The Lincolns and lessons in virtue

I have been reading the story of the life of Abraham Lincoln as told by Dale Carnegie. It’s no surprise that his life story is a remarkable one in many ways. Carnegie decided to write this book as a kind of every man’s version of the life of a great American who became respected around the world.

A few aspects of his life stand out to me as important lessons in saintliness. They are poverty and love. In complete contract to these virtuous aspects of Lincoln’s life, his wife dove deeply into avarice and hatred. Lincoln married Mary Todd out of a conviction that he was honor bound to do so since he had asked her to marry him, even though he fell out of love with her once her true character began to be revealed. He tried to convince her to release him from the obligation. But she refused and pursued him until he gave in to her wishes.

The Lincolns had 4 children. Only one lived into adulthood. Lincoln loved his children, and in his lifelong state of melancholy induced by his hateful wife, he doted on them and seemed unaware of any need to correct them. Perhaps it was to be in contrast to his wife’s constant nagging, henpecking, screaming, criticism, and dissatisfaction with everyone in her family.

Mary Todd, (as she tends to be referred to in history instead of by her married name), had enormous ambition and dreams of grandeur. Her family did not match the visions in her head of how an important family should appear. She was constantly measuring her husband and children against a standard she was very proud to have been trained in- that of a French finishing school in which she was brought up. Her appearance mattered more to her than anything else in the world. 

Lincoln, on the other hand, saw people. He saw need, and had mercy. He often worked as a lawyer for free when he saw an injustice done to a poor person. As a result, the Lincolns didn’t have much money for most of their lives. His wife despised him for this.

Lincoln didn’t attend church. His wife did. He said it was because he wouldn’t know how to behave. One Sunday however, he did attend with his wife. One of his young children, not knowing where he was, ran down the street to the church that morning, and ran in the back door, barefoot and covered with the black dirt he’d been playing in. The child’s mother was embarrassed and horrified. But Lincoln simply reached out his arm and scooped up his son and held him close to his heart.

We should always live to please God and not man. That means we should always love. We should never have ambitions that rise up and smother our love for our fellow man. And most especially, we should love our spouses and our children so much that we have no care for what others may think of us or them. We should love. I don’t think you can ever love too much.


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