Lincoln Defines Character

February 12, 2019

 

On Lincoln’s birthday, we should reflect on at least some measure of his genius.  An often overlooked observation of his was:  “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

 

Lincoln’s commentary is profound. Today, we have the good fortune of celebrating those who have overcome real adversity - be it broken homes, illness, job losses, poor schools, physical ailments, addictions, and other maladies.  They should be applauded as exemplars who should be emulated.

 

What you don't read about often is about the men and women who wield power and decline to use or abuse it. Of course, too often we learn about abuses and corruptions of power.  Some such "leaders" are across the globe - witness North Korea, Cuba, ISIS, and elsewhere; some are too close for comfort - witness Detroit's ex-mayor and the disgraced former governors of New York and Illinois and others.

 

What we should keep in mind - and they are indeed a vanishing breed - are the men and women who are given great power, and use it responsibly - or even more rarely - refuse to exercise it - to allow for liberty to flourish.

 

America was founded on the premise of limited government - that men and women are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, and that the purpose of government is to protect those rights.

 

We must remember that the power to do good is also the power to do evil. That sometimes the most courageous exercise of power is to refuse to wield it. That sometimes people must be allowed to go their own way; that the spark of freedom is in much having the ability to strive and fail than anything else.

 

As Lincoln said, the true test of character is to see what one does - or does not do - with power.

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