Old Abe

We have reached the Civil War in history class. That has inspired me to pick up Carl Sandburg's biography of Abraham Lincoln, if for no other reason than to find some good stories.

What is always striking about Lincoln is his refusal to hold grudges of any sort. Although Lincoln was a wily lawyer and a political schemer of the highest order, his saint-like ability to grant instant forgiveness for any slight, even the most egregious, is what built his well-deserved reputation.

For instance: Lincoln traveled at great personal risk to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac to deliver a message to Gen. McClellan. Lincoln arrived at McClellan's home to find that the general was gone at a wedding. Lincoln could have been furious at that point, for he had ordered McClellan to attack as soon as possible, an order which would preclude his dressing up and attending weddings.

Lincoln sat in the parlor and waited for McClellan to come home. The general did, but went upstairs without even greeting Lincoln. Forty minutes passed. Lincoln inquired of the servants as to when McClellan might come down to visit. They replied that McClellan had gone to bed.

Lincoln's advisors said he should fire McClellan on the spot. Such an affront to the dignity of the office of president couldn't be tolerated. Lincoln replied that now wasn't the time to worry about dignity; if McClellan would so much as win a battle, any arrogance could be forgiven.

Lincoln ended up firing McClellan, but not before tolerating much more from the general, including a possible plot to overthrow the president and replace him with a military dictatorship with McClellan at the head.