DL Fowler's Blog

How Would Lincoln Have Scored on Myers-Briggs?

For you Myers-Briggs fans, I’m trying to pigeonhole Abraham Lincoln’s personality type ala Carl Jung’s perspective. If you’re not up to speed on Jung’s personality types and the Myers Briggs Type Indicators, click here. By the way, the best book I’ve read on Lincoln was Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. I would have enjoyed his insight into this subject, but its’ something he didn’t address directly.

 In my research, I’ve seen three takes on the question. ENFJ, INTJ and INFJ.  Okay, so the N and J are solid. There’s agreement that Lincoln gave greater weight to ideas that to things he could touch and feel – that’s the N part. And he was decisive – that’s where the J comes in. The controversy is over whether he was an introvert or extrovert and if his decisions were driven by logic or relationships.

 And this is where it gets messy.

 If Lincoln was introverted, he would have tended to mask his weakest strong trait. So he would have shown his thinking skills to hide his sensitivity to relationship issues, or he would have focused attention on relationship issues so he didn’t have to expose his logic to criticism. If he was extroverted, that kind of masking wouldn’t have fit.

 Since Lincoln was renowned for his debating skills, his almost faultless logic, ENFJ seems to drop to the back of the pack in this three-horse race. And by default, INFJ would move into the lead.

A couple of observations add weight to the introversion argument. First, he withdrew inside himself frequently. So much so at times that he could block out all sensory stimuli. His associates couldn’t even shake him out of his trance-like states. He also brooded often, sometimes spiraling into near-suicidal episodes of depression.

And the masking of F with T may have been one of his most practiced skills. So much so that he never shrank from a debate, even surrounding himself with critics. He appointed one such detractor to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. When his appointee argued that the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional Lincoln argued that he had power as Commander-in-Chief to appropriate enemy property to advance the war effort. But if slaves weren’t property, no emancipation was necessary. The slaves were already free.

When his adversaries pointed to the Tenth Amendment to justify deferring to the various states to settle the slavery issue for themselves, Lincoln countered that the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, was the higher law. Therefore, no part of the Constitution could be used to give authority to the institution of slavery.

 Notice that in each case the primary motivator for Lincoln’s decision based on human relationships – specifically the humane treatment of enslaved people. The logic was used means to an end, not the end in itself.

 Lincoln’s struggle with relationships was the common thread running through his entire life. From his mother’s death to surviving a brutal winter with his sister during his father’s absence – from the loss of his first love to his heartbreaking marriage – from being estranged from his father to losing two of his sons – and the loss of several family members in the war that he was often accused of starting – his live was defined by broken unions that he was impotent to save.

 So what kind of person was Abraham Lincoln? An extrovert? An introvert? A man who made decisions based on how they impacted people’s lives and relationships. Or someone who towed the line of facts and logic, regardless of where they led?

 What do you think?

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7 Responses

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  1. Jan Todd said, on November 23, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    I believe he was an ENTP, who when passionate, can make decisions about the larger picture. He surrounded himself with the detail folks and he was flexible with drive. Consider that option. It is, by the way, the Lawyer type. He didn’t make lists,he absorbed a people’s greater good. He knew how to argue, and ENTP’s are the best at this. He also k we how to persuade others onto his court…another trait of the ENTP.

    • DLFowler said, on November 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM

      Jan – Thanks for your comment. I agree on the N and P. On the E, the real question is about the direction of energy flow. I’s tend to manage energy flow by keeping people at a distance. For instance, many I’s are more comfortable in front of a crowd than one-on-one since that gives them more control over the flow of energy. Some great comedians are examples of that, such as Red Skelton and Jack Benny. Lincoln was often shy in one-on-one situations, but gregarious performing in front of groups – telling jokes or stories, giving speeches. That gave him control over the interaction. As to the T vs. F issue, he seemed to have an almost equal ability to show both. That’s either because he was natural at one and practiced at the other, or he was natural at both. One argument of for the case is that he showed great tendencies toward F in his youth, while the T came later (some researchers think the T kicked in after he suffered a near fatal head trauma at about 10 years old, others his math skills (related to reasoning) came through hard work at his studies. Reading was more natural than math. I’ve spent years digging into his personality and can see strong indications that his decision making was motivated by social concerns which he then justified with logical arguments partly because he grew up with deep seated embarrassment over his parents illiteracy, and what his saw as his father’s irrational decisions (one of which led to his mother’s early death), also because he observed that logical, reasoned arguments were often greeted with more respect than emotional ones. For instance, his early interest in the law can be traced to two instances in his youth. The first was when his father asked him to read a contract a neighbor asked the elder Lincoln to sign (his father had a history of getting the short end of land deals.) The other was at age 16 when he was sued for operating a ferry without a license. Lincoln won the case on a legal technicality. Lincoln was embarrassed over his ignorance of the law, though he was impressed that the judge offered up a point of law that saved his bacon.

      Unfortunately we’ll never know how Lincoln would have scored on Myers Briggs and it seems that well founded opinions are all over the map.

  2. Jonathan said, on November 24, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    After seeing the movie, I actually think he was an ISTP!
    I: He said “At times like these I am better left alone.” That is not an E.
    S: He told TONS of stories! He spoke in stories, thought in stories, remembered all the details….that is not an N.
    T: He was very logical and not sensitive, didnt cater to other people’s opposition against him, no matter who it was. F’s do not do that
    P: Throughout the movie everyone talked about how he always procrastinated and postponed decisions. He took back many decisions he made. P’s are at peace more before a decision, and think about it for hours/days. He thought about things for hours and days, often up at nighttime. J’s DO NOT IN THE LEAST do that.

    • DLFowler said, on November 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM

      Jonathan – Thanks for your reply. I don’t get the S at all or how his stories support it. I’ve always seen storytellers as highly N – Jesus’ parables were very N. He challenged listeners to get the big picture rather than see their lives only in the context of things that can be experienced with their senses. Likewise, when Lincoln told stories it was to illustrate a point, focusing on the conceptual rather than sensory information. As to the T, I agree that he was very logical in arguing his positions, but that seems to be the tool he chose to use to sell his ideas. It was almost always the case that he based his decisions on how they impacted people. One great example is the Emancipation Proclamation. He expressed deep concerns for how border states would react. Lincoln suffered a great deal of loss when it came to relationships – alienation from his father beginning when he was a boy, mother’s death, sister’s death, Ann Rutledge death, Joshua Speed moving back to Kentucky, marriage difficulties, loss of two sons. Loosing the Union was about preserving relationships. He was equally worried that abolitionists on the other side would feel that it did not go far enough. Then there was his very personal war against Chief Justice Taney and a concern that the Court would strike it down based on Taney’s opinion on Dred Scott. On the matter of slavery in general, his internal had more to do with the injustice of people not being compensated for their labor. As a boy and young man he had to turn over all his wages to his father, who was in Lincoln’s view as slothful as plantation owners.

      I agree with you completely on the I and P, however.

  3. Kyle said, on June 9, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Abraham Lincoln I believe to be a lot like me. My personality type is an INxP. I use both logic and intense feelings to base all my decisions. Never one or the other. I don’t remember which was natural when I was a child and which I practiced to improve upon but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I use BOTH T and F for every decision. This makes decisions take longer and takes much more thought than basing a decision primarily on one axis. This makes him a P. The N is obvious. The E and I may be close but I personally think it’s an I because of the fact he bases decisions on both T and F. In my mind, only somebody with a complex and prolonged self-reflection would be able to do this.

    • DLFowler said, on June 9, 2013 at 1:15 PM

      Thanks Kyle – you make an excellent point. Too often we overlook the fact that we score along a continuum, so a balance often exists between any two attributes.

  4. […] in the States) evolved from a “culture of character,” led by quiet, reflective people (think Abe Lincoln), to a “culture of personality,” led by out-going, confident salesmen and self-promoters (think […]


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