DL Fowler's Blog

Building Blocks of Abraham Lincoln’s Personality

 During a decade of research into the life of Abraham Lincoln, I’ve become convinced that history is not about events. It’s about people. People cause the events that we call history. They are its roots. As such, we must study people to understand our past and learn the lessons they can teach.

I’ve captured my understanding of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln Raw—a biographical novel. It’s a journey into his heart and mind, beginning with his boyhood, based on stories told by his contemporaries as well as stories he told about himself.

Following is an outline of my discoveries about Abraham Lincoln and how his personality emerged and the force of his character impacted history. It addresses four areas of inquiry that are essential to understanding one of the most pivotal personalities to set foot on the world stage:

  • What was Lincoln like out of the womb?
  • What preferences grew out of Lincoln’s innate personality?
  • How did Lincoln’s early life influence to his personality development?
  • How did Lincoln’s personality influence his values?

I hope you find the information enlightening, and welcome any contributions or questions you might want to add.

Building Blocks of Abraham Lincoln’s Personality

  • What was Lincoln like out of the womb?
    • In today’s vernacular, young Lincoln was a ‘highly sensitive child’ with a propensity toward depression (a melancholic nature).
    • Myers-Briggs would likely classify Lincoln’s personality type as INFP:
      • The consensus opinion is that Lincoln was an introvert—meaning that close contact with people, one on one, drained him of energy.
      • He was clearly an intuitive person—meaning that everything had to be understood in context of an overarching, rather than accepting whatever could be demonstrated by the senses (taste, touch, sight, sound, smell).
        • Genesis: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread.”
        • Lincoln: “It is wrong for a man to eat bread from the sweat of another man’s brow.”
      • The two basic aspects of decision making are information processing and drawing conclusions. Often, however, the private nature of introverts makes it hard to evaluate their decision making process from the outside.
        • Information is generally filtered through feelings (emotions) and thinking (logic). Lincoln tended to make decisions based on feelings, but used logic to justify them to others, believing his ideas would be more readily accepted if they could be proved by reasoning.
          • Melissa Goings – he sympathized with her and went outside the law to free her.
          • Duff Armstrong – he wanted Duff freed to end a dear friend’s suffering. To do so he based his summation on those emotions, but he also worked diligently during testimony to discredit facts which had already led to an accomplice’s conviction.
          • Emancipation Proclamation – he wanted slavery to end, but believed neither he nor Congress had the power to do so. He justified the Proclamation based on military necessity, and it only freed slaves in states that were in rebellion wherever the Union Army was not in control.
        • Decisions can be either fluid (subject to changing perceptions) or irrevocable (final judgments based on commitment to due process).
          • Repeater rifle – initially he deferred to the Army’s chief procurement officer who refused to purchase them, but later fired the officer and ordered their purchase when a cavalry unit bought them with their own money and proved their effectiveness in battle.
          • Meeting Frederick Douglass (August 10, 1863) – Lincoln believed slaves to be of an inferior race—incapable of coexistence with Caucasians, unreliable in battle, and too ignorant to vote—until he met one who was his peer. The experience of meeting Frederick Douglass contributed to Lincoln’s reversal of opinion on these three issues:
            • Colonization—The day Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he also reviewed a contract for a colony in Haiti where former slaves were to be resettled. The colony was started April 1863, pronounced a failure April 1864.
            • Colored soldiers—Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was hesitant to embrace the recruitment of former slaves into the Union Army. Equal pay was finally granted June 1864.In 1865 Martin Delany became the first Black commissioned officer after convincing Lincoln to reverse his decision to reject Douglass’s petition to grant commissions to Blacks.
            • Black Suffrage—Lincoln announced his support for granting voting rights to former slaves on April 11, 1865. John Wilkes Booth was in the audience and resolved that Lincoln should be assassinated to save the country from ‘Africanization.’ Previously, Booth led a conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln to raise money to finance the Confederate war effort.
          • What preferences grew out of Lincoln’s innate personality?
            • Poetry (He enjoyed both reading and writing it.)
            • Dislike for manual labor
            • Euclidean Logic (He bought and mastered Euclid’s book while studying the law.)
            • Surveying (His profession before becoming a lawyer required precise measurements and integrity.)
            • Law and Justice (He criticized both radicalism and mob rule in the aftermath of Elijah Lovejoy’s murder.)
          • How did Lincoln’s early life influence to his personality development?
            • CPTSD (a series of life threatening experiences while held in captivity)
              • He perceived his father as a tyrant. (“I am a slave and the son of a slave.”) His perception of his father carried more weight than the truth about what his father was like.
              • Near death experiences (7 of 9 occurred before he was 12)
                • The day he was born he almost died of starvation and exposure.
                • Trapped in a cave and feared he’d never be rescued.
                • A boulder nearly fell on a spot he’d been standing on less than a minute before. It would have crushed him.
                • Nearly drowned in a swollen creek. (Afterwards he seems to have an obsessive fear that loved-ones who have died will have their bodies swept out of their graves by rain and flood.)
                • The first winter in Indiana as a boy, living in the half-faced camp—a crude three-sided lean to made out of poles and branches—he feared that he’d either freeze to death of be eaten by wild animals.
                • He was kicked in the head by a horse and believed by family and neighbors to be near death.
                  • The injuries left him with:
                    • Physical impairment (deformed face)
                    • Visual impairment (floating eye wouldn’t focus)
                    • Eidetic memory (“quickening of mental energies” ~ he memorized much of the Bible)
                  • During the brutal winter after his mother died, his father left him with his sister—2 years older—in an unfinished cabin to fend for themselves. When the father returned months later, the two were nearly dead from exposure and starvation.
                  • After drinking too much applejack as a teenager, he was found passed out and face down in a creek.
                  • On a riverboat trip to New Orleans, he and his partner were attacked by seven runaway slaves.
                • He suffered from periodic blackout episodes from which he could not be awakened by friends. He claimed no memory of anything that occurred during those events.
              • Abandonment issues
                • He was traumatized by the slaughter of his pet pig as a boy.
                • He was traumatized when he shot a turkey as a boy.
                • He lost four people he loved dearly (all before age 27).
                  • Brother (age 2)
                  • Mother (age 9)
                  • Sister (age 19)
                  • Ann Rutledge (age 26). His perception of their relationship is more important than hair-splitting any facts.
                • He was haunted by rumors of illegitimacy (his and his mother’s) as a child and through adulthood.
                • His business partner, Billy Greene, died and left him deeply in debt.
                • His close friend and roommate, Joshua Speed, abandoned him to become a slave owner and master of the family hemp farm. Lincoln had already formed a deep hatred for slavery.
                • He was the victim of physical and emotional abuse by his wife. (“If she loved me more I would be home more.”)
                • He was estranged from his eldest son Robert, who was embarrassed by his father’s crudeness.
                • Two other sons died in childhood.
                • His mentor, Judge Bowling Green, whom he loved dearly died.
                • His political idol, Henry Clay, died.
                • When his father died, he shed no tears, didn’t attend his funeral, or buy a headstone for the grave.
                • One of the early casualties of the Civil War was former law clerk, Elmer Ellsworth. He wept openly at the news.
                • His lifetime nemesis, Stephen Douglas, died shortly after the two reconciled and forged a close friendship.
                • Lincoln’s close friend, Ned Baker, who introduced him at the inauguration ceremony, died in battle.
              • How did Lincoln’s personality influence his values?
                • Anti-abuse (slavery)
                  • Many stories have been told about episodes of him rescuing pigs from danger or abuse.
                  • He believed the Constitution protected slavery where it existed when the country was formed. But was equally convinced our founders were determined to prevent its expansion and let it die a slow death.
                • Pro-union
                  • He did say, “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.” But he also believed the Union could not survive if slavery continued.
                • He wrote the following manifesto weeks before his inauguration. He intended it to be his guide over the term of his presidency.

Apple of Gold in a Setting of Silver

Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result, but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something is the principle of “Liberty to all”—the principle that clears the path for all, gives hope to all, and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all.

The expression of that principle in our Declaration of Independence was most happy and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government and consequent prosperity. No oppressed people will fight and endure as our fathers did, without the promise of something better than a mere change of masters.

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union and the Constitution are “the settings of silver” framed around it at a later time. The frame was made, not to conceal or destroy the apple, but to adorn and preserve it. The setting was made for the apple—not the apple for the setting.

So let us act, in a way that neither setting nor apple shall ever be blurred or bruised or broken.

To so act, we must study and understand the points of danger.


2 Responses

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  1. Lincoln’s Shame | DL Fowler's Blog said, on February 18, 2015 at 6:34 PM

    […] small group of folks at Gig Harbor Public Library about my biographical novel, Lincoln Raw, and the Building Blocks of Abraham Lincoln’s Personality. Most of our focus was on his innate personality, beginning with his boyhood as a highly sensitive […]


  2. Emilie Laurent said, on December 31, 2019 at 4:39 PM

    Trauma stigma is also a possibility of having done the same in 2004, keeping John Kerry out of the White House. Kerry did in fact suffered of a mild form of trauma, called pre PTSD.


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