13 December 2007

Lincoln on Persuasion

In a post last week, we mentioned our love of dailylit.com and admiration for Abraham Lincoln. We wrote this in the context of a letter we'd read that day, written by Lincoln, to a friend, regarding his recent marriage proposal. The response from friends who've read this in email (we forwarded it to some) and on the blog has been overwhelmingly positive.

Though not all letters are as funny and interesting and revealing as that letter, they often contain nuggets of information that seem to have present application. Or, at least they do to us. Bear in mind that we are a historian in training.

From an Address before the Washingtonian Temperance Society. Springfield, Illinois. February 22, 1842

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim "that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.

On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than herculean force and precision, you shall be no more able to pierce him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him, even to his own best interests....

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