Lincoln - Part 3

Lincoln’s compassion also helped him to keep a proper perspective and to recognize the gravity of the war. There were times during his Presidency that the White House was simply too much of a burden for him to live in, and he would often seek refuge outside the mansion to compose himself and focus his mind. In his 2005 book on presidential retreats, From Mount Vernon to Crawford, Kenneth Walsh writes that Lincoln spent almost one-fourth of his Presidency at the Soldiers’ Home, located in a military compound just outside Washington.[i] On the way there, Lincoln would sometimes stop by the “contrabands,” or camps that contained former slaves. He would speak with them and listen to the Negro spirituals such as “Nobody Knows What Trouble I See, but Jesus” and “Every Time I Feel The Spirit.” These stops may have moved Lincoln closer to abolition and sometimes moved him to tears.[ii] At other times, he would stop by the soldiers’ encampment and talk with the troops, sometimes having coffee and eating beans with them. He always seemed to express concern over the soldiers, and he was genuinely interested in their lives. One soldier remarked, “We always felt that the President took a personal interest in us. He never spoke absent-mindedly, but talked to the men as if he were thinking of them.”[iii] Lincoln’s compassion for his fellow man always kept him mindful of the situation at hand, and he realized the importance of ending the war for the survival of all.

Lincoln’s compassion may have been his greatest strength, but it was his humor that probably helped this President keep his sanity. As has been noted by many historians, Lincoln suffered with severe bouts of depression and a prolonged sadness over his lifetime. Part of this may have stemmed from his childhood: he lost his mother and two sisters before he was nineteen, and later nearly became suicidal over the death of his fiancé, Ann Rutledge.[iv] He lost one of his sons during his Presidency, and going through the bloodiest war in American history certainly did not help anything and caused Lincoln no end of anguish and grief. But to his credit, Lincoln understood his depression, which he referred to as “the hypo.”[v] He may have used humor to relieve these moods. He would sometimes joke about life, perhaps in an effort to shine some light in the otherwise dark universe of his mind. Usually, these jokes were self-deprecating: Lincoln once told the story of riding along his law circuit and being stopped by a stranger. “Excuse me, sir,” the stranger had said, “but I have an article in my possession which belongs to you.” “How is that?” Lincoln had replied. The stranger reached for a jackknife in his pocket. “This knife was placed in my hands some years ago, with the injunction that I was to keep it until I had found a man uglier than myself. I have carried it from that time to this. Allow me to say, sir, that I think you are fairly entitled to the property.”[vi] Lincoln got a laugh out of this story and always enjoyed telling jokes on himself.

However, Lincoln did not simply use his personality for his own entertainment; he utilized it to win friends and diffuse tough situations. Once, Lincoln was walking down the street and looked up to see a man with a gun pointed at him. Trying to analyze the situation and be as calm as possible, he asked the man, “What seems to be the matter?” The stranger replied, “Well, some years ago I swore an oath that if I ever came across an uglier man than myself I’d shoot him on the spot.” Realizing that this would be the perfect time to ease the tension, Lincoln replied, “Shoot me, for if I am an uglier man than you I don’t want to live.”[vii] His humor often helped him survive tough situations. He could also use humor to illustrate a point. During his law days, Lincoln was once pleading a case and was losing the argument. The other lawyer had all the advantages and was beating him on many points. It was a hot day, and Lincoln’s opponent had taken off his coat and vest and wrapped it behind him. Knowing that this would be the perfect opportunity to get the attention of the crowd, he appealed to the standards of the day. “Gentlemen of the jury,” he began, “having justice on my side, I don’t think you will be at all influenced by the gentleman’s pretended knowledge of the law, when you see he does not even know which side of his shirt should be in front.”[viii] Lincoln got a huge laugh and promptly won the case. He was able to use laughter to break down barriers and win people over to his arguments, a trait that would become extremely handy later in life.


[i] Kenneth Walsh, From Mount Vernon To Crawford (New York: Hyperion, 2005), 55.

[ii] Walsh, 57.

[iii] Walsh, 59-60.

[iv] Ewers, 68.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] McClure, 361.

[vii] McClure, 20.

[viii] McClure, 21.

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)!