Typing Abraham Lincoln

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abe Lincoln is all the rage these days, and I’ve been going with the flow. I recently finished reading Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year. This extremely well-researched and well-written book by David Von Drehle covers the year 1862, Lincoln’s first full year in the office of President. On the first day of 1863, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Shortly after finishing the book, I saw the movie, Lincoln, which takes place in 1865, the year the 13th Amendment was passed by the House of Representatives.

Just about everyone in the Enneagram world seems convinced that Abraham Lincoln was a 9w1. Typing famous people, dead or alive, is common among Enneagram experts and amateurs alike. It serves a purpose in offering examples of types. But it runs counter to most teachers’ recommendations that people come to their own conclusion about which type they are. Many of the people who are held up as examples of type never heard of the Enneagram, let alone filled out a questionnaire or tried to identify themselves. And we can’t get inside their heads to understand where they were coming from or what motivated them. In a lot of cases, all we see is what’s on the outside. So we should take all of this typing of dead people with a grain of salt—or at least a caveat or two.

As far as Abe Lincoln goes, I will agree from what I’ve read that he was most likely a 9. Had he not had such a grasp of the big picture—keeping the Union together—our world would be inconceivably different today. But I’m not sure why everyone believes he had a 1 wing. Is it because of his nickname, “Honest Abe”? Or is it because only someone with a 1 wing (an Idealist) could possibly have been responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation and for bringing an end to slavery? If so, that’s the kind of stereotyping that should make us Enneagram experts squirm.

More 8 than 1

Lincoln was an ambitious man who wanted to make his mark, to have an impact on his world, to be remembered. He was also notoriously thick-skinned. Those are not signs of either 9s or 1s. Those are characteristics of 8s. 8s, too, are greatly concerned with justice, fairness, and equality and with defending and protecting the underdog, whoever they perceive the underdog to be. When 8s take up causes they will do whatever they feel is necessary to achieve their goals. If that includes making under-the-table deals with the “enemy”—as Lincoln did in order to get the votes he needed for the 13th Amendment—so be it. If that includes shading the truth—as he did about the existence of peace talks with the Confederacy in order to assure the House vote took place before the war ended—so be it. The ends very often justify the means for 8s.

As I was reading Von Drehle’s book, I came across many descriptions of Lincoln’s behavior, attitudes, and personal characteristics like these:

  • He had always been proud of his physique, and enjoyed challenging other men to contests of strength, which he inevitably won. He used his size subtly to intimidate, even as he used his humor to put people off guard.
  • …[F]or now Lincoln was still the virile figure of his campaign propaganda, the rail-splitter whose blend of brains and brawn reflected America’s favored image of itself: strong, bright, and independent.
  • Lincoln had a shambling animal force about him, which some found appealing and others found unsettling.

Which type does that remind you of?

When I brought up this typing issue with a friend who is a 1w9—and a history buff—he said he had never thought of Lincoln as an idealist. After seeing Lincoln, I suggested to him that Thaddeus Stevens might have been a 1. At least as portrayed in the movie, he was greatly pained when he reluctantly agreed to deny what he believed to be moral and true in order to achieve the short-term gain of passage of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln, on the other hand, did not seem to have those sorts of compunctions about the wheeling and dealing he undertook for what he saw as the greater good.

Lincoln was a politician. He never denied that. I think being a 9w8 made it possible for him to see what needed to be done in the broadest of terms and then to be able to do it, no matter how he had to bend either rules or people.

From time to time, even “Honest Abe” himself exaggerated or dissembled in pursuit of a great cause.

— Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer

I highly recommend both the book and the movie and plan to write about General George McClellan, who fairly jumps from the pages of Von Drehle’s book as a perfect example of a 5. Of course, McClellan is dead and I never met the man, but strictly as portrayed in Von Drehle’s book–my caveat–he’s a classic type 5.


4 responses to “Typing Abraham Lincoln

  1. This is a good article. I found your theory for being an 8w type interesting. If I were to dig more deeply, I would want to see the childhood pattern before he was famous. Also, examples of behavior under stress and peak experiences. My own opinion is that Nines can be thick-skinned. Lincoln seems more like an 8w to me too. My mom was most likely 9w8. She was an excellent diplomat, but she could get the tough stuff done.

    • Actually, I messed up, my mother was most likely 8w9. This is an interesting comparison with 9w8. Obviously, the 8 would have a bit sharper edge and directness.

  2. I have two friends I’ve known about 10 years each, one a 9w8 and the other an 8w9. The 8w9 is definitely sharper and more direct. The 9w8 was a corporate exec for many years and then ran a successful business for several more, so she can get the job done. But she’s much more gracious and diplomatic. Interestingly, I think my 8w9 friend is actually sharper edged than I am, which seems a little counterintuitive.

    Re: Lincoln, yes, I am only going by what I’ve recently read. Have you had an opportunity to see the Stanford Panels of Enneagram types? I think they were filmed at the first International Enneagram Conference and are only available on VHS tape. The body language of the different types is really fascinating. The 1s are all quite upright in their seats. The 8s are relaxed, and most have one leg crossed over the other. (The 7s are all over the place and seem to be having a good time.)

  3. I read a book called something like, “Lincoln’s unknown private life” written by a black lady who was their laundress for ten years before they were famous. she recounted that Lincoln once came in from riding his circuit (he was gone for weeks at a time) and naively showed his wife a picture in a locket he had found in a pawn shop. it was a photograph of a young lady Lincoln proclaimed, “the spitting image of poor anne.” this was anne Rutledge who may have been the woman he loved the most in his life–a girl friend who died when they were in their early twenties. Lincoln’s wife, mary todd Lincoln, then went berserk with anger.
    my thought was that only a four would pine for that long and remember with deep love someone from so long ago. the three wing is what gave him his ambition. after anne Rutledge died Lincoln had a breakdown and became so suicidal that his friends were genuinely worried.
    the book also recounted the Lincolns’ fascination with spiritualism. the black lady was a devout Christian who had a big problem with their interest and the fact that they visited spirit mediums. she and Lincoln had both lost children and they had long talks about the afterlife.
    he also told her he had been baptized in a creek into some version of the Baptist church but couldn’t believe in it. “I tried to believe,” he told her, “but I couldn’t.”
    everyone close to him spoke of his tendency towards “melalncholia.” also, although Lincoln had indeed once split rails, (that was mainly used in politics to make him seem more like a regular guy, he was really a corporate lawyer), people who knew him said he’d rather die than ever split another rail. that concern with image and success seemed like the 3 in 4w3 for me.
    of course, one of the oddities I’ve noticed about Lincoln is some people seem to need for him to be what they need him to be for their own emotional needs. for example, his law partner Herndon wrote a notorious warts-and-all book about him in which he told Herndon that he thought he had syphilis from visiting prostitutes (before he was married). a lot of people find problems accepting that he was just a guy.
    he died on Good Friday and symbolically gave his life to seal the deal on a “new birth of freedom” in north America and some people need for him to be Christlike in some way.

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