Call me naive or idealistic, but I have always believed in humanity’s
inherent greatness. Over the years, I’ve concluded something else:
humanity’s greatness remains untapped, untested and sometimes even
Living in a comfortable, default mode, most of us are familiar with
answering to authorities. We follow well-worn paths of commonality and
act as responders rather than creators. Unaware of the greatness within,
we often fail to mine, develop and manifest our better selves.
James Buchanan was familiar with leadership, but he was also tested
by its mettle. The 15th President of the United States, Buchanan
aspired to become comparable in stature to America’s first President,
Progressing from Minister to Russia to Secretary of State and later
Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Buchanan was on his way to diplomatic
stardom. But he was ultimately presented with a momentous challenge: he
rose to President just prior to the Civil War.
Confronted with mounting divisions between America’s northern and
southern factions, he tried without success to strike common ground.
Believing that secession of the states was illegal, he also believed in
the illegality of war.
History reports that Buchanan’s inability to relate to the factions
in his country left him perpetually branded as one of the worst U.S.
Presidents in history.
Rewriting History’s Record
Despite his inability to lead others during the 19th century and help
them see the proverbial light, Buchanan’s quote resonates clearly to us
today. It echoes the spirit of a leader deeply committed to his
A lawyer by trade, James Buchanan believed strongly in the law and
referred to it as his only master. He clearly hoped that America’s
social conscience would arise, averting blinding bloodshed, economic
destruction and deep emotional sorrow.
What sets Buchanan apart for future history was his attempt to elicit higher ideals from both staff and citizenry.
Though Buchanan failed to elicit the better bounty within mankind at
the time, the greatness Buchanan believed in concerning his fellow man
still awaits its virtuous manifestation.
Jesus, Gandhi and MLK, Jr.
At present, I’m easily reminded of the historic Jesus. He taught us
that the ultimate “kingdom” was to be found “within” us. Leaders like
Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. also come to mind for a similar
reason. Eschewing boorish behaviors and human violence, they promoted
human advancement through attainment of inner peace and self-governance.
At some future date, estimations of the formerly denigrated President
Buchanan may be viewed through a higher and more illuminated lens.
Buchanan believed in the inherent greatness of his own people, even
when they were unable to see it in themselves.
As our human race evolves, becoming sufficiently tempered by brute
behavior and the ill effects of war, historic records may be revised.
We may eventually uphold James Buchanan as an early, if misunderstood,
We might even celebrate the man as a harbinger of leadership for a nobler human race.
Like James Buchanan, your present day convictions about humanity’s
inherent greatness may deny you popular accolades. Not everyone may
respond to the greater behaviors and consciousness you promote,
exemplify and elicit.
But your ultimate legacy may burn brighter in years to come.
Beliefs we carry in the inherently better qualities of man stand to
ultimately find their way to the surface. What we see, believe in, and
hope for have the capacity to convey emotionally and energetically to
those around us. Such convictions, consistently applied in our manner
of living, help convert the bruised public psyche and also heal its
As we exude our own greatness, others are offered glimpses of their
greater selves. And they are consequently freed to respond in like
If you’re inspired by quality leadership, give some thought to the idea presented by President Buchanan.
Through elicitation rather than domination, consider how you might aid others in discovering their own greatness, too!
Maura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
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