Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer; Tom Watson a salesman. Abraham Lincoln united a country divided against itself; Tom Watson slaved to prevent capitalism from collapsing upon itself. Abraham Lincoln’s vocation was politics; Tom Watson’s was business. Abraham Lincoln, in a single decade, imprinted his name on American history; Tom Watson, over four decades, redefined American capitalism. Abraham Lincoln’s temperament was akin to sainthood; Tom Watson’s, not so much. Although they pursued different vocations within different historical settings, they shared a common goal; to build a lasting creation by inspiring loyalty, focusing on the greater good and changing men’s hearts.
Abraham Lincoln has been described as awkward, melancholy and a not-handsome man. Yet he would transform upon stage. Listening to his oratory, reporters would often forget to put pencil to paper. One such speech delivered on May 29, 1856, is today only known by the historical footnote, “Lincoln’s Lost Speech.” The first time Lincoln stepped on stage to debate Stephen Douglas he spoke for three hours—an impassioned defense of the fledgling anti-slavery movement. Horace White, a Chicago Tribune reporter, described this moment, “His speaking went to the heart because it came from the heart. I have heard celebrated orators who could start thunders of applause without changing any man’s opinion. Mr. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself.” Abraham Lincoln, as the consummate story teller, changed hearts.
Tom Watson Sr. possessed honorable beliefs, deep convictions and a desire to speak to men’s hearts but he lacked Lincoln’s stage presence and oratory elegance. What Lincoln accomplished on-stage, Tom Watson Sr. performed off-stage. His actions, more than his words, changed opinions, produced unshakeable loyalty and touched the IBMer‘s heart.
This is one of those off-stage stories.