Abraham Lincoln - Part 1

“Four score and seven years ago…” On a chilly fall day in November 1863, the President of the United States, in a bloody field of a small farm town in southern Pennsylvania, began his two-minute speech with these words. But it wasn’t just Abraham Lincoln’s words that made the Gettysburg Address one of the greatest orations in American history. It was the man behind those words. Revered by many, despised by some, overrated by others, Abraham Lincoln remains one of the most famous icons the United States has ever produced, and historians consider him to be one of our most influential Presidents. But what was it that made Lincoln thrive? After all, the only history he had on his national political resume when elected to the White House was two years in Congress (a term ended almost twelve years beforehand) and not one but two failed senate races.[i] With almost no formal education, the sixteenth Commander-in-Chief is largely credited with abolishing slavery and keeping our country unified, but what made him so successful was not the position he held or the power he possessed, but rather some personal qualities that he developed over his lifetime. Although the man was completely human, several character traits can be claimed that enabled this master politician and natural leader to work to keep our nation united. We will look at a few of these qualities to find the secret to his success: Integrity, Compassion, Humor, and Resolve.

Born near Hodgenville, Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln grew up dirt-poor with little formal education. From a young age, he learned the value of integrity through hard work and was proficient with an ax.[ii] The family would move several times before finally landing in Illinois. When asked about his early childhood, he gave this response: “The short and simple annals of the poor. That’s my life, and that’s all you or anybody else can make of it.”[iii] With little encouragement from his father, Lincoln educated himself through reading. In fact, Lincoln was so driven to educate himself that he would often ask questions invoking the smallest details and would become irritated when adults talked down to him. Biographer Stephen B. Oates notes that as a boy, Lincoln would insist on understanding every part of a subject, and once he had found the answers he would repeat them to himself over and over again, memorizing the information as best he could.[iv] Believing that education was the key to success, Lincoln learned integrity by being industrious, a trait that would serve him the rest of his life.

Lincoln also learned the honor with which integrity leads. Although the popular concept of “Honest Abe” may or may not have historical merits, Lincoln’s honor came through experience. As a young lawyer/congressman from Illinois, Lincoln often wrote anonymous articles on behalf of his Whig party that exposed the Democratic position. Sometimes, though, Lincoln could cross the line and engage in low-life politics.[v]

However, an interesting event taught Lincoln a valuable lesson. Lincoln once wrote a disparaging article about the Democratic state auditor, a Mr. Shields, and along with other things, reportedly wrote that this man was “a fool as well as a liar.”[vi] Mr. Shields found out that Lincoln was responsible for the letter and promptly challenged him to a duel. Alexander McClure recounts that Lincoln accepted the challenge, and the two men, along with their respective witnesses, went across the state line to Missouri, since dueling was prohibited in Illinois. Along the way, however, their friends talked them out of fighting, and the duel was called off. Lincoln told Shields’ friends that nothing personal was intended, and the two men went about their business.[vii] Lincoln’s personal thoughts on this event are not extensive, but it apparently had a significant impact on him. Lincoln rarely wrote another disparaging article, and never again would he delve into those kinds of politics. As President, he deplored anyone who tried to engage in this kind of mudslinging. When asked about this event later in his life, Lincoln replied, “I do not deny it, but if you desire my friendship, you will never mention it again.”[viii] He learned to preserve the honor of the individual. Integrity would become a character trait that his political friends and foes alike admired in him.


[i] Doris Goodwin, “The Master of the Game,” Time Special Issue, July 4, 2005, 48-54.

[ii] Justin Ewers, “The Real Lincoln,” U.S. News & World Report 6 (2005): 66-74. www.epnet.com/ (accessed July 14, 2005)

[iii] Ewers, 66.

[iv] Stephen Oates, With Malice Toward None (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 10.

[v] Ewers, 71.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Alexander McClure, Lincoln’s Own Yarns and Stories (Chicago: John C. Winston Company, 1901), 19-20.

[viii] Ewers, 71.

Barry E. Fields

All Things New is the preaching and teaching ministry of Barry E. Fields, pastor of Hawesville Baptist Church, a regional congregation on the Ohio River with two campuses in Kentucky (Hawesville) & Indiana (Crossroads Tell City) and membership in five counties.

Originally from Bowling Green, he grew up at Glendale Baptist Church under the ministry of Pastor Richard Oldham, competed for Western Kentucky University's nationally recognized speech and debate team before receiving a B.A. in History in 2007, completed an M.Div. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville in 2010, a Th.M. in 2012, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Homiletics and Church History at Southern, serving as Garrett Fellow to Dr. Hershael York from July 2012-December 2014. He has also taught theology and church history as an adjunct instructor for Campbellsville University. Before coming to his present ministry, he was pastor of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Buffalo, Kentucky, for almost 5 years.

Active in denominational life, Barry currently serves on the Southern Baptist Convention's Young Leaders Advisory Council, a small group of pastors and ministry leaders seeking to engage the next generation in cooperative missions and ministry; recently completed a term on the SBC's Committee on Committees; currently represents the Blackford Breckinridge Baptist Association on the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Executive Mission Board; and has served on the KBC's Committee on Nominations, as well as several associational roles.

In his free time, he enjoys reading history and politics, listening to WKYU's Barren River Breakdown (Bluegrass and folk music) along with a variety of podcasts, as well as watching historical and political documentaries and the Andy Griffith show. Barry has a desire to help people fulfill the Great Commission through the Great Commandments: by showing the love of Christ, we can better share the love of Christ, and make disciples of all nations. And just so you know, he bleeds BLUE (UK Basketball)!