Be Flexible to Achieve Your Goals

08 Jun


In wanting to free slaves and save a splitting democracy at the same time, Abraham Lincoln was faced with an unprecedented event in history; with no rules or guidelines, he had to think differently than any who had come before him.

Lincoln knew that if the Union was not saved, slavery would continue to exist in the Confederacy, and might even expand southward into Latin America.

He also believed that the splitting of the nation would mean that the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the Constitution would be severely damaged, if they survived at all.

And if the Union didn’t survive, there would be nothing to stop slavery or ensure civil rights in the North.

So, to Lincoln, winning the Civil War came first above all else; everything he did as President was done with this one goal in mind.

In a response to a critical editorial from the famous journalist and abolitionist Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote,

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”

If Lincoln had tried to free slaves in the first two years of the war, the border-slave states would have gone over to the Confederacy, and the North’s advantage in manufacturing capacity and population would’ve decidedly tilted in the South’s favor.

The white population, and the available military manpower of the Confederacy, would have been increased by 45 percent, and the manufacturing capacity by 80 percent.[i]

Still, abolitionists denounced Lincoln for not taking steps to free slaves, but he merely replied to them – with the border-slave states listening – that the Constitution did not give the President or Congress the right to abolish slavery.

When he finally freed slaves in the South under the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Lincoln also did so to win the war.

This time, Democrats and Conservative Republicans initially denounced Lincoln as he – ironically – rested his argument in the idea that the Constitution also gave him these powers – as Commander-In-Chief.

Because slaves were being used by the Confederacy in the war effort, both on the fronts supporting the soldiers, and at home operating the plantations to support the war, Lincoln had decided to use his privileges as head of the nation’s armed forces as a way to deprive the Confederacy of a means of winning the war.

Conservative Republicans, who insisted that the war was about keeping the Union together, then had a valid reason to endorse emancipation as a way to win the war.

European powers also became less likely to interfere in the war, and even endorse the Union, as they had been outspoken in their condemnation of slavery.

Furthermore, border-slave states had previously refused to adopt Lincoln’s offers to compensate owners of slaves if they freed them, and one of their arguments was that any emancipation policy should begin with the Confederacy and not the loyal border-states.

The Emancipation Proclamation left the border-slave states alone, only affecting those states in rebellion.

Finally, the former slaves could be transformed into soldiers to whom the Union, in desperate need of manpower, could utilize.

Before the war’s end, nearly 200,000 African-American soldiers had joined the Union Army.

Lincoln didn’t just limit his flexibility to the issue of slavery.  He extended it to anywhere he could use it.

To help pay for the war, he ordered the Treasury Department to begin printing money, which of course we take for granted today, but was highly controversial at the time.

Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase at first refused, claiming that it was unconstitutional, but Lincoln told him a story he once heard to help explain why it was necessary.

In the story, a ship, a captain, and a statue of the Virgin Mary became analogous to the nation, the President, and The Constitution:

The ship had a statue of the Virgin Mary at its helm, which was highly valued by the devout captain, and this is where he prayed several times a day, even assigning a crewman to protect the statue in times of trouble.  The ship, one day caught in a terrible storm and being tossed about, starting leaking because of a hole that had developed.  Water was pouring in, and the crew was running around frantically trying to save the ship by plugging the hole, but to no avail.  Finally, when all options were exhausted, and the ship was dangerously close to sinking, he ordered the crewman in charge of the statue to take it and plug the hole with it.  The captain reasoned that if the ship and the crew sunk, his honored statue would be lost anyway.

 The results?

  • The printing of paper money allowed the Union to stay afloat economically while maintaining the faith of its citizens in the government.
  • The enrollment of African-American soldiers lessened the need for drafting more soldiers overall, which allowed morale for the war effort to remain higher than it otherwise would have been in the North.
  • Border-slave states were able to maintain their loyalty and give the North its edge in manufacturing and manpower.
  • By the time the border-slave states “saw the writing on the wall” that slavery was going to be permanently abolished, the North was already well on its way to victory.
  • European public opinion swung decidedly in favor of the Union after the Emancipation Proclamation; quite a change from earlier in the war when Great Britain and France almost got involved on the side of the Confederacy.
  • Lincoln was able to unite his party by combining the dual purposes of the war – abolition and union – under the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Lincoln’s flexibility in reasoning allowed him to choose the right time to implement policies.

The lesson?

Be flexible in pursuing your goals.  Within reason (of course), the ends do justify the means.

To give your organization more flexibility, visit “5 Steps to Thinking Outside of the Box,” by Matthew Swyers at

For more ways to think outside the box, visit “3 Ways to Think Outside the Box” by Nadia Goodman at

[i] Miller, William Lee (2008-02-05). President Lincoln (Kindle Locations 2138-2140).  Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Never be afraid to try something new

Win situations with humor

It is about about how much you help others…


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