‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”- Abraham Lincoln
What ordinarily should be a national mourning turned to a day of joy, with citizens dancing and celebrating unashamedly on the streets, the city of Lagos, Nigeria went agog at the news of the Nation’s leader. The day was July, 8, 1998, and the death of the Nigerian Military Ruler, General Sanni Abacha has just been confirmed. What a bizarre thing, I thought to myself.
While thinking about this bizarre occurrence, I decided to carry out some research. My research efforts led me to a similar yet different event. On the 9th of May, 1987, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, a nationalist and a great leader answered the great call. It was reported in national newspapers all across the world. In each page of each newspaper, the lives and times of this great Ikenne man was dissected with each extolling his great deeds. The nation was in a sober mood, with grown men and women crying as if tomorrow would not come. “What made the stark difference?”, I asked myself.
In the historical context of the United States of America. He was a big, sturdy man… no longer young… and tired by six hard years of war. Now they were offering him a new job. The work was exhausting. The hours were endless. The future was uncertain. They pay was small. But being the boss, you couldn’t say “NO” to that boss.
So the man whose name was George Washington took the job called presidency of the United States and for the first time in the history of the world, a whole people became their boss.
George Washington placed his right hand on the bible… and a blacksmith in the new hemisphere pounded the anvil. He was a free man, and George Washington was working for him. George Washington sat down at the presidential desk. And a fisherman on the Grand banks, a farmer in Virginia, a schoolmaster in Connecticut, all stood up for a little straighter. They were free men, and George Washington was working for them.
This article will look at the power inherent in power – how leaders have positively and otherwise used power to better or damn the lives of the led.
All over the world, wherever the news spread, men stopped their work to wonder at this new American thing. A people who would not be ruled, but who governed themselves. A people who had taken the love of independence that is in all men and made it work as a way of life.
How did the United States become a world power?
The Early Years of the Republic. The early development of the United States into a nation was made possible by the wise policy of her early president. George Washington saw clearly that if his country were to become great, it must avoid the wars and intrigues of the European nations. As a result of this conviction, he studiously avoided entering the war which broke out between Great Britain and France in 1789, and declared that America would remain neutral.
When he retired from the presidency, Washington in his farewell address advised the people of the United States against entangling foreigner alliances. He realized that so small and weak a country as the United States could easily fall a victim to the wiles of the clever statesmen of any European nation with whom negotiations were opened.
The Federalist president, John Adams, followed Washington’s example. He, too avoided mixing in European affairs, and his administration was one of growth and increased strength on the part of the country.
Thomas Jefferson, too, carried on Washington’s policy of isolation, and when France again gained control of the great Louisiana territory which bordered the western United States he was deeply distressed. He clearly saw that so powerful a near neighbor as France would be constantly quarrelling with his country, and that it would be impossible to avoid wars or alliances. He forsook the strict construction policy of his party and authorized the purchase of the entirety of Louisiana from Napoleon.
Unfortunately, conditions became so bad in the following years that the example of neutrality could not be carried on, and the United States found itself plunged into a second war with Great Britain during the administration of James Madison. Washington’s advice, however, was followed and the country fought without alliances and managed to win an honorable peace without losing its liberty.
James Monroe followed the example of the earlier presidents. When the concert of Europe, a group of powerful European nations, agreed to help Spain regain her territories in South America, the President issued the famous Monroe doctrine, declaring that any attempt by a foreign power to conquer or colonize in the western hemisphere would be regarded as an unfriendly act. “America for Americans” was an idea which lay back of the Monroe doctrine, and the European nations clearly saw that the United States was determined to resist foreign interference to the utmost.
Americans owe much to these farsighted early presidents. Thanks to their efforts, character and their intelligent policies, the country avoided many of the dangers with which it was threatened, and a greater army and navy. It was during this formative early period that the hands-off policy of Washington, Jefferson and Monroe was most needed.
With this close of the war between the states the unity of United States was insured. The country had grown in size and population, and here was no longer danger of the North and South splitting apart and becoming two weak nations, either of which would fall easy prey to the first European conqueror. A period of development was at hand, during which the United States was destined to grow from a young, weak nation, struggling to survive, to a great world power. Therefore applies an American proverb, “a dose of adversity is often as needful as a dose of medicine”. Nothing really discloses real character like the use of power. Most people can bear adversity, but if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is supreme test; it is the glory of Lincoln that he had almost absolute power. He never abused it except upon the side of mercy. He knew no fear except the fear of doing wrong. The lives of the early presidents of the United States have helped in building the nation and making the leading world power through their characteristics to manage adversity; the absolute use of power as the first President elected (Pres., George Washington) taught us. Abraham Lincoln was definitely right, when he said this.
But wait, this piece isn’t about the American people, nor is power an exclusive right of the Americans. Whether you are from Lagos or London, Hawai or Korea, Jakarta or Lombok, power is universal as is air.
History bears testament to the great power of power. From Adolph Hitler to Saddam Hussein to General Sanni Abacha to Obafemi Awolowo to Lee Kuan Yew to Mahatma Gandhi, we all have seen the power of Lincoln. History indeed has proven Abraham Lincoln right again and again that, “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.