It is always difficult to analyze a famous quote when taken out of context, and this quote by Abraham Lincoln is certainly no exception.
Lincoln's quote begins by addressing friendship; Lincoln values friendship, but also recognizes the importance of being your own person. So how can friendship as a weak point relate to strength? Friends are a valuable resource. Perhaps the key to understanding this quote lies in yet another pearl of wisdom from our sixteenth president. In another quote, Lincoln says:
"I am thankful to all those who said 'no' to me. It's because of them I did it myself."
With this thought in mind, friendship may seem like a detriment to building personal fortitude and strength; going alone and depending solely on one's own merits builds immense character.
If friendship was a person's weakest point, that person would probably not have very many friends to support and encourage them; he or she would have to be incredibly independent and strong.
As a self-made man, Lincoln would certainly appreciate the importance of self-reliance.
The quote by Abraham Lincoln may be taken to express his remarks to challenges he went through during his presidency at the time of the Civil War. By addressing some of the deep seated issues that were facing America at the time, he understood that major conflicts would arise. It is likely that he had to sacrifice his friendships because of what he stood for. There were different factions going against each other making the situation worse for the President who chose to moderate them all. There were groups who openly despised him with others even plotting to assassinate him. To end these conflicts it would have been easier for Lincoln to compromise and develop friendships with these groups. However, Lincoln did not fall for this “weakness” and instead rose against them on the issues of secession and slavery as was the case in his Gettysburg Address. In summary, he chose to uphold his principles instead of forging friendships based on negative compromises.
There is no question that a quote from over a hundred years ago, without any context, can be ambiguous and difficult to interpret. I would suggest a somewhat different interpretation is possible though. Lincoln might have meant that as we have many weaknesses, for example, greed or cowardice, if a person's very worst weakness is caring for friends, that is a person who does not have any of the far uglier and more debilitating weaknesses a person might have, consequently, a very strong person. Of course, Lincoln also might have thought or said that one chooses one's friends very carefully, since, certainly, one can have friends that make one weak, by draining a person or by harming a person's reputation.