Jon Wiener: Lincoln's Birthday Special: Management Advice from Honest Abe

tags: Jon Wiener, The Nation, Abraham Lincoln, management, corporations



Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine.

Thanks to Steven Spielberg and his film Lincoln, we’ve been hit by a new wave of management wisdom supposedly gleaned from the film’s central character.  Business Week ran a piece titled “Career Lessons from Spielberg’s Lincoln; the New York Times called theirs “Lincoln’s School of Management.”  Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book on Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals, famously provided the basis for some of the movie, has been back on the “leadership advice” circuit....

...[But] there are some key moments in Lincoln’s life that the management advice people have neglected.  One came in his Second Inaugural, when he declared that, if the Civil War continued “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”—if that happened, he said, he would conclude that "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." 

As Eric Foner observed in his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, Lincoln was “reminding the country that the ‘terrible’ violence of the Civil War had been preceded by two and a half centuries of the terrible violence of slavery.”  Here, Foner continues, Lincoln was asking the entire nation, “what were the requirements of justice in the face of those 250 years of unpaid labor?”  On that topic, our management advice experts are strangely silent.




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