From Lincoln s fatalism derived some of his most lovable traits: his compassion, his tolerance, his willingness to overlook mistakes. That belief did not, of course, lend him to lethargy or dissipation. Like thousands of Calvinists who believed in predestination, he worked indefatigably for a better world for himself, for his family, and for his nation. But it helped to buffer the many reverses that he experienced and enabled him to continue a strenuous life of aspiration. It also made for a pragmatic approach to problems, a recognition that if one solution as fated not to work another could be tried. My policy is to have no policy became a kind of motto from Lincoln a motto that infuriated the sober, doctrinaire people around him who were inclined to think that the President had no principals either. He might have offended his critics less if he had more often used the analogy he gave James G. Blaine when explaining his course on Reconstruction: The pilots on our Western rivers steer from point to point as they call it setting the course of the boat no further than they can see; and that is all I propose to myself in this great problem. Both statements suggest Lincoln s reluctance to take the initiative and make bold plans; he preferred to respond to the actions of others. They also show why Lincoln in his own distinctively American way had the quality John Keats defined as forming a Man of Achievement , that quality which Shakespeare possessed so enormously Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'
Years ago I read David Herbert Donald's, Lincoln, and found it profoundly applicable to my own life and situation as a pastor. Lincoln himself knew what it meant to be accused of not having a vision, of having no moral standard and of being a poor leader. I don't think Lincoln had a vision except for the freedom of all people. But I don't think that is necessarily a vision as in a corporate goal to achieve. Rather, it is something to be proclaimed and practiced. The freedom of all people is a reality only cloaked in the evil of humanity and this world. The emancipation of ourselves and others is an urgent and instantaneous necessity that must be manifested at every instance. No vision is required. There's also no seeing ahead but to the next immediate point. Here's one of the quotes from Donald that impacted me most: