🔒 Boardroom Talk – After the Rainbow Coalition coalesces, some advice from Honest Abe

By Alec Hogg

There are few greater joys for me than taking delivery after waiting for a special book. Courtesy of Takealot, five hundred of my rands and a three-week wait, a copy of Team of Rivals arrived yesterday. So the borrowed copy will now be returned – and I’m finally free to insert the margin notes every classic demands.

Yesterday was also the closing of the two-day pow-wow of the Rainbow Coalition/Moonshot Pact/Multi-Party Charter for SA. Putting aside the gory details, the coalition’s true relevance is that it even exists. That’s a massive sign of maturity in the ego-fuelled world of politics. More will be needed. But it’s a good first step.

Hopefully, the coalition’s leaders invest in the Lincoln biography. And read it for long enough to reach page 173, where they’ll find an instructive tale on being a true statesman. One worth repeating here.

In June 1855, Abraham Lincoln was approached by nationally renown patent specialist George Harding to join work for him on defending a patent infringement against his client’s mechanical reaping machine. Lincoln was recruited because the case was due to be heard in Chicago, so a lawyer from Illinois was thought to be advantageous.  

Lincoln was paid a retainer and promised a substantial fee. Not long after he had been hired, though, the case was switched to Cincinnati, allowing the New York patent specialist to hire the man he’d wanted in the first place, a brilliant attorney and Ohio native called Edwin Stanton.

Unaware of the change, Lincoln continued working on the case, preparing a lengthy brief and heading off to Cincinnati. When he arrived there, Lincoln was shunned by Harding and his associate Stanton who asked, “Why did you bring that damned long-armed Ape here….he does not know a thing and can do you no good.” They turned away from Lincoln, making it plain he should remove himself from the case.            

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes: “Throughout that week, though Lincoln ate at the same hotel, Harding and Stanton never asked him to join them for a meal or accompany them to or from court. When Judge John McLean hosted a dinner for the lawyers on both sides, Lincoln was not invited.” Harding never even opened Lincoln’s brief.  

The author continues: “Unimaginable as it might seem after Stanton’s bearish behaviour, at their next encounter six years later (then president) Lincoln ‘would offer Stanton the most powerful civilian post within his gift’ – the post of secretary of war. Lincoln’s choice of Stanton would reveal a singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation or bitterness.”

Our call to the coalition partners’ leaders, therefore, is simple: Find your inner Lincoln.  



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