Tag: Abraham Lincoln

Self-Made Man by Vincent Limon

Image result for abe lincoln

Ever since we started talking about the topic of “The Self-Made Man” in class, one name has continued to occupy my mind.  This person fits the description and embodies what it means to be self-made in the American culture; someone who goes on to obtain great success through sheer determination, willpower, and hard work when everything else seems to be against them.  Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States and the man who was able to successfully lead the Union to victory during the Civil War, is the closest thing to being self-made that anyone could find.  It is important to note that Lincoln is simply the “closest” person to fitting the mold of what the self-made man is.  One important concept that was covered in class is the idea that no person is entirely self-made.  This is because people are often dependent on other people for their success.  As Oprah Winfrey once stated, “Surround yourself with those who only lift you higher.”  What Winfrey is saying in this quote is that if someone wants to be the best that they can be at something, they are going to have to surround themselves with other people who have the skills to elevate that person to be the best.  This sort of practice is often seen in the most successful companies and has yielded positive results for almost anyone who has tried it. (photo via https://harpers.org/abraham-lincoln-1862/)

With this in mind, when analyzing Lincoln, it becomes very clear that while at points he was dependent on individuals for his success, most of his accomplishments came without the help of others.  From an early age in rural Kentucky, Lincoln was able to almost entirely self-educate himself–he did receive about eighteen months of formal education as a youth–by reading anything he could find (depicted in photo below via https://aboutpresidentabrahamlincoln.blogspot.com/p/abraham-lincoln-childhood-pictures-and.html)

Image result for young abraham lincoln cabin

He was able to teach himself Law and practice successfully before being elected to the Illinois State Legislature and the United States House of Representatives.  While he lost in the famous 1858 Illinois Senate Election to Stephen Douglass, he did not let defeat deter him from his goal of making America a better place without the heinous practice of slavery–this idea of perseverance and the underdog is also popular in American culture.  (depicted in photo below, via https://www.britannica.com/event/Lincoln-Douglas-debates),

Image result for lincoln douglas debate

Using his great performances in the Lincoln-Douglass Debates he persevered and won the Presidency in 1860.  As President, he was able to accomplish some things that politicians today could only dream of; leading America through its darkest times, abolishing slavery, and signing legislation like the Homestead Act and the Morrill Land-Grant act are just some of these impressive accomplishments.  Almost all these accomplishments show his limited dependency on others and reinforce the fact that he is mostly a self-made man; while he did have a cabinet of advisors and Congress to help him with all these situations/ideas, he was the one at the forefront of all of these and the one who was primarily responsible for their success.

Icons like Abraham Lincoln are the ones that Americans and people from all around the world should be looking up to and striving to be like.  Of course, Lincoln was not without his flaws, and these flaws are often overlooked/forgotten about due to the pedestal that al icons are put on where myths seem to take over reality, but overall, he is a great role model and the closest thing to being a “Self-Made Man” that there is.

Rise & Grind by Celeste Joyce

“I used to be a slave.” During a speech at a campaign event, the newly-Republican Abraham Lincoln told the crowd that he had been a slave. This statement was partially true: until he was 21 years old, Lincoln’s father had rented out his son’s labor and kept all the profit. It is also completely false. Lincoln was still free to go. He may have worked hard, and toiled under unfair conditions, but he was still able to become a lawyer, a state representative, and eventually president of the United States- things a slave could never have done.

Lincoln’c story of hard work, perseverance, and grit is compelling. It also writes out any mention of luck, chance, or privilege. The myth of the “self-made man” necessarily requires some doctoring of one’s own story. The most important component, the one that is always left in, is the hard work. Whether to convince others of the validity of the self-made man’s success, or to convince oneself, hard work is the common thread of every self-made story. Lincoln purposefully left out the fact that he had married into elite society in his “I used to be a slave” speech. He didn’t mention that his father was financially stable, or that he was allowed to pursue education as a child instead of being forced to work more. Even his height gave him a decided political advantage. Instead, history has created a narrative of a tireless hard worker, whose success had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with strength of will.

In older, more traditional versions of the self-made man fable, this hard work often took the form of manual labor. A self-made man was always that- a real man. His legacy was quite literally founded in the sweat off his back. Many of the self-made men of John Swansburg’s article fall into this category. Ben Franklin made sure people saw him pushing his wheelbarrow around and waking up early. Lincoln’s strength of character was forged while splitting rails as a child. The author’s own father got started pouring tar on rooves. He could feel a good real estate prospect “in his balls.”

Even more contemporary success stories, which don’t rely on balls or backbreaking manual labor still focus on the necessity of hard work. Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal reminds her aspiring readers to work hard: “If you’re a #GIRLBOSS, you should want to work harder than everybody else.” She goes on to discuss the various menial tasks and dead-end jobs which taught her to “tolerate shit [she didn’t] like…” and reminded the #GIRLBOSSes of the world that on their way up, they might have to do some unsavory jobs because “this is not an ideal world and it’s never going to be.”

The rhetoric of every self-made man is blind to the fact that the world is unfair, unideal. What Amoruso cites as “shitty learning experience” jobs might be the only job someone will ever get. Through no fault of their own, it will not lead to multi-million dollar profits. Scrubbing the floor, no matter how well you do it or how diligently you apply yourself, does not guarantee a $50 million investment. For some people, “stepping-stone” jobs are the only one’s they’ll ever have. And although she states it in her own writing, Amoruso does not seem to acknowledge that the world is not ideal.

America has an obsession with hard work. There is a pervasive American ideal that working is like freedom- it keeps you honest and wholesome. There is also the indelible, inescapable American promise: that you are always free to work (wherever you want, in whatever profession). There is no promise of freedom from work. After all, if you want to make it, you have to put in the sweat equity. No one promises this more than the people who have made it.

As Swansburg’s article illustrates, the self-made men and women of the world love to tout the value of hard work. This maxim is in their autobiographies, their speeches, and their self-help books. After all, hard work is the only guarantee in America. You will have to work hard. No one can guarantee luck, chance, or privilege. It’s far prettier to insist that hard work creates opportunities, than to suggest that opportunities might be as random as chance.

Blumenthal, Sidney. Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster, 2017.