People had their doubts about the lanky, long-faced man, the lawyer turned politician. Even his friends admitted that "his ambition was a little engine that knew no rest." His first run for office was a notable failure.
In Congress, he voted repeatedly for big-ticket spending projects.
He was taunted for his nuanced dissent on the president's pre-emptive invasion of a foreign country, which he considered a threat to the Constitution. "If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us," he said, "how could you stop him?"
Certainty was not his strong suit. "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go," he said. "My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."
He changed his mind often, defending himself by saying "the man who can't make a mistake can't make anything."
Nor did he seem like a warrior. He had been an officer in an earlier war, but he wasn't eager to commit troops to the present conflict. "Military glory," he said, was "the attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood."
He was married to a rich woman who "could not restrain a witty, sarcastic speech that cut deeper than she intended."
He could be stiff, even unemotional. "Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense," was his motto.
A modern campaign of slurs, spins and propaganda would have had no trouble painting him as a flip-flopper, a friend of big government, lacking in what it takes to lead a divided nation in dangerous times.
Abraham Lincoln turned out to be a pretty good president.