This past year, 2009, marked the bicentennial birth of one of America's greatest presidents and in remembrance, I want to take reflection of the works of Abraham Lincoln.
President Lincoln was charged with one of the most devastatingly difficult moments in U.S. history- the Civil War. In his hands, he found the strength to bring together a divided nation in its darkest moments. By many historians, Lincoln is considered to be the greatest American president. He will always be mine.
To understand the impact of Lincoln's legacy is to examine his views on the subject of public opinion, and to study the techniques he used to influence it.
"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."- Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln understood that public opinion is everything and it drove an ethical center in his presidency. He also knew that to shape that public opinion would take the fine art of persuasion.
He recognized that bold new ideas needed time and patience to become accepted as "inevitable." Even with drastic change, Lincoln still gave the people time, announcing the immanent issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation 100 days before hand rather than a bold immediate implementation of the act.
He also understood the principle of being forthright with the public. Persuasion, in Lincoln's view, did not include concealment in areas of disagreement. His listeners were entitled to know exactly where he stood, even if they did not agree.
Lincoln's eloquent use of language was profound and his rhetoric figures of irony, metaphor and extended metaphor reflected the styling of both the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare. In your spare time, I highly recommend reading the series of articles by ClimateProgress.org's Joe Romm, detailing the precision of Lincoln's work in these styles. It is a wonderful view into the mind of our greatest president.
Lincoln's mastery of language, inspiring determination and faith in us all are the same principles any public relations practitioner should live by. Thank you, Mr. President.