong team.

When he had to build a team, he built one in spite of initial personal animosity rather than because of close relationship. From this group of competing and, in some cases, openly antagonistic people, he built a team that helped him to ultimately hold the Union together.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals details this process really well.

7. Tell Stores to get your message across.

Lincoln was a tremendous story teller. Many historians point to his ability to tell appropriate stories as part of the "magic" that drew people to him once they got to know him.

8. Persuade more than you coerce.

Lincoln seldom used the power of his office to force compliance with his wishes. He told stories.

9. Learn to speak in public.

Lincoln was a noted public speaker. Much of his influence is attributed to his ability to deliver a message publicly.

10. Master and become comfortable with paradox.

Lincoln was able to handle the tension of living in the paradox (a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth)

For example:
* He built his cabinet from political rivals.
* He looked past personal slights and insult to build strong alliances (Edwin Stanton).
* He was consistent in his principles and flexible in his pursuit of fulfilling them.
* He understood both compassion and accountability.
* He took risks, he created new approaches, and he demonstrated patience in his timing.

11. Give the public what they want: The facts and beer!

Mr. Lincoln encouraged all Knights to keep up the good work. When I mentioned the Knights of Moleskine, Spirit, and Ale and our efforts to help save the world, Mr. Lincoln replied:

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”

Thank you Mr. Lincoln.

“You're welcome my son. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've a play to attend.”

Sir "Squire Kuhn" Bowie of Greenbriar


  1. This was a wonderful event put on by volunteers, much like our own two knights who gave time and energy to help children (small and big) to learn more about our history - making it come alive with smells, sights, tastes, and stories

    I'm proud of our guys for taking part in this and think that Sir Bowie did a great job of sharing it with all of us on here
    (along with pictures from Sir James)

    Lady Suzanne,
    thinking maybe next time I'll find a dress and go along?

  2. An excellent interview by a pioneering journalist! Speaking of slavery...the State of Ohio is still holding me hostage for yet another evening! Oh, well, nothing a few beers and counting my new found fortune won't cure! Be home blogging tomorrow!

    Sir Hook the Hostage of Capitalism from Warrick

  3. Beer ...then facts... actually just give me the deal with the facts... its what our taxes are paying for.

    Lets face it life doesn't really change that much no matter who is in power or what is going on out there. That must be one of the first things you discover in the backwoods. The world could have blown up while you out in the trees and you wouldn't know and probably cared even less.

    At the end the of the day...its find Food & Shelter, and Rest,... so you can find more food and shelter..

    sounds right to me...

    Sir Dayvd (who is a slave to his sense of humor ) of Oxfordshire