These days, we expect that our president will be familiar with the internet, texting, Facebook, and many other forms of technological advances, but we think of presidents in our past as having to deal with the ancient “technology” of the past, and we even find ourselves almost giggling when we use the term “technology” when speaking about such presidents as Abraham Lincoln. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln was a “techy” president…maybe not in the way we use the term today, but since technology often advances at the speed of light, he was quite advanced for his era.
Lincoln had always been a “cutting edge” kind of man, but during the Civil War, his “techy” prowess really came to light. Lincoln was quite taken with the new technology, which he called lightning messages. The federal government had been slow to adopt the telegraph after Samuel Morse’s first successful test message in 1844. Prior to the Civil War, even the federal employees who had to send a telegram from the nation’s capital, had to wait in line with the rest of the public at the city’s central telegraph office. Then, after the outbreak of the Civil War, the newly created US Military Telegraph Corps undertook the dangerous work of laying more than 15,000 miles of telegraph wire across battlefields, at Lincoln’s orders, so he could transmit news nearly instantaneously from the front lines to the new telegraph office that had been established inside the old library of the War Department building adjacent to the White House in March 1862. He was so interested in the telegraph, in fact, that he sometimes slept on a cot in the telegraph office during major battles. Of course, his main objective was to be able to get information to and from his generals as quickly as possible, but another major objective, that was just as important, was to be out ahead of his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, who didn’t have the same kind of access. In this way, Lincoln became the first “wired president” nearly 150 years before the advent of texts, tweets, and e-mail, by embracing the original electronic messaging technology…the telegraph.
President Abraham Lincoln, who was our 16th president, is best remembered for the Gettysburg Address, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, both of which really stirred the Union, but it was the “techy” side of the man and the nearly 1,000 bite-sized telegrams that he wrote during his presidency, that really helped win the Civil War. It was those telegrams that truly projected presidential power in an unprecedented fashion, for that time anyway. The fact is that many people tend to be very slow to accept change, especially something as “new-fangled” as the telegraph was at that time in history. It took a man with foresight and wisdom to see that this was a “weapon” of sorts, that would explode our highly divided country into a place where the side of personal rights and personal freedom could propel it into a great nation, instead of two mediocre nations. The person who did that had to be cutting edge!! He had to be ahead of his time…and that is exactly what President Abraham Lincoln was. It is a sad injustice that he was murdered before his full potential could be realized. I wonder where we might have been today, if he had lived out his term.