Lincoln Was A Geek: The Advantages of Mastery and Deep Knowledge

Was Lincoln Just A Folksy Small-Town Lawyer?
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

Lincoln was a lawyer, and his law office was located in what was then a small town, Springfield, Illinois, albeit the state capital. But the 16th President also had geek-like qualities.

Let me explain. The word “geek” has come to describe individuals who have immersed themselves in a particular subject. We speak of “sports geeks” or “social media geeks” or “political geeks.” The word implies deep knowledge of a particular subjact, often to the exclusion of other interests

And that describes Lincoln. By the time he became President, Lincoln had acquired deep knowledge of a specialized field of law–patent law and copyrights. And he also had deep knowledge of political behavior.

If Lincoln were alive, I’m certain that he would be giving interviews to the media on election nights. He had a firm grasp of voting patterns, turnout, and trends.

Here is how Lincoln comported himself the night of the 1860 presidential election. He, along with several companions, spent the evening in the second-floor office of the Illinois & Western Telegraph Company.

One of the people in the room–a journalist by the name of Thurlow Weed–described the returns that were coming in as “Greek to me…but Mr. Lincoln seemed to understand their bearing on the general result in the State and commented upon every return by way of comparison with previous elections. He understood at a glance whether it was a loss or gain to his party.”

And this is the way one authoritative biography–Nicolay and Hay–describes Lincoln’s geek-like ability: “He was completely at home among election figures. All his political life he had scanned tables of returns with as much care and accuracy as he analyzed and scrutinized maxims of government and platforms of parties. Now, as formerly,he was familiar with all the turning points in contested counties and ‘close’ districts, and knew by heart the value of each and every local loss or gain, and its relation to the grand result.”

Obviously, not just a small-town lawyer at work here.

A fundamental truth for all of us is revealed here…an achievement factor.  If you intend to become a high achiever in any field, you need to possess deep knowledge of that field.

Keep in mind that deep knowledge and communication skill are not mutually exclusive. You really don’t have to choose one or the other. Put another way, it’s important to be able to tell what you know, but it is equally important to know what you tell. 


If you want a quotation book you can trust, there’s not a single spurious quote in—

The Words Lincoln Lived By

“This is a book to cherish and share.”—Bill Marriott, CEO, Marriott International, Inc.

“Not only does Griessman give us Lincoln quotes, but he also weaves each one into a little jewel of an essay on that particular subject.” Wayne C. Temple, renowned Lincoln scholar, Illinois State Archives

You will also enjoy Lincoln Speaks To Leaders by Gene Griessman and Pat Williams.

Don’t leave yet. You’ve found a goldmine. Check out additional power phrases and unusual quotations.


This entry was posted in Lincoln Quotes/What would Lincoln say? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.