Let’s talk about one of the most important figures in American history and, arguably, world history as well. Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man who did not question his circumstances, but transformed them into great opportunities.
President Lincoln was a man ahead of his time. He was able to consider his purpose to serve mankind, while facing resentment from many in his attempt to do what was right. Despite his adversaries and obstacles, he never faltered in his beliefs. For Stoics, there is no obstacle capable of stopping us from doing what is right, which is why Lincoln is a great example of a Stoic thinker.
The Life of Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was born into a humble and poor family in Kentucky. He got to work very early in his life and had little time to go to school. Despite this, Lincoln self-taught himself with borrowed books and went on to consider the importance of education, much like the ancient Stoics.
“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”Abraham Lincoln
It was not easy to access education at that time, but Lincoln knew its value when many others took it for granted. He always acknowledged the power of education and tried to make it as popular and accessible as he could. His family later moved to Illinois, where he became a lumberjack and went on to have many other ordinary professions. Looking at his early life, one would hardly think Lincoln would become one of the most memorable US presidents.
The Civil War
With the knowledge he acquired himself and through hard work, Lincoln went to law school and joined the political environment of his state, later becoming a member of Congress. Shortly after, the Republican Party acknowledged his strong character and beliefs, and elected him to run for the Senate. He lost, but still had enough support from the Republicans to run for president and to ultimately win.
His presidency was marked by challenges; the greatest of them was the Civil War. Lincoln was well known for his antislavery beliefs and was in charge of a Republican structure that led the southern states to rebel and separate from the rest of the country.
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”Abraham Lincoln
The South of the US mostly consisted of plantations and large farms of monoculture that were worked by slaves. Transforming their slave workforce into a paid workforce would have threatened their economic survival under their strategy of the time. In comparison, in the Northern states, many colonies were already slave-free by law and former slaves were now part of the paid workforce.
The first part of the war was ruled by the South, until two great North offensives ultimately defeated them. The country, both physically and in spirit, was badly harmed by the war, and Lincoln was faced with the dilemma of making the US a united country again.
To accomplish this, he passed the Thirteenth Amendment, which made slavery a crime throughout the country. As a result, Lincoln became renowned for his sense of virtue, freedom, justice and equality. He died soon after those events, assassinated by an actor who was sympathetic to the cause of the South. Despite his death, Lincoln’s legacy endures in contemporary society throughout the world, where we are still fighting for true equality.
Although Lincoln never called himself a Stoic, he exercised many Stoic principles. He was evidently a man of virtue, who would only look at things from their best perspective. He considered the omission of truths to be as serious as doing physical harm. He was never hindered by unfavourable circumstances, and especially not his humble upbringing. He was a man of the present, who built a long-lasting legacy for his strength of character and unwavering values.
“And in the end, it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln left an immeasurable legacy, all without planning to do so. He was not driven by pride or power; he was driven to do the right thing merely for the sake of doing the right thing. This is highly comparable to the ancient Stoics. They were similarly moved to do the right thing for its own sake. It is that pure mindset and those actions that usually leaves the mark of a legacy. If Lincoln and the Stoics believed in just one thing, it would be this: If you are able to positively impact just one life, then your life has been worth living.