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Lincoln's Failed Grocery Startup Leads to Success

A young man from an impoverished background dreamed of a better life for himself and his family than the hardscrabble existence he had known growing up. He saved all he could and went deeply into debt to launch a grocery startup in a town called New Salem. His partner had an alcohol problem, and he ended up so far in the hole that he referred to his financial obligations as "the national debt." He gave up on ever being a successful businessman, and it took him more than a decade to pay off his failed dream.

He went into law, and then politics, and in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president. He was an avid Shakespeare fan, and his favorite quote came from Hamlet: "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, roughhew them as we may." He came to believe this deeply about his own life, but also about the nation he led. His entire second inaugural address is an amazingly profound reflection on how God was at work in the Civil War in ways more mysterious and profound than any human being could fathom. What a loss it would have been—not just to him but to a whole nation—if the doors of that little grocery he started in New Salem hadn't closed.

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