The Eloquent President by Ronald White, Jr.

All of us want to speak and write persuasively. Some of us do one or the other well. Few are masters of both. Ronald White Jr. has written a book that explores the great speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln as president. As you gather from the title, The Eloquent President, White concludes that Lincoln is without peer or parallel in his ability to communicate from the White House, be it as author or speaker. After reading the book, I agree.

White takes events that are known to us and gives them a new look. He dissects such speeches as the Gettysburg Address, looking at its parts from the perspective of how they fit not together into the whole of the moment but as part of broader patterns in Lincoln’s communication from 1861 to 1865. White’s telling of these stories is a masterpiece. Expecting a rehash I found a renewal.

The book treats Lincoln’s communication as a cloth with each major speech or essay a piece of the broader fabric. White’s examination of Lincoln’s communication enables you to peek inside the mind of a leader many of us regard as unfathomable even after hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about him. You see a mind wrestling with the meaning of events, many of which he either sought to resist or avoid and yet ultimately brining each into a coherent vision and strategy. A lesser leader would have been accused rightfully of hop-scotching and leap-frogging, jumping from one idea and method to another without any thought of links and connections. For White, Lincoln’s communication shows the opposite view.

I think the book is valuable for leaders who have to cope with twists and turns in events. The hard truth is that much of what leadership is must occur in such an environment. We’re too often told that your vision must remain unchanged, unmoved, unshaken. Lincoln’s experience as we see it in White’s book points to a wholly different reality, one that is just that—reality. Appropriately, in the background as I write this little essay, an internet radio station playing classical music has just started a rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” That’s hardly a coincidence.

Another intriguing aspect of White’s book for leaders is that he reveals Lincoln as a deeply spiritual person. This spirituality grows and matures through four years of one of the worst experiences any of us can imagine. Lincoln’s leadership is informed by his spirituality. Many of you will recall that I make a similar point in my own work on Lincoln.

Allow me to add an observation that probably a million other people have made. If you’ve got a pulse and a brain you’ll likely come to a realization that combines respect and sadness. You develop immense respect for Lincoln’s communication ability with only a year of formal education. He was self-taught. You feel a tinge of sadness in knowing that in today’s political world of pseudo-facts and pseudo-events, it will require nothing short of a miracle to have another such person occupy the president’s chair in the Oval Office.

If only it weren’t so.

Buy this book and read it. You’ll be glad you did.