Lessons from Lincoln

A few days ago, I took a field trip with my 7th and 8th grade students to Springfield, Illinois.  We visited Lincoln’s home, the Illinois Capitol building, Lincoln’s Presidential Museum, and the Village of New Salem.  Before taking my students on the field trip, however, I showed them a documentary called Looking for Lincoln.  Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s PBS documentary took viewers on a quest to deconstruct the myths and legends of Lincoln’s history, in order to learn about Lincoln as person, flaws and all.  My students and I discussed the traditional history of Abraham Lincoln, and compared and contrasted it with some of the controversial ideas and facts presented in the video.

When we eventually took our trip to Springfield, I tried to leave Lincoln’s myths behind, in an attempt to imagine him as a real person.  In doing so, I gained a few lessons from Mr. Lincoln that I believe we all can internalize and apply to our own lives.  I hope that you agree.


  1. Mental health is a struggle for even the most powerful people. Lincoln is said to have struggled with depression throughout his entire life.  And you can’t blame him.  He lost his mother at nine years old, a close friend/love interest (depending on your historical opinion) in his twenties, and three of his four children.  He was intelligent and influential, but he had demons, too.  Some say that Lincoln was able to keep such a calm head during the Civil War because he had faced so much despair in his past.  So if you’re facing trying times, don’t give up.  You are loved, and you have the strength and resolve needed to persevere.
  2. It is never too late to do the right thing. Though many consider Lincoln to be The Great Emancipator, history might also indicate that Lincoln had racist roots.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln argued against slavery, but not for racial equality.  At the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln’s first priority was not to end slavery, but to preserve the Union.  Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to slave holding states, where Lincoln had no executive power.  Knowing this, one could argue that this cannot possibly be the same Lincoln that they learned about in grade school.  And though that may be true, this Lincoln did ultimately approve the 13th Amendment, which truly freed the slaves.  Therefore, I believe that our upbringing and our past should not dictate our future behaviors.  It is never too late to forgive, admit our mistakes, and do the right thing, in the end.
  3.  Take notice of where you place yourself in regard to others.  The park ranger told my group that Lincoln hardly sat on the living room furniture.  He was generally found lying in a pile of pillows on the floor, reading aloud, and playing with his boys as they wrestled around the room.  This struck a chord with me because I frequently find myself annoyed as my children crawl and sprawl all over me as I sit on the couch.  Perhaps we should bring ourselves down to meet them, more often.  I sure know that I could say yes, more frequently, to sitting on the floor and playing Barbies and Legos.  We can also take this lesson to heart by making a concerted effort to help those less fortunate.  If Lincoln was 6’4 and he could get on the floor, so can we.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan…” -March 1865, Lincoln’s Inaugural Address

~Think on These Things~




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