In addition to forgiving others for their personal attacks, Abraham Lincoln also tried to correct the conflicts that he had caused, either intentionally or inadvertently.
After hearing that he had apparently offended General Franz Sigel in a written letter, Lincoln quickly followed up with another:
“I ask pardon. If I do get up a little temper I have no sufficient time to keep it up.”[i]
In another military matter, Lincoln nipped in the bud possible angry words with newly promoted Brigadier General Benjamin Butler, who was a conservative Democrat.
Butler had felt the need to tell Lincoln that he had opposed Lincoln’s election, and that he would resign if ever he felt he could not support the President’s policies.
In response, Lincoln told Butler that if he ever disagreed with the President’s policies that he should “come and tell” him so that maybe he would not have to resign.[ii]
Lincoln also acted to dispose of any resentment he might be harboring, as well as the other party’s lingering ill thoughts.
After his first meeting with Frederick Douglass, the famous African-American orator and leader, Lincoln wanted to clear the air about a speech Douglass had made in which he criticized “the tardy, hesitating and vacillating policy of the President of the United States.”
Though he conceded that he might move with frustrating deliberation on large issues, Lincoln disputed the accusation of being wishy-washy.
“I think it cannot be shown that when I have once taken a position, I have ever retreated from it.”
Douglass was duly impressed, and would never forget his first meeting with Lincoln.[iii]
One of the greatest challenges of the Lincoln presidency was keeping foreign powers at bay while dealing with overwhelming domestic conflict.
At the beginning of the war, the Confederacy had entered into negotiations with the British to be officially recognized.
Secretary of State William Seward feared that Britain’s aristocracy would only be concerned with “feeding her factories” with the South’s cotton, so he drafted a scathing letter to be read to the British foreign secretary Lord John Russell.
Lincoln, who tried his best to refrain from saying anything, or writing a letter, in anger, carefully edited Seward’s work, modifying its potentially explosive language as Lincoln knew the country could ill afford a second war front with the greatest naval power in the world.
To convince the British that it would be a wrong move to enter into negotiations with Confederacy, he ended the letter by stating that the British would lose, “the sympathies and the affections of the only nation on whose sympathies and affections she has a claim.”[iv]
- Great Britain eventually discarded the Confederacy, realizing that its recognition and support of the rebels would cause them far more harm than good.
- Lincoln had natural enemies by virtue of the position that he had, but of all those who knew him personally, historians would be hard-pressed to find one who had a personal vendetta against him.
You’ve got enough problems. Do you really want people holding a grudge against you, too? All of the examples in this tip were resolved with a conversation or a letter. Lincoln demonstrated that it’s just better to bury the hatchet and move on.
For more on halting resentment in your organization, see “How to Release and Prevent Resentment in Your Relationships” by Sarah Louise Gess at tinybuddha.com.
[ii] Ibid (p. 369)
[iii] Ibid (p. 552)