Abraham Lincoln's Presidency

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What were Lincoln's major strengths and weaknesses as a wartime leader?  

Lincoln's major strength as a wartime leader was his ability to listen to different points of view. He also had the remarkable capacity to remain strong in the face of adversity. His major weakness was that he gave people too many chances, which often led to setbacks on the field of battle.

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Abraham Lincoln is widely considered to be one of the country's greatest presidents, and indeed, he possessed some significant strengths that helped him lead the North through the Civil War. First, Lincoln was an excellent speaker who could communicate well with friends and foes alike. He could clearly and concisely express his goals, encourage the nation in times of difficulty, and inspire morale through speeches like the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural speech.

Further, Lincoln was a highly intelligent man who could balance numerous perspectives and find middle ground between radicals and moderates. He was open to being taught, quick to learn, accepting of disagreement, and able to share both credit for the nation's successes and blame for its failures.

Lincoln did, however, have his weaknesses as a wartime leader. First, he had no military experience whatsoever. This made it difficult for Lincoln to serve in his capacity as commander in chief, choosing generals, planning campaigns, and making necessary changes. He left General George B. McClellan in place long after he had already shown his inability to properly lead the Union army, for example. He also hesitated over strategy, allowing himself to be influenced even when he questioned his generals' ideas.

Lincoln was also quite careless about the civil rights of citizens. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus, for instance, allowing Northern officials to arrest and detain civilians without charge or trial. His orders of conscription were also constitutionally questionable. Lincoln often set aside the law and the Constitution when such served his purpose, bending the rules in favor of his own agenda.

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As someone without any prior military experience, Lincoln had to learn on the job when it came to being a wartime leader. This only makes it all the more remarkable that he was so successful in his role as president during the Civil War.

Lincoln displayed a number of strengths as a wartime leader. For one thing, he showed a willingness to listen to different points of view. Lincoln's cabinet was full of big personalities and egos, most of whom thought they could do a much better job as president.

Yet Lincoln recognized the importance of allowing his cabinet members to express themselves freely, as it would give him more options for prosecuting the war successfully.

Lincoln also showed grace under fire, the ability to remain strong in the face of adversity. Despite many setbacks in the early stages of the war, Lincoln remained resolute in his determination to defeat the Confederacy and maintain the Union. Such single-minded purposefulness and resolve would pay dividends later on.

But Lincoln had his weaknesses as a wartime leader. The most serious of these was his tendency to give people too many chances. This can be seen in the case of General McClellan, who continued to disobey directives for a considerable length of time before Lincoln finally relieved him of his command.

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I concur with Pohnpei with regards to Lincoln’s apparent indecisiveness in replacing McClellan. The president was willing to keep McClellan despite his obvious lack of aggression as a general. However, it should be noted that McClellan was popular among the troops and the president may have had a difficult time trying to find a replacement. At one point, Lincoln brought in Gen. John Pope but he was shortly forced to recall McClellan. Lincoln also delayed military conscription and only employed the draft after facing serious defeats.

Lincoln’s strength was based on his vision and courage. Despite a myriad of setbacks, the president refused to relinquish his push to protect the Union. He made mistakes and learned from them, for instance, the issue of conscription. Lincoln fought and defeated the Confederacy to achieve the goals he had set forth for the nation.

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One of Lincoln's major flaws as a war time leader was that he was unable to identify really good military leadership.  This was a problem at that time because the Army was not as professionalized as it is now.  Nowadays, presidents do not typically have to pick generals because there is an Army system for doing this.  But Lincoln had to pick his generals and he picked a number of bad ones and perhaps stuck with them too long.  A major example of this is how long he stuck with George McClellan even as McClellan's lack of aggression frustrated him.

One of Lincoln's major strengths was the strength of his character and his determination.  Lincoln absorbed many setbacks during the Civil War, some of which were (like McClellan being in command) at least partly his own fault.  But Lincoln did not let the setbacks deter him.  Instead, he learned from mistakes, accepted that they were partly his fault, and moved ahead.  All the time, he kept the main goal of winning the war ahead of his own feelings or pride.

Because of his strengths, Lincoln was able to keep the North together politically long enough to defeat the South in the war.

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