Did Abraham Lincoln Have a Potty Mouth?

Wes  —  December 6, 2012
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Recently, my wife and I went to see Steven Spielberg’s, Lincoln. I will admit that there were tears in my eyes by the first scene. I have a hard time hearing the Gettysburg Address without tearing up. But something shocked me about the movie – its heavy use of profanity. I wondered afterward, did people really say those words during that period and did Abraham Lincoln himself have a potty mouth, as the movie portrayed?

The movie has actually sparked debate among scholars about profanity at the time and whether or not Lincoln would have tolerated such language. Historian David Barton says there were soldiers in the Civil War who were court-martialed for using profanity. Barton also indicates there are records of Lincoln “confronting military generals if he heard about them cursing.”

A Lincoln biographer, James McPherson, who was a consultant on the film said, “The profanity actually bothered me, especially Lincoln’s use of it…It struck me as completely unlikely — a modern injection into Lincoln’s rhetoric.” McPherson voiced his objections to the script’s profanity, but his objections were ignored.

This is a sobering reminder of the importance of a good reputation. If someone were to portray you in a movie, would there be people to attest to your character? Would there be people saying, “You can’t put that in the script! My friend would have never said that!”?

There will always be people desiring to besmirch the character of great men and women. You will be no different. People will say things about you; they may already be saying them. But, if you carefully guard your reputation and good name, they will be left with nothing believably negative to say about you.

As Paul wrote to Titus, saying, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8).

And Peter wrote, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

Let us all live our lives so radically for Christ that should our biographies be written a hundred years from now, there would be no doubt about the kind of people we were.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

 

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- Wes McAdams