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?