Lincoln on friendship

29 Aug

I’ve felt the call to spend more time with a long-term mentor for me: 2

I found a used book of his letters and speeches between 1832 and 1858. Unfiltered delight. I’m downright giddy.

I was struck by a letter he wrote to a certain Robert Allen on June 21, 1836. Lincoln would have been 27 at the time. Allen was evidently a friend in times past, and an officer.

Here’s the note – it’s worth a few moments to read and ingest
(I find it helpful to hear Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice when reading Lincoln; or Walter Brennan)

Dear Col.

I am told that during my absence last week, you passed through this place, and stated publicly, that you were in possession of a fact or facts, which, if known to the public, would entirely destroy the prospects of N.W. Edwards and myself at the ensuing election; but that, through favour to us, you should forbear to divulge them.


We have too many such “friends.” Without wishing to press to severely, such is truly a diabolical friendship that insinuates that there is or are fact or facts – that there is a “real story” of what has happened here or there – but that, well, out of respect just can’t be fully divulged or put on the table. Just know that it is there under the table, somewhere, this thing that I really can’t talk about. Diabolical. Devil’s work. A diabolos in the Greek language is one who insinuates, who throws a thought, a doubt, an accusation out there, but not explicitly or openly. It’s left in the shadows for the imagination to work out. Notice that in this case, the devil work is done in public in the absence of his “friend.” Who says we need Facebook to do this! God save us from such devil friends – and save us from being one.

Now watch Lincoln’s response:

No one has needed favors more than I, and generally, few have been less unwilling to accept them; but in this case, favour to me would be injustice to the public, and therefore I must beg your pardon for declining it. That I once had the confidence of the people of Sangamon, is sufficiently evident, and if I have since done anything, either by design or misadventure, which if known, would subject me to forfeiture of that confidence, he that knows of that thing, and conceals it, is a traitor to his country’s interests.

150308-true-friendshipSecond pause.

Allen insinuated without coming right out and saying what was on his mind, and he did so in public in the absence of his friend. Lincoln responds to such public insinuation by private letter (I don’t think Lincoln would have blogged this – and I imagine he’d be somewhat miffed that I’m blogging it 179 years later). Though I discern tactful grace here, Lincoln holds no punches. “Traitor.” Them be fightin’ words! But Lincoln says it. Let us resume and conclude:

I find myself wholly unable to form any conjecture of what fact or facts, real or supposed, you spoke; but my opinion of your veracity, will not permit me, for a moment, to doubt, that you at least believed what you said.

I am flattered with the personal regard you manifested for me, but I do hope that, on more mature reflection, you will view the public interest as a paramount consideration, and, therefore, determine to let the worst come.

I here assure you, that the candid statement of facts, on your part, however low it may sink me, shall never break the tie of personal friendship between us.

I wish and answer to this, and you are at liberty to publish both if you choose.

Verry (sic) Respectfully,

Lincoln on friendship:

  • Don’t make insinuations about one you claim as friend in their absence.
    Especially in a public forum.
  • If a friend blows it in public, respond directly to that friend, rather than fanning the flames of public controversy. Message. Don’t post. It is also pertinent to note here that Lincoln wrote such letters and held on to them overnight. He had a whole archive of letters marked “never sent.” That’s not just wisdom. Those are the rhythms of a friend.
  • Call forth the best while not hesitating to directly say the worst. Nearly within the same breath Lincoln utters the word “traitor” (though not to him personally but to the country – there’s a lesson embedded there too) and “veracity.” Selah, people. Selah.
  • Friends call forth and give “mature reflection” for one another and offer “candid statements” to one another.
  • Friends know how to write short, well-thought-out notes on weighty matters.
  • Personal ties of friendship should be mighty cables, not fragile spinnings and they should be able to bear the weight of even the most public misunderstandings.

Such was the wisdom of a twenty-seven year old young man named Lincoln.
I suspect we can all learn a thing or two here…


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Posted by on August 29, 2015 in haverings


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