My first year in college, I stumbled on a book titled Decision in Philadelphia. It’s a dramatic non-fiction about the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention and the shortcomings of America’s Founding Fathers who failed to abolish slavery or provide for women’s rights. Years later, I was watching Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-Winning film Lincoln, the crusade to end slavery and Civil War in America. Great movie! But in my humble opinion, it failed to scratch the surface of President Abraham Lincoln’s arduous road to the White House, a story that every leader should be taught in grade school.
Lincoln was born to humble and tragic beginnings. His parents were uneducated farmers. At age 7, his family was forced from their home. His father was illiterate and his mother died when he was 9. His only sister died in childbirth a few years later. His grandfather was killed when Lincoln was 23. At 24, Lincoln went bankrupt. He spent the next seventeen years paying off debts to friends and colleagues.
As a young man, Lincoln failed in business and couldn’t get into law school. He is one of ten Unites States presidents who never graduated from college but studied law and became a lawyer.
In his 20s, Lincoln was twice defeated for state legislature. At 26, he was engaged, but his fiancé died. Lincoln had a nervous breakdown. At 33, he was married to Mary Todd. They had four sons but three died at ages 4, 11, and 18 (not uncommon in the 19th century for illnesses we easily treat today).
Lincoln’s professional career was equally turbulent. At 29, he ran for speaker of the state legislature and was defeated. Once elected to state legislature, he was defeated several times running for Congress. At 45, he ran for Senate and lost. At 47, he ran for vice president and lost. At 49, he ran for Senate and lost again.
In spite of all the setbacks, Lincoln pressed on. Then in 1860, age 50, he ran for President. He won the election and changed the course of history. Today, Lincoln is the most quoted and revered of U.S. Presidents, fondly remembered as a statesman and civil-rights leader. If not for his assassination in 1865, he had so much more to teach. But that arduous road to the White House provides his most enduring legacy …
Never quit. Failure is your friend.