Perseverance in Challenging Times

Bain, a white man with white hair, wears a white shirt and black suit.By W. Bain Jones Jr.

In “Leadership In Turbulent Times,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin examines four American presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Lincoln faced a severely divided nation struggling with the wretched stain of slavery. The Civil War was killing Americans in unimaginable numbers. Lincoln had lost two of his sons to illness and war. President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, experienced depression in the face of perhaps the most challenging time in United States history.

Theodore Roosevelt ardently pursued a better and more just American social and economic life. The Industrial Revolution jumpstarted the economy after the Civil War but also created extremely unhealthy work conditions: child labor, unyielding business monopolies, and suppression of voting rights.

In the aftermath of polio, Franklin D. Roosevelt heroically redefined his physical afflictions into an affirmation and example of strength. He faced the ruin of the Great Depression which had bankrupted the economy and the hopes of American citizens. Democracy was again tested to see if it could withstand worldwide depression. To many people in America and the world, Fascism temptingly appeared to offer a safe harbor in uncertain times.

Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the presidency after the assassination of John Kennedy. The stain of slavery had not been removed, and Jim Crow was alive and well. Resistance to segregation was growing in the country. All areas of the country had significant disparity in wealth and education. Vietnam continued its relentless escalation, America was being challenged as the world’s leader, and the division between political parties continued to deepen.

Each of these leaders faced what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. Their country and the world were dependent on their decisions to assure a better future. Fear, anxiety, hatred, and violence abounded. How did they persevere in their turbulent, challenging times?

Abraham Lincoln’s temperament and dedicated determination helped to win the Civil War, save our Union, and end slavery. In doing so, Lincoln transformed the country. Theodore Roosevelt guided the United States through a long battle to restore fairness to American society and economic life. Child labor ended; monopolies were broken; health standards were established; conservation of natural resources emerged; and movement to reform voting rights advanced. Franklin Roosevelt gave his phenomenal energy to the nation and restored faith in democracy. Lyndon B. Johnson used his mastery of legislation to galvanize a domestic agenda that achieved more civil rights reform than any other leader since Lincoln.

Yet again, we are faced now with uncertain changes and great challenges. Where should we look to help us face them? These four American presidents looked inward to draw on traits we all share: hope, courage, and perseverance.

We must do the same. Recognize the good within yourself. Admit that each of us falters and makes mistakes. Do not be bound by fear, anxiety, and hatred. Muster the strength to do the best you can. Have patience knowing you will make a difference. Take joy in the everyday successes you experience. Do not be afraid to speak up and stand up for right. Turn to your fellow men and women to find combined strength. Together, we can continue to build a stronger legal community and nation.

With this article, I come to the end of my term as Chair of the Administrative Law Section. What a privilege I have had working with extremely talented lawyers and other committed individuals! This opportunity and my prior work as Chair of the Workers’ Compensation Section have been high points in my career. I am profoundly grateful and wish each of you the very best.