Inspire the Importance of Your Cause

25 Jun


 Abraham Lincoln framed the purpose of the Civil War for his people in a way that made them feel like they were critically important to the outcome of not only the conflict – but also to human history; allowing them to believe the Union’s cause was a righteous one; one that everyone could be a part of.

Lincoln’s message to his allies at home and abroad was that this was not only about America’s survival; this was about a free people’s ability to rule themselves; this was about the hope of mankind; this was the real purpose of the domestic struggle they were in.

Lincoln noted the essence of this communication to his personal secretary, John Hay, which would later emerge in his messages to Congress and the media, and even later in the Gettysburg Address.

A month after the war began, he told Hay, “…the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”[i]

In a time when our young nation was the only real republican government in the world, still just an experiment, this was a vitally important message not only for Americans, but to other peoples and especially to their iron-hand ruling kings and queens.

Two years later at Gettysburg, Lincoln concluded, “…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.”

Lincoln knew all too well the world was watching, especially in Great Britain; the mother country; possibly the most powerful country on the planet in the 1860’s.

At different points in the Civil War, the British entered into negotiations with the Confederacy, considered a formal “mediation” between the Union and the Confederacy (which basically would’ve meant the Confederacy would get everything it wanted), and even considered going to war on the side of the Confederacy.

The noble class of Britain was decidedly in favor of the Confederacy since cotton drove its huge factories.

When the Union blockade of the South succeeded, the factories closed and caused unemployment, which should have tilted the English working man in favor of the Confederacy as well.

Yet, Lincoln appealed to them with the same message in efforts and letters to rally support to the Union cause.

In one open letter to the workingmen of London, Lincoln summed up the common man’s opinion: “It seems to have devolved [upon the American people] to test whether a government, established on the principles of human freedom, can be maintained against an effort to build one upon the exclusive foundation of human bondage.”

By the end of the war, common people around the world, especially in Great Britain, were decidedly on Lincoln’s side because he had convinced them it was the right side.

Instead of settling for a message that this was an internal conflict over slavery (which Lincoln couldn’t have used anyway due to the many conflicting opinions on the subject domestically), he opted for a message that would inspire all who were on the side of freedom and self-rule, and against oppression and tyranny.

The results?

  • Lincoln not only kept Great Britain – and France – out of the war, but also won popular sentiment in both countries.
  • Northerners were inspired by Lincoln’s message to do everything they could to win.
  • Union soldiers believed that if they died, it would be for a truly worthy cause.

The lesson?

When your people believe that what they’re doing contributes to a higher, worthy purpose, they’re likely to put forth more effort.  People outside your organization are more likely to respect you, and support you.

Get good advice on instilling motivation in your people here at “5 Ways To Motivate Others”  by Jeff Cohen at

[i] Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005-10-25). Team of Rivals (p. 356). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


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