Abraham Lincoln knew that the nation he was elected to lead was in peril. The Civil War was going badly. He realized that the time for bold action was necessary. But he also realized that getting his diverse Cabinet to support any action was problematic. While his Cabinet was made up of men with distinguished careers, they were also prone to “talking to death” any issue.

Lincoln started meeting with soldiers to get a true sense of the war. One thing he learned was that slaves were being used by the Confederacy to support the southern army. He spent time thinking about the issue of slavery by living outside of the White House for a summer. He explored all possibilities about the war effort and what it would take to win it.

On July 22, 18622, President Lincoln brought together his Cabinet. He presented to them a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves throughout the United States. He told the Cabinet that the subject of the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t open for debate. He accepted total responsibility for its consequences.

His Cabinet was understandably shocked. Some supported what the President was about to do while others were opposed. The President remained firm, and the only question was the timing of when the proclamation would be issued. When the Confederate Army was forced to retreat after Antietam, the President felt it was time.

When the proclamation was issued, the Cabinet was fully supportive. The support came not because of their beliefs in the action of freeing the slaves. Instead it came from the President’s nurturing relationships with each member of the Cabinet. He set a standard of personal behavior which he expected of each of them. The mutuality of respect was ingrained over time. And each member of the Cabinet respected the President’s decisive action.

While none of us are likely to face a decision as momentous as the Emancipation Proclamation, each of us will face times when decisive action is needed. What are those times? It’s likely they could evolve from one of the following:

  • A threat is so grave that bold action is needed.
  • While a situation may not be dire, efforts to resolve an issue through discussion are unlikely to be successful.
  • There is a disconnect on what reality is, and bold action is needed to “wake up” those who have been in denial.


In a day, when there is a great desire to talk things through, there still remains a need for leaders who can be decisive and take bold action when needed.

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“Be sure you put your foot in the right place, then stand firm.” – Abraham Lincoln


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