Honest and humorous Abe: CPET lecture shines light on President’s humor and legacy

By Jacob Rzempoluch, Part-Time Staff Writer

When discussing the legacy of American presidents, the focus is usually on their impact and their actions. Often overlooked, however, is how the presidents’ personal attributes, such as their sense of humor, made them a more effective and relatable leader. Dr. Eric Sands, an associate professor of political science at Berry College in Georgia, recently gave a lecture at Saint Vincent College that described how Abraham Lincoln’s personal attributes – specifically, his sense of humor – contributed to his legacy as President.

(Ashbrook Center) Dr. Eric Sands of Berry College recently gave a lecture in the Fred Rogers Center on President Abraham Lincoln’s use of humor in his politics.

“Humor was one of the ways that helped Lincoln relate… to the common man,” Sands said.

Throughout his lecture, Sands included many of Lincoln’s original jokes and stories, demonstrating the various ways a political leader could use humor as an advantage. He also mentioned other presidents that were known for their sense of humor, including Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Students particularly enjoyed this aspect of the lecture. Nick Walters, sophomore politics and English double major, said that he found the lecture interesting, as it related Lincoln’s jokes to more contemporary presidents.

Joel Loomis, sophomore business management and political science double major, attended “to get a good look on Lincoln’s interpretation of politics” and was not disappointed. He reported leaving the lecture with a fuller view of this significant American historical figure.

In some cases, Lincoln used humor to ridicule an opponent or their argument. Just as frequently, Lincoln would use humor to relieve the inherent tensions present in political discussions.

“When I started studying Abraham Lincoln as part of my dissertation, his humor was one of the things that came up,” Sands said. After completing his dissertation, Sands continued his research as a general Lincoln scholar, but he never forgot the humor he found in Lincoln’s personal documents and the stories of others. While presidential humor is not a specific academic focus of Sands’s work, when studying the words and writings of presidents, humor is often present.

A specific example of Lincoln’s humor that Sands discussed was his retort when Congressman James Ashley remarked that Lincoln’s use of anecdotes was excessive and taking the political establishment “not a mile from [Hell].” In response to this comment, Lincoln jested that the Capitol was only about a mile away from the White House. This witty exchange is often mirrored by today’s politicians as well, as humor remains a classic tactic for public speakers.

The Center for Political and Economic Thought hosts lectures at least once a month. Emails will be sent in advance to notify students of these lectures and other campus events.

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