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Persistence and Abe Lincoln.

Posted: September 02, 2015

Big changes don’t happen overnight. Well, the good kind anyway. We all know that sometimes bad things happen that can rock your world in an instant. But that’s a different article. 

Last week we looked at three pivotal qualities that lead one to success. 1) Commitment; 2) Attention to Detail; and 3) Staying Power. 

Today, I’m writing about persistence. This is kind of like staying power, but perhaps in a slightly different way. To me, staying power is critical, even when things are working. But persistence is what you need when things aren’t working!

Persistence is what it takes to make the kind of changes we’re trying to make, whether they’re in our body, our finances, career, addictions, or even our spiritual walk. Changes in our kids. Now that’s a tough one. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. 

We’ve all heard about the “overnight sensation” that spent twenty years working on their craft, playing in the small venues, dealing with discouragement. Or the successful entrepreneur who finally struck gold with an idea, after several failures. 

One of the best known examples of persistence was good old Honest Abe Lincoln, our 16th President. A quick Goggle search for “Abe Lincoln failures” will lead you to several sources with extensive lists of them. 

The first one to come up is the website: While I can’t speak for the veracity of all the information, it seems to line up pretty well with my recollection of Lincoln’s bio, and they are citing a historian with references. 

So here is a partial list of his failures, courtesy of ALO. I strongly recommend you check out their website for more great information about Abe Lincoln. 

1832 Lost job; Defeated for state legislature.

1833 Failed in business. 

1835 Sweetheart died. 

1836 Had nervous breakdown. 

1838 Defeated for Speaker. 

1843 Defeated for nomination for Congress. 

1848 Lost renomination. 

1849 Rejected for land officer. 

1854 Defeated for U.S. Senate. 

1856 Defeated for nomination for Vice President. 

1858 Again defeated for U.S. Senate.

Wow, now that’s a school of hard knocks! What’s most interesting to me took me years to understand, but then I had an “a-hah” moment: You don’t have this many failures if you don’t keep on trying. 

Lincoln certainly was never one to sit still and just accept defeat. He licked his wounds and found another battle to engage. He must have developed an amazingly thick skin, and a will that was like iron. 

He developed patience, perspective, and our topic today, persistence. Indeed, this would be a quality he surely needed to help put our nation back together. 

So what did he do after getting knocked down? He got back up and got back in the fight. He kept trying. Let’s take a look now at both sides of the ledger. 

In 1832, he lost his job and was defeated for state legislature – but was elected company captain of Illinois militia in Black Hawk War. 

In 1833, he failed in business – but was appointed postmaster of New Salem, IL; was appointed deputy surveyor of Sangamon County; and in 1834, he was elected to the Illinois State Legislature. 

In 1835 his sweetheart died, and in 1836, he had a nervous breakdown (understandably so) – but he was re-elected to IL legislature and received license IL law license. Then in 1837, he led the Whig delegation responsible for relocating the state capital to Springfield; and became a law partner. 

In 1838 he was defeated for Speaker – but was re-elected to IL House of Rep, and was Whig floor leader. In 1839, he was chosen as a presidential elector by Whigs, and admitted to practice law in U.S. Circuit Court. In 1840, he argued his first case before IL Supreme Court and was re-elected to the IL state legislature. In 1841, he opened a new law practice with a partner. In 1842, he was admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Court. 

In 1843, he was defeated for nomination for Congress – but established a new law practice, this time as senior partner. Then in 1846, he was elected to U.S. Congress. 

In 1848, he was defeated for renomination and in 1849, he was rejected for land officer. But he was admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, and declined appointments as secretary and governor of Oregon Territory. 

In 1854, he was defeated for U.S. Senate, but was elected again to the IL State Legislature.

In 1856, he was defeated for nomination for Vice President, and in 1858, was again defeated for U.S. Senate. But we all know the rest of the story. In 1860, he was elected President of the United States and saved our country. 

Be persistent. Great things can come of it!