We put the October issue of the magazine to bed Tuesday. In old newspaper parlance, it just means we sent it to the printer.
My seven-page cover story previews the upcoming presidential election through the eyes of the financial services industry.
This election has at times resembled a backyard brawl. I enjoy politics. I have a degree in political science. But sometimes I just want to escape to another place and time.
That was me last week once this story was done. I resumed some reading about the Civil War and found myself learning more fascinating history about Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln is my second-favorite president after Theodore Roosevelt.
I believe his combination of integrity and humility along with his ability to relate to and lead human beings to be unmatched in American history.
Last week, I read the most Lincoln thing ever – a letter he sent Gen. Ulysses S. Grant following the latter’s spectacular Vicksburg campaign in July 1863.
I can’t stop reading this letter. It is so perfectly wonderful.
Major General Grant
My dear General,
I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did -- march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.
Yours very truly
The president shares a window into his work ethic and his character in one tremendous letter. Here is Lincoln the commander in chief, serving with little precedent and racing against time to teach himself military strategy.
His learned military instincts would prove to eclipse those of West Point-trained commanders with decades of experience.
Lincoln was remarkably humble, especially for a man relentlessly ridiculed as a backwoods bumpkin. He was known for patiently allowing military personnel to explain things he already knew. He wanted other people to feel valued.
His political acumen was the sharpest of his day. Despite never having met Grant, he shrewdly recognized him as the general he’d spent two years searching for – a commander who would take the fight to the enemy.
But the best words close this letter, where Lincoln partly reveals why he was so revered.
Despite so many failures of his administration – of war execution, sticking with the foolish colonization plan, and appointing Simon Cameron as his Secretary of War – Lincoln remained a man of unmatched humility, integrity and human leadership.
While Lincoln knew of Grant’s daring plan to cross Rebel defenses and outflank the enemy, he made no objection. Grant likely never knew his president had serious doubts.
Still, Lincoln confessed “you were right, and I was wrong.” How rare is it that any of us says these words?
President Abraham Lincoln said them to his subordinate general. This was a man he’d never met -- a man who had growing support as a potential opponent in the ensuing election.
It’s been suggested that Lincoln was essentially charming Grant into his confidence, knowing he’d found the man to take down the Rebels. For sure there is some of that, and Lincoln accomplished this simply by writing his note of “grateful acknowledgement.”
Even if he was, it no doubt came from an honest place. After all, nobody thought Grant’s daring plan wise. The official administration response from General-in-Chief Henry Halleck was essentially: "You're on your own. Godspeed."
What Lincoln did was exhibit preternatural leadership at a time of crisis. His instincts and character were a perfect match for a nation in crisis.
Where others failed spectacularly – Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan before Lincoln; Andrew Johnson afterwards – Lincoln (and Grant) saved the union.
I remain hopeful the current presidential election will yield such a leader.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected].
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