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Real Answers™
Copyright: © 2009 Kendall Wingrove
725 words


By: Kendall Wingrove


In a life filled with disappointments, 1855 was a particularly difficult time for Abraham Lincoln.  Whether it was pursuing political advancement to the U.S. Senate or even moving ahead in his legal career, Lincoln's dreams were dashed in cruel ways. 
Throughout two giant setbacks that year, Lincoln displayed a willingness to forgive others.  That rare ability revealed the greatness of his character.  It also sowed the seeds for future political success, and helped preserve a nation. 
As that fateful year began, the Illinois Capitol was abuzz.  It was during the era when U.S. senators were still chosen by state legislatures and Illinois lawmakers had gathered to make the important selection.  In "Team of Rivals," author Doris Kearns Goodwin explains that Lincoln was by far the leading choice.   The controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act remained a hot topic and those opposed to the measure, mostly Whig party members, backed Lincoln.  The bulk of the Democrats, who endorsed the act, were rallying behind another candidate.  A small group of five anti-Nebraska Democrats led by Norman Judd of Chicago supported Congressman Lyman Trumbull. 

Lincoln hoped to win the approval of the Trumbull supporters and keep the anti-slavery coalition intact.

As the voting began Mary Lincoln sat in the balcony with her close friend, Julia Trumbull, wife of the congressman.  Julia had been a bridesmaid at the Lincoln’s wedding.

Despite these connections, and Lincoln’s overwhelming lead, the small Trumbull contingent refused to budge throughout nine ballots.  Although Lincoln had 47 votes and was only four shy of victory, he eventually bowed out and threw his support to Trumbull for the sake of the cause.  Even though it was a bitter defeat for Lincoln, he attended Trumbull’s victory celebration. 

Trumbull and Judd always remembered Lincoln’s generous behavior and both men would back his unsuccessful 1858 bid for the Senate.  Judd also played a pivotal role at the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago where Lincoln was nominated for president.   A bitter Mary Lincoln never spoke to Julia again.

The humiliations of 1855 weren’t over.  Several months later an important patent infringement case was scheduled to be tried in Chicago and a distinguished law firm wanted an area lawyer who understood the Illinois system.  Lincoln was hired but the trial was suddenly transferred to Cincinnati.  With the change of venue, the firm selected the brilliant Edwin Stanton to head up the case. 

When Lincoln arrived in Cincinnati to assist, Stanton was appalled.  He considered the tall, awkward Lincoln a “long armed ape.”  The Stanton team insulted Lincoln, excluded him from their meals and conversations, and ignored a stack of legal paperwork he had spent months compiling. 

Just six years later President Lincoln named Stanton as his secretary of war, considered by many to be the most powerful civilian post available.

Despite Stanton’s reprehensible behavior in Cincinnati, Lincoln looked past his own personal feelings.  He understood that the same assertive qualities once used for ill would serve the nation well.  During the difficult days of the Civil War, Secretary Stanton’s management skills and focus on details made him an outstanding member of the Cabinet.  He eventually grew to become one of Lincoln’s greatest admirers.  

This astonishing ability to forgive was displayed repeatedly with other Cabinet secretaries and Army commanders who treated Lincoln with open contempt.  He lived the advice given in Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Lincoln knew the author of forgiveness.  In a proclamation on April 30, 1863, he wrote: “We have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…”

Lincoln’s patience helped unify a fractured nation when few believed it could emerge intact after such a bloody discord.  Confident in his abilities, but aware of his weaknesses, Lincoln was willing to overlook the shortcomings of others.  It’s an approach that remains relevant in the 21st century, even as we mark the bicentennial of his birth.  With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive to finish the work that Abraham Lincoln began.


Kendall Wingrove is a free-lance writer from East Lansing, Michigan.

"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;

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