Abraham Lincoln: President, Intellectual, Business Credit Reporter

The explosion of Abraham Lincoln back into the public sphere this summer as an axe-wielding vampire-hacker reopened America’s fascination with our country’s 16th president. And now Steven Spielberg’s more, let’s just say realistic interpretation – starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the historic President – has arrived, aptly titled Lincoln. In light of this, we at Dun & Bradstreet Credibility decided to take a shot at showing a little-known piece of Lincoln’s history, the bit where he worked as a business credit reporter for our company’s predecessor.

Lincoln’s signature on a Mercantile Agency document. Location: bottom third, left side, just right of the drawing of a cross.

In 1858, before his election as 16th President of the United States in 1860, Lincoln worked for the Mercantile Agency, the first company dedicated to establishing the credibility of other businesses.

Founded in response to the Panic of 1837 (which ushered in a six year depression), the Mercantile Company began providing credit reports on businesses. Businesses were failing at a high rate, hindering business-to-business interaction and trade. The reports allowed business owners to make educated decisions about who they worked with so as to avoid a risky business partnership.

Later the Mercantile Company became R.G. Dun and Company, which eventually merged with The Bradstreet Company, dovetailing into Dun and Bradstreet. Then, In 2010, we acquired Dun and Bradstreet’s Small Business division, forming Dun & Bradstreet Credibility.

To be sure, Old Abe’s credit reporting days pale in comparison to his serving as President through one of the most tumultuous times of our country. But Lincoln is admired for his tenacity; he never gave up, and one has to think his myriad failures did little more than inspire him to reach higher. I mean, he ended up pushing the 13th Amendment. Brass cajones.

In homage to the great man, Lincoln’s profile was pressed onto the penny in 1909, the centennial of his birth. Whether or not the designers responsible for revamping the penny were cognizant of the pun inherent in their choice to do so on his (cent)ennial is, as far as I am aware, unknown; I could make neither tails nor heads of it. Tomfoolery aside, I suggest the choice to put Lincoln on the penny has greater symbolism.

Perhaps it’s the descriptions we have of Lincoln - Emerson wrote of him as someone who, even as president, “did not offend by superiority” – that best contextualizes meaning for stamping him on the penny in relief. There is no better coin than the penny, the smallest of legal tender, on which to place the President perceived to be a pleasant contradiction of simple and extraordinary by those who met him; for the president under which the words “all men are created equal” lost their hypocrisy appears on the only piece of currency evenly divisible to all others.

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