In 1858, Abraham Lincoln’s debate with Stephen A. Douglas in a campaign for the U.S. Senate thrust him into the limelight as an abolitionist. Lincoln was nominated for president when the Republicans held their 1860 convention in Chicago.

Even though Abraham Lincoln was born in Indiana and matured to manhood in Illinois, we still have to claim him as one of our own. After all, when Lincoln first started campaigning he attracted very little attention and had rather sparse crowds for his campaign speeches. It was not until he arrived in the young border town of Leavenworth, Kan., to campaign during the height of the Border Wars that he was taken seriously and attracted much of a crowd. Lincoln stayed in Leavenworth for nearly a week, sampling the famous local beer, and converting his hosts to outspoken advocates of abolition. The visit to our neck of the woods turned the tides for him, and the rest is history.

Early in Abe’s life, when he was a child living on the Indiana frontier, he had only three books in his household: The Bible, a Dillworth’s Speller, and an American Edition of Aesop’s Fables. According to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, a playmate of Abe’s made the comment: “He kept the Bible and Aesop’s always in reach, and read them over and over again.” These stories helped shape young Abe into not just one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known, but one of the greatest men the world has ever known.

One of those Aesop’s Fables, the “Lion and the Four Bulls,” helped form the foundation of Lincoln’s famous “House Divided” speech, where he implored “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” According to a synopsis contained in a Project Gutenberg e-book of Aesop's Fables, the fable went something like this:

"Four bulls, which had entered a very strict friendship, always kept near one another and grazed together. The lion often saw them, and often had mind to make one of them his prey; he easily could have subdued any one of them by themselves, but he was afraid to attack the whole alliance, knowing they would have been too hard for him, and therefore contented himself for the present with keeping a safe distance. At last, perceiving no attempt was possible upon them as long as this combination held, he took the occasion, by whispers and hints, to foment jealousies and raise divisions amongst them. This strategy worked so well, that the bulls grew cold and reserved toward one another, which soon afterwards ripened into a downright hatred and aversion to each other, and at last, ended in total separation. The lion now obtained his opportunity; and as impossible as it was for him to hurt them while they were united, he found no difficulty, now that they were parted, to seize and devour every one of them, one after the other.

The moral of this fable is so well known and allowed, that to go about and enlighten it would be like holding a candle to the sun. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand; and as undisputed a maxim as that statement is, it was however thought to be necessary and urged to mankind, by the best man who ever lived. And since friendships and alliances are of such great importance to our well being and happiness, we cannot be cautioned and reminded too often as to not let them be broken by opposing politics, gossip, petty jealousies, or any other contrivance of our enemies."

Lincoln served from March 1861 as the 16th president until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its greatest constitutional, military, and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, strengthening the national government and modernizing the economy.

Reference: Aesop’s Fables and Abraham Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln Presidential Foundation

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Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups. You can reach Stillwell by phone at 816-252-9909 or by the Internet. Please note however, a change in the e-mail address, please don’t forget the dot.