Ugly as a scarecrow

The ugliest, some would claim, they had ever seen.

Posted by Torin Lucas on May 24, 2019
This photo is the last known portrait of President Abraham Lincoln before his assassination.

In 1831 the 22 year old Lincoln stood at the stern of his flatboat. At 6’5’’ he towered over his two companions John D. Johnston, and John Hanks who kept busy hands working to secure the valuable cargo and darting eyes on the lookout for oncoming obstacles that might sink their ambitious journey from Beardstown Illinois to New Orleans. Lincoln’s scanning eyes were pale green, almost grey. His olive skinned face was made darker still by the sun and the winds carved lines that made his young face look older than his years. But if height signified an air of authority and stature, for Lincoln it conveyed an outward awkwardness. His shoulders stooped. His arms and legs were drastically elongated and his head had grown visibly larger than perhaps it should have been. And yet he took his place among his fellow boat crew and led them forward. His body although strangely stretched was sinuous and strong enough to give him a reputation as a good wrestler, although he often lost. His face, with high cheekbones and deeply set eyes, heavy eyebrows, thick lips and unkempt hair was more often than not construed as being ugly. The ugliest, some would claim, they had ever seen. When their flatboat inevitably became tangled as it did at a small milldam near New Salem, the town folk began to assemble and watch by the bank. Among them may have been Miss Camron, who remembered Lincoln as “thin as a beanpole and ugly as a scarecrow”.It leaves one to wonder how such an ungainly personage, “ugly as a scarecrow”, could gain the admiration of so many and the mandate to lead a country through his Nations bloodiest war. It might be that success came not despite his odd appearance, but in part because of it.There is a fine balance in establishing the trust of others and engendering their esteem between conveying an outward appearance of strength while at the same time suggesting a degree of vulnerability. That vulnerability is the quality of being human – the fragile and messy business of life leaves us all wounded to one degree or another. A leader who is able to embody some of the same suffering that we all possess endears us to him. The courage to express the need for help, to be honest about one’s limitations, rather than diminishes our leaders, actually creates a desire to help and support them. This is especially true of start-up organizations, or organizations in change as it draws in the greatest diversity of talent who wish to contribute and support a leader they can identify with, not simply managed, but engaged by leadership.It has been suggested that Lincoln suffered from a disease of the ligaments called Marfan syndrome which is an inherited disease that reduces the strength of the connective tissues of the body. People with the condition tend to be tall and thin with limbs out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. According to Victor A. McKusick, professor of medical genetics at John Hopkins University, “Most of the Marfanologists think that it’s a fifty-fifty chance that he did have it.” What is quite certain is that Lincoln’s appearance was often noted and must have create obstacles in his life ,must have wounded him, must have alienated him. To what degree he let this effect him is not known. But he maintained a resilience that overcome this superficial anomaly with humour and grace. During one of his famous debates with his longtime rival Stephen Douglas- after Douglas called him “two-faced”- Lincoln reportedly replied, “If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”


Resilience is the next important quality supporting integrity and Lincoln’s journey toward Principled Leadership.