A lesson in leadership our students can learn from

As a young man he was a voracious reader. One of his favorite books, Aesop’s Fables, containing a favorite story. The fable was about a lion who decided to surrender his teeth to win the heart of a woodman’s daughter. As he approached the daughter to use his newfound power, he was struck down dead by the woodman, unable to defend himself with no teeth.

This young man was born to Thomas and Nancy in a log cabin on the American frontier on February 12, 1809. His father was a hardworking man, honest, with an enjoyable sense of humor. Mother Nancy was an intelligent woman. Friends admired her physical abilities, stating “in a fair wrestle, she could throw most of the men who ever put her to the test!”

He faced his first tragedy when his mother passed away when he was 9. Dying of milk sickness, Nancy called him and his sister Sally to her bedside, sharing with them “revere God and be good to your father and each other.” He faced another heartbreak 10 years later, his sister dying in childbirth.

As a boy and young man, he found pride in work and learning. It is said his father placed an axe in his hand at the age of 8. With it he felled trees, spring rails, and built fences. Helping his family on the farm he planted seeds, sowed crops, took grain to the mill and tended to animals when needed. His father respected hard work, but also stressed the importance of learning to him. Thomas, as a carpenter, held great respect for those with the knowledge of mathematics, a valued skill in his trade.

As he grew older he took on jobs as ferry operator on the Ohio River, carpenter, business owner, post office worker, and surveyor. His jobs varied widely and were physical, but each gave him time for socializing and intellectual growth. He continued to read novels, while also gaining much of his knowledge from newspapers to keep up on current events.

During the Black Hawk War he was required to serve in the frontier militia. Though he had no military training, he was elected captain of the Fourth Regiment of the Mounted Volunteers. His men not only admired him for his physical strength and mental toughness, but also his good nature. It was his first experience with war and loss, but not his last.

During his formal education he became fond of the Declaration of Independence and President Washington’s Farewell Address. The Declaration of Independence reinforced his antislavery beliefs. President Washington’s address emphasized “the paramount importance of preserving the American Union, which Washington saw was threatened by warring factions and party divisions. A unifying force that Washington appealed was religion.”

In 1832, he made his first attempt to be elected to the Illinois congress, losing his first contest, but winning in 1834. He continued to advance in politics. This man, Abraham Lincoln, was considered a frontiersman, lawyer, and politician who was known for his honesty, integrity, and work ethic.

Abraham Lincoln went on to serve as the 16th President of the United States, using stories and fables to communicate his beliefs and values to the American people. And how did he use Aesop’s lion fable? President Lincoln cited the fable as he refused to make concessions to the Confederates, which would ultimately weaken the northern states. If your child is looking for a leader to learn from, Abraham Lincoln is a good choice.

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.


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