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Washington and Lincoln: Extreme Leadership.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 15, 2010

Posted by Cliff Tuttle © 2010

President’s Day was a consolidation of two Presidential birthdays in February as a Monday holiday and although it has been said that it is now intended to honor all of the Presidents, it is all about Washington and Lincoln.  Although we have had several other great leaders among the 44, none is universally recognized as being in the class of Washington and Lincoln and perhaps none ever will.

There are reasons.  Washington and Lincoln, in their times, managed, by ingenuity and tenacity, to hold together a nation that was literally crumbling. They inspired those around them and many others that they had never met. And they did it in an age when communication was mostly by word of mouth.

Ironically, their triumphs were slow to come and hard won — they had mostly bad days, disappointment and even serious reverses. For a long time, just surviving to fight another day was all that could be achieved. They improvised, they experimented, they tried one approach after another, but they never stopped trying. When a make or break crisis arose, they met it.

But they didn’t do it alone.  No leader ever does.  They found other leaders, plenty of them.  Washington and Lincoln’s Presidential cabinets were perhaps the greatest assembly of talent at that level in the nation’s history.

Washington’s General Staff during the Revolution was composed, by necessity, mostly of men with almost no military experience. But he had a knack for finding talent, Greene and Hamilton were prime examples. The most experienced, Lee and Arnold, became traitors who very nearly delivered final victory to the enemy. But Washington managed to outlast it all, even treachery.

Washington’s greatest military achievement was a retreat, saving the Continental Army from destruction when nearly surrounded at Brooklyn Heights.  At the end of that long retreat, he rallied a demoralized army and nation by a difficult and daring raid on Christmas.  Over his years as Commander of the Continental Army, the aftermath of the war and finally as President, he disarmed various internal revolts, usually  by standing alone before angry dissidents with no other weapons but personality and persuasion.

Lincoln was required to replace one commander after another.  Even great victories such as Gettysburg and the Western Campaign could not bring the war to an end. In order to defeat the enemy’s great generals, he was forced to implement an unprecedented strategy yielding massive death and destruction. And, of course, he was the last casualty of a war that far exceeded the American death toll in the bloody World Wars.

Yes, Washington and Lincoln were survivors.  But, more importantly, they each had a vision.  That vision has become our heritage.


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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