The Secret Message in Abraham Lincoln's Pocket Watch
Doing so, after all, implied freedom was a gift from a benevolent white man that could be easily taken away. African Americans were not foolish enough to think their welfare would be the utmost concern of a white politician. In the stories of Lincoln coming down South, he was rarely concerned first and foremost with the welfare of black people.
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In one story , for example, his animosity towards the slaveholding class was seemingly motivated by a perceived insult rather than a moral opposition to slavery. Lincoln had supposedly visited a plantation in Jefferson County, Arkansas, asking for work.
If the enslaved people of the South needed Lincoln, then he needed them too. He attended nightly prayer meetings held by slaves in secret. He asked them what their lives were like and what they needed from him. Like Brer Rabbit, and indeed like most slaves, the Lincoln in these stories often had to resort to guile and deception in order to get what he wanted. In one account , for example, Lincoln, disguised as a peddler, came upon some white women sitting on a porch in North Carolina. By behaving like a trickster from black folklore, Lincoln was signaling—or rather, black storytellers were signaling—his solidarity with African Americans.
To that end, Lincoln also often duped his white hosts into giving him food. Of course, these stories about Lincoln were told within a specific historical context.
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The people interviewing the former slaves were employees of the federal government, and most of them were white. Many were members of groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy , which valorized the Lost Cause.
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Some were even descendants of folks who owned the very people they were interviewing. Survivors of slavery had every reason to believe their white interviewers would present their stories in a way that bolstered white supremacy. And telling a quaint story about Abraham Lincoln was a clever and relatively safe way to push back against that. Using Lincoln was especially powerful at a time when many Americans had co-opted Lincoln as an icon of white supremacy. The blockbuster film The Birth of a Nation , in addition to denouncing emancipation and venerating the Klan, depicted Lincoln as an enemy of the radical abolitionists and suggested that, had he lived, he would have supported immediate reunion with the South at the expense of black civil rights.
In general, white Americans celebrated Lincoln in a way that made the Civil War a story about white people. They spoke of Lincoln in the same breath as Robert E. Carnegie's speculation about why Lincoln never sent the letter is fascinating and, more importantly, plausible. His best guess is that Lincoln's thought process went something like this:. It is easy enough for me to sit here in the quiet of the White House and order Meade to attack; but if I had been up at Gettysburg, and if I had seen as much blood as Meade has seen during the last week, and if my ears had been pierced with the screams and shrieks of the wounded and dying, maybe I wouldn't be so anxious to attack either.
If I had Meade's timid temperament, perhaps I would have done just what he had done. Anyhow, it is water under the bridge now. If I send this letter, it will relieve my feelings, but it will make Meade try to justify himself.
It will make him condemn me. It will arouse hard feelings, impair all his further usefulness as a commander, and perhaps force him to resign from the army. When delivering feedback, think about how it will affect both the recipient and your overall goal. If the ultimate aim of any feedback is to improve employee performance--and therefore, the organization's performance--than you need to consider whether the timing and the wording of the feedback will accomplish those goals. In Carnegie's view, Lincoln believed that his feedback to Meade would both "impair" the general's performance and damage the army's performance.
Therefore, the feedback was not worth delivering to Meade at this juncture.
Lincoln’s Secret Oath
Before you criticize an employee, put yourself in his shoes. Hindsight is , the cliche goes. Second guessing is always easy. Wrong as Meade was, in Lincoln's view, Lincoln was aware enough to realize that bullets were flying around Meade--so perhaps he could be forgiven or, at least, understood, if he wasn't in his right mind on the battlefield.
Pressure creates mistakes. If you've got feedback for your employees, consider first the pressures they are under to make the decisions they make. If you're angry about an outcome, give yourself an outlet for venting. Just because Lincoln didn't send the letter doesn't mean writing the letter didn't help.
Sexuality of Abraham Lincoln
The notion that writing down your frustrations can help you vent is well known. The trick is actually doing it in practice. At the very least, that's what Lincoln accomplished here. And remember this, too: If you're upset at an employee, on some level you're the one to blame.