A Message to Modern Politicians – Lincoln’s Bartending Story

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas (around the time of their 1858 debates)

With all of the problems facing America today, it’s amazing the way politics has degenerated to insults, name-calling, and so forth at all levels of the political spectrum. However, what’s really depressing is that the man who holds our nation’s highest office was one of the worst perpetrators during his campaign.

Now, ten months after his inauguration, his name-calling and insults continue, unabated, in spite of the dignity of his office.

Abraham Lincoln had a story about such behavior.

Lincoln vs. Douglas

In his book, Lincoln’s Own Stories, Anthony Gross narrates an incident about Abraham Lincoln’s response, during a speech, to a put-down about his past. The subject of the put-down is not important; it’s the point Lincoln makes with it that reveals the deeper message. [1]

During the speech, Stephen Douglas – Lincoln’s adversary for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1858 – reputedly told a crowd that when he first knew Lincoln, Lincoln was a “grocery-keeper,” and sold whiskey and cigars. “Mr. L.,” said Douglas, “was a very good bartender!” This earned a laugh from the crowd, and Douglas moved on with his speech.

Finally, at one point during his reply, Lincoln responded:

“What Mr. Douglas has said gentlemen, is true enough. I did keep a grocery, and I did sell cotton, candles, and cigars, and sometimes whiskey; but I remember in those days, Mr. Douglas was one of my best customers. Many a time have I stood on one side of the counter and sold whiskey to Mr. Douglas on the other side; but the difference between us now is this: I have left my side of the counter, but Mr. Douglas still sticks to his as tenaciously as ever.” [1a]

Lincoln’s message was about personal change and professional growth.

Interesting that Trump, unlike Mr. Lincoln, ‘still sticks to his as tenaciously as ever.’

Food for thought.


[Like this one? Please click here for more Stories That Abe Told.]

Works Cited

[1] Gross, Anthony. (1912). Lincoln’s Own Stories. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers Publishing Co. p.59.

1a] NOTE: Mr Gross didn’t specify in which speech this occured, and I’ve not been able to verify that this story is actually in any of Lincoln’s speeches. There is a “grocery-keeper” reference in his first debate with Douglas in Ottawa, IL (Aug. 28, 1858), but that appears to be the only one. -Mac

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