Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President in the history of the United States. Everyone knows the highlights: he had a moderately successful career in politics, got the 1860 Republican nomination by the skin of his teeth, won the White House in a close election that triggered the secession of the south and the Civil War, whipped the south's ass, and got shot in the head barely a month into his second term. He guided our nation through its bloodiest conflict, won the day and freed the slaves. But in my book, what really tips things in Abe's favor has nothing to do with the Gettysburg Address or the Emancipation Proclaimation; it's the fact that Abe Lincoln could kick your ass.
In 1831, Abe Lincoln clerked in a store in New Salem, Illinois. He was 21. The local gang was a group called the Clary's Grove boys, from the nearby settlement of Clary's Grove (you figure it out), and since Abe was still new in town, they decided to try him out. The leader of the boys, Jack Armstrong, was the county's champion wrestler. This was by no means an official title; these were backwoods type guys who enjoyed rough-housing, and in their informal catch-as-catch-can style, Armstrong was considered the best there was.
At 6'4", young Abe was fairly intimidating, and he'd wrestled before. But he had no interest in fighting his neighbors, even in good fun, so whenever Armstrong and his Clary's Grove boys would approach Abe about a match, he would decline. Abe's boss at the store, a man named Offut, kept at him, egging him on, bragging to the town about how his clerk Lincoln was not only the smartest guy around, but also the toughest, able to whip any ass he saw fit to whip. All this talk just got Jack Armstrong and his boys even more riled up, and Abe finally relented -- sort of. Abe wagered Armstrong $10 that he could find another man in the county capable of beating Armstrong in a match. Armstrong took the bet.
The next Saturday, the Clary's Grove boys arrived at the predetermined spot and waited. Abe showed up alone and told them his man wasn't coming. Armstrong demanded the $10.
"Look here, Jack," Abe said, "my man isn't here, but rather than lose that ten dollars, I'll wrestle with you myself." The other Clary's Grove boys backed off, and Abe Lincoln and Jack Armstrong hooked it up.
From the very start, it was obvious that Armstrong was overmatched. Abe was so dominant that the Clary's Grove boys felt the need to jump in, and a few of them tried to help their leader by tripping Abe and kicking him. This pissed Abe off, and he decided he'd done enough fucking around -- he grabbed Armstrong by the throat and lifted him off his feet. Abe choked Armstrong out in front of his gang, and tossed him unconscious to the dirt. The match over, Abe quickly regained his composure. He helped Armstrong up, and the two of them shook hands. Abe felt bad about losing his temper, even with good cause, and refused to take the $10. He and Armstrong became good friends. Abe had won the respect of the Clary's Grove boys, and of the rest of his new neighbors in New Salem. From then on, he became an important voice in the community. Years later, when he was a lawyer, Abe defended Jack Armstrong's son, Duff, against a murder charge. Duff was found innocent.
In 1865, Abe Lincoln won another fight. Once again, he held no grudge against his opponent. He wanted to help the people of the south to their feet, dust them off and welcome them back as brothers and sisters. He was murdered before that could happen, by a man lacking even the simple honor of someone like Jack Armstrong, the Illinois roughneck who learned firsthand what a great wrestler, and man, Abe Lincoln was.