Developmental Psychology Abraham Maslow Was Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Lincoln believed that African-Americans were vested with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This position cost him the election.

It must be noted that Lincoln was undoubtedly not the only person at that time to be opposed to slavery. However, in political circles, the debate was often over property rights and popular sovereignty, rather than any discussion of morality. Recall Maslow's belief that self-actualized people have enormous compassion, a desire to solve the world's problems rather than succumb to them, and a rigid ethical code. All those came into play in Lincoln's bid to accord slaves a measure of equality, and his determination through all the turmoil that ensued.

In 1860, Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency as a Republican. Lincoln defeated his old nemesis, Stephen Douglas, along with John Breckinridge, who represented the Southern Democrats. Lincoln's passion for service could easily have been influenced by level four of the Maslowian pyramid. Though it is unflattering to say so, many people in the public eye are there because they enjoy being in the public eye. There is no reason to believe that Lincoln was immune to the ecstasy of fame and glory that humans crave.

Nevertheless, it could also easily be asserted that it was not simply esteem desires that drove Lincoln. His own party had doubts about renominating him in 1864 and the war, at that point, had raged for four years at a terrible cost before the tide began to turn in favor of the North. Maslow believed that self-actualized individuals are nonconformists gifted in isolating the truth. Lincoln's strong ethics led him to believe he was fighting the good fight, an approach that was generally nonconformist given the prevailing attitudes of the time and the friction Lincoln faced when he put forth his beliefs. These beliefs did not win him the Senate in his fight against Douglas the first time and almost cost him a chance at being re-elected. It can be said, therefore, that Lincoln set aside his quest for glory in favor of what he thought was right. This action would certainly be a trademark of a Maslowian self-actualized individual. It is, of course, also relevant that Lincoln paid the ultimate price for his convictions. In 1865, Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C. By John Wilkes Booth.

Abraham Lincoln is considered by many scholars to have been the best President. He held the Union together through turmoil and secured a victory in the Civil War. He was both a strong and an upright leader, credited with setting in motion the emancipation of the slaves. But remember Maslow's concerns over the potential ruthlessness of self-actualized individuals. Lincoln believed in the war he was fighting and implemented controversial methods to achieve victory. His accomplishments are epic, but were achieved at a steep cost.

For example, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Southern states. This can be considered a shrewd military and political move on Lincoln's part, rather than a moral one. More importantly, Lincoln only secured re-election when Sherman's march to the sea proved so successful. The raids were brutal and set back reconciliation efforts between the North and the South for many years, but Lincoln sanctioned it in an effort to achieve victory, both on the battlefield and at the polls. And lastly, Lincoln suspended many civil liberties during the Civil War, including the writ of habeas corpus.

Finally, it should be noted that Lincoln's love of nature was well documented. It is perhaps immersion in nature and an escape to it that allowed him to be refreshed with peak experiences and continue on his path to self-actualization and greatness. It must have been so, according to Maslow, or Lincoln would not have been able to avoid a slide into depression or cynicism whenever he was thwarted in his attempts to do good.

Lawrence Kohlberg

Lincoln's life and achievements can also be analyzed through Kohlberg's six-stage theory of development. According to Kohlberg, the first stage of development is obedience and punishment orientation. This means that the child unquestionably obeys authority, and has a black and white moral view of the world centered on the consequences for a bad act. Kohlberg called this stage one of development "preconventional" because children see morality as an external concept, applicable to them only in the form of parental directives and sanctions.

Stage two of Kohlberg's development is when a child begins to develop individual viewpoints. It is the start of the individualism and potential non-conformity prized so highly by Maslow and utilized so successfully by Lincoln.

But even the relativist approach of stage two Kohlberg is constrained by stage three, which is when children see the benefit in living up to community expectations by behaving well. Stage three is also characterized by interpersonal feelings such as love and concern for others. Stage four is when this concern for others expands to awareness of society as a whole.

Notwithstanding the vanity aspect of such a course, a concern for others may very well be what drove Lincoln into public service, first in the military and then in the political sphere. Stage four emphasizes one's duties to society, a duty Lincoln must have taken quite seriously indeed. It is at stage four that Lincoln became a full-fledged member of society, laying the groundwork for the crucial introspection and study that lay ahead in stage five.

Stage five was essential to Lincoln's development. If not for stage five, Lincoln might have been forever limited by the opinions passed on to him through authority figures in earlier stages of his development. It is certainly possible that Lincoln's parents believed that slavery should be tolerated or even encouraged, and that a strong federal government was a terrible notion. Without stage five, Lincoln would have stayed with that mindset, possibly even entering public service specifically in defense of such an approach. Stage five is, fortunately, characterized by a theoretical analysis of society and a consideration of which rights and values a society should promote. Lincoln, according to Kohlberg's theory, surely developed his ideas about the innate individual rights of slaves at this point in his development, and then evaluated his own society based on those values. He found his society lacking, and sought to effect change.

Kohlberg's sixth stage of universal principles requires an individual to possess many of the attributes that Maslow considered necessary for self-actualization. It was Lincoln's mastery of the uppermost stages in both approaches that allowed him to have such an impactful tenure as President.

Stage six, according to Kohlberg, is when principles of justice guide us to decisions based on respect for all. Universal justice is a difficult and possibly unattainable concept, but it is Kohlberg's highest stage, and a standard well worth reaching for. While stage five might be characterized by utilizing democratic processes to settle disputes, stage six might shun democratic processes in favor of any means capable of effective universal justice. It is perhaps because of stage six that Lincoln felt justified in suspending civil liberties during the Civil War in the interest of promoting universal justice, as expressed in the Emancipation Proclamation, to people of all races.


Lincoln led a stunningly eventful life. He altered the course of history in numerous ways and was both rewarded and punished for his strong convictions.

Both Maslow and Kohlberg offer useful ways to gain insight into the development of our 16th President.

As a preliminary matter, it must be assumed that all the good deeds Lincoln did were done in the manner in which history describes and for the reasons offered. It is only through this saintly and possibly myopic view of Abraham Lincoln that a thorough analysis can be attempted.

Abraham Lincoln was specifically identified by Maslow as a self-actualized individual, but that is, of course dependent on whether or not Lincoln's official biography is accurate. The higher stages of development sketched by Maslow and Kohlberg were only achieved by Lincoln if his ideals were true, deeper than even he expressed, and the root cause for all of his courageous acts.

Assuming that is the case, Lincoln is a fine example of what we should all strive to develop in to. He promoted universal justice to the best of his abilities and within the confines of political realities. His self-actualized non-conformity and his compassion and respect for others led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the beginning of freedom for the slaves. From a psychological perspective, then, it can be of no doubt that Lincoln was, in fact, the best President.


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