Abe's Conscience



Image by Gordon Johnson, pixabay.com


Somewhere in your education you probably heard the nickname “Honest Abe.” It applies, of course, to Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President. But did you know the incidents which earned him that title?


Abe wasn’t always a success, but he always was honest. And honesty in deed, meant to him, respecting the property of others.


When Lincoln was a younger man he became a shop clerk in New Salem, Illinois. One day while balancing the day’s books, he realized he had overcharged a customer by about six cents. After the shop closed, he walked several miles to his customer’s house and returned the correct change.


Another time Lincoln weighed a pound of tea for a customer and afterward discovered he had used the wrong weight for the scale. He made a new package and delivered it to the unsuspecting store patron.


Probably the most stringent test of Lincoln’s character came when he and William Berry became business partners and bought a store. They didn’t agree on how to run their company and fell heavily into debt. It became so hopeless they planned to sell the business and pay off their debts. That’s when things became sticky.


Lincoln and Berry located a buyer; however, the buyer ran the business for a time, then disappeared. The debts fell back into their hands. Berry died then, leaving an estate of only $60, hardly enough to pay off the accumulated debts of $1,100 from the failed business. Berry’s lack of honesty cost Lincoln dearly.


Amazingly, after perhaps twelve years, Lincoln paid off the entire debt, even though he wasn’t responsible for accumulating much of it. The townsfolk of New Salem began calling him “Honest Abe.”


Another almost-forgotten incident occurred when Lincoln was in his early twenties. He became Postmaster of New Salem, selling stamps and delivering mail. When the postal service shut down, Lincoln was left with $17 from stamp sales.


Years later a government agent appeared in Lincoln’s law office wanting the money due from stamp sales. Lincoln opened a trunk and took out a rag with the exact coins he had collected from postal customers. He never used the money, though deeply in debt himself.


What price honesty? When Lincoln ran for public office, people told him to avoid making controversial remarks, and focus instead of saying what would appeal to his audience. His reply? “[I]f it has been decreed that I should go down…then let me go down linked to the truth—let me die in the advocacy of what is just and right.”


That, my friends, is the mark of a man who embodied honesty in all forms. And that’s exactly what Lincoln did; he died in the advocacy of what is just and right. And a race of people were eternally grateful.


What about you? Feel free to comment below.