Tag Archives: USA

The Guy Quote – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, well clever and well tall. He was only president for four years, from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, but in that short time he led his country through enormous change and adversity. We’re talking constitutional, military and moral crisis (American Civil War), during which he preserved the Union, ended slavery, sorted out the economy and the financial system. And this on top of a brutal route to office. I liked doing this post. His quotes aren’t too fancy, they’re practical and meaty and some of them are very funny. He must have been a very skilled judge of character. Wonder what his voice sounded like.


“Some day I shall be President.”

No silver spoons here. Lincoln was born into a poor family on the western frontier. Mostly self-educated, he started out as a country lawyer, then became a state legislator and a one-term member of the House of Representatives…the rest was grind.

[this next bit is edited from Wikipedia] In 1859-60, he opposed the expansion of slavery in the US in his campaign debates and speeches, secured the Republican nomination and was elected president in 1860. Before Lincoln took office in March, seven southern slave states declared their secession and formed the Confederacy. When war began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Lincoln concentrated on both the military and political dimensions of the war effort, seeking to reunify the nation. He vigorously exercised unprecedented war powers, including the arrest and detention without trial of thousands of suspected secessionists. He prevented British recognition of the Confederacy by skillfully handling the Trent affair late in 1861. His efforts toward abolition include issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and encouraging Congress to propose what would become the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including commanding general Ulysses S. Grant. He brought leaders of various factions of his party into his cabinet and pressured them to cooperate…Each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another until finally Grant succeeded in 1865.

As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, Lincoln found his policies and personality were “blasted from all sides”: Radical Republicansdemanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats desired more compromise, Copperheads despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists plotted his death. Politically, Lincoln fought back with patronage, pitted his opponents against each other, and appealed to the American people with his oratory. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history. It was an iconic statement of America’s dedication to the principles of nationalism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.

At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. But six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre.

A woman is the only thing I am afraid of that I know will not hurt me.

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

Don’t worry when you are not recognised, but strive to be worthy of recognition.

I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.

Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

Every one desires to live long, but no one would be old.

I can make more generals, but horses cost money.

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

Everybody likes a compliment.

I will prepare and some day my chance will come.

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.

Whatever you are, be a good one.

No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.

Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.

Avoid popularity if you would have peace.

I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.

When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.

These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.

When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.

There is another old poet whose name I do not now remember who said, “Truth is the daughter of Time.”

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

He has a right to criticise, who has a heart to help.

Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.

It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.

Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.

The Gettysburg address:

NB. read it out loud, don’t just read it to yourself.

(short backstory – an amazing piece of oratory delivered to commemorate soldiers who fell in the war, ten sentences and two minutes in which he redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for preserving the Union but as “a new birth of freedom”, also compare it with Pericles’ Funeral Speech if you like this sort of thing)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

[[ps – please check out some of my other quote collections here – The Guy Quote]]

On this day in 1963… JFK

Fascinating article by Andrew Marr:

President John F Kennedy and the art of dirty politics

Fifty years since he was elected US president, there is still an aura around John F Kennedy’s White House, yet arguably the dirtier side of modern politics has its roots in his rise to power.

Get the picture right, and your history will take care of itself. Jack Kennedy always got the picture right. Even now, it is hardly possible to glimpse the gleaming white smile, the sunlit hair and the perfect First Family without a lump in the throat.

JFK became the icon of democratic optimism, the man who inspired half the world. Cut down in his prime, he never grew old enough to betray, disillusion or bore his legion of admirers.

Who is President Josiah Bartlett of The West Wing but the liberal fantasy of a mature Kennedy – pin-sharp, hard as nails and bright with idealism?

So it comes as a shock to properly study Kennedy the campaigner. The story of how a rich, preppy party boy from Massachusetts managed to raise a roar for underdog America loud enough to carry him to the White House is gripping. But uplifting it certainly isn’t.

Yes, it’s a tale of soaring and risk-taking rhetoric, partly fashioned by the late lamented Ted Sorensen, and of a candidate with remarkable energy.

It is also, however, a tale of big money, smears, bribes, wire-pulling and bottomless cynicism. If you are asking what has gone so wrong with modern politics, Kennedy’s 1960 election campaign is a good place to start.

And in that campaign, West Virginia, the impoverished and sidelined state where Kennedy polished off his main Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey, is better still.

West Virginia is still the wooded, hilly, coal-mining-ravaged place of small towns, military volunteers and neighbourliness it was when the rivals clashed there.

On the one side came Kennedy with his private plane, a present from Daddy, and huge amounts of money for campaign commercials.

He came with promises about more money for the state but above all he was selling an image – the naval war hero, the glamorous wife, the kids, the homespun family with their little sailing boats.

Earlier politicians have had a “back-story” – log-cabins, Welsh cottages, you name it – but Kennedy was the first to sell his lifestyle.

Kennedy’s father Joe, the former (and unfriendly) ambassador to Britain, had made his fortune in steel, movies, whisky, stocks and property.

With an obsession about building his family into a great political dynasty, he had squared many of the key newspaper owners for his son, who in turn was a master at flattering their reporters.

He was ruthless and properly understood the rising power of the advertising companies – the world of Mad Men taking shape at the time.

As JFK later said, his father wanted to know the size of the eventual majority because “there was no way he was paying for a landslide”.

The Kennedy machine, an awesomely well organised instrument, had some obvious problems. Joe Kennedy was rumoured to have been a bootlegger, had been brought back to the US in 1940 having announced that “in Britain, democracy is finished”, and was a close ally of Senator Joe McCarthy.

Above all, he was a Roman Catholic at a time of fierce anti-Catholic prejudice, including in the overwhelmingly Protestant West Virginia. Yet the Kennedys knew that if they could beat Humphrey and win there, they could win anywhere.

Against them, Hubert Humphrey had a classic old-fashioned campaign. He had been too ill to fight in the war. His finances were meagre.

His wife was homely and old-fashioned. He had no private plane, but a bus – with a broken heater – instead.

He was one of the most intelligent, compassionate and literate politicians in modern American history, who had taken on Communists, organised crime and racialism when these were very dangerous fights to pick, and who understood middle America far better than Kennedy. But he was about to be crushed.

The Kennedy team dealt with their Catholic problem above all by smearing Humphrey as a draft-dodger. They saturated the state with advertising, money and helpers.

By the end, a stunned Humphrey, who had compared his fight to that of a corner store against a supermarket chain, was reduced to using the few hundred dollars he and his wife had saved for their daughter’s education to pay for a final campaign ad.

Having smeared Humphrey and trashed his reputation, the Kennedys washed their hands and denied it all.

Well, you may say, that’s politics. Kennedy went on, after all, to see off the grandees of the Democratic Party – Adlai Stevenson and the rising Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson (who became his running mate) at the Democratic convention in LA.

Then he narrowly beat Richard Nixon after those famous televised debates when Nixon’s heavier growth of beard, badly chosen suit and tendency to sweat persuaded viewers Kennedy was the better man.

When I met some of those involved, including Kennedy’s TV adviser in 1960, I came away freshly awestruck by his presentational audacity.

For instance, in that first debate, Kennedy politely excused himself for a “comfort break” a minute before the two men were live on air. He did not come back.

As the studio manager was counting down the final seconds to going live, everyone – Nixon included – was aghast. Just as the count ended, there was Kennedy, smiling at the podium. “Psyching” an opponent doesn’t get smarter than that.

And yet… Kennedy beat Nixon not simply with his ads, his sound bites, his jingles, the carefully posed photographs and the downright lies he told about his health. He beat Nixon by not standing for anything beyond rousing banalities.

On the “missile gap” with the Russians, Kennedy knowingly hyped the danger. Nixon, as vice-president, knew the real facts but also for reasons of national security, could not reveal them. (And Kennedy probably knew that, too.)

On the other great issue – civil rights – the Kennedy team sent one message to black audiences and another to middle America.

Did it matter? I came away thinking the mix of big money, smearing, a feel-good blur where policy should have been, and the selling of the candidate like soap flakes, added up to a fairly shameful record.

Even then, he barely won. The younger Nixon, who was liberal on race and more economically mainstream than he became, could well have made a good earlier president.

In office Kennedy made some terrible overseas blunders (though kept his nerve over the Cuban missile crisis) and was slow on domestic policy, particularly civil rights. Had he lived longer, I think he would have had a lower presidential reputation.

The 1960 campaign is not the story I had expected. It’s a far more interesting one. It has been obliterated by those images of the handsome young father and husband, then the young king cut down in his prime.

But today we live in a world that has become profoundly cynical about politics. I think we owe it to ourselves to look past those images and ask: aren’t there better ways of doing democracy than Kennedy’s?