Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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  • Simon Schuster
  • The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln
    biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover
    some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and
    his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by
    examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican
    nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, all accomplished, nationally known,
    and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and
    humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his
    administration--Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general--he
    ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with
    many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin's fine book is about.
    Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have
    led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

    Ten years in the making, this engaging work reveals why "Lincoln's road to success was longer, more tortuous, and far
    less likely" than the other men, and why, when opportunity beckoned, Lincoln was "the best prepared to answer the call."
    This multiple biography further provides valuable background and insights into the contributions and talents of Seward,
    Chase, and Bates. Lincoln may have been "the indispensable ingredient of the Civil War," but these three men were
    invaluable to Lincoln and they played key roles in keeping the nation intact. --Shawn Carkonen

    The Team of Rivals

    Team of Rivals doesn't just tell the story of Abraham Lincoln. It is a multiple biography of the entire team of
    personal and political competitors that he put together to lead the country through its greatest crisis. Here, Doris
    Kearns Goodwin profiles five of the key players in her book, four of whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential
    nomination and all of whom later worked together in Lincoln's cabinet.

    1. Edwin M. Stanton
    Stanton treated Lincoln with utter contempt at their initial acquaintance when the two men were involved in a
    celebrated law case in the summer of 1855. Unimaginable as it might seem after Stanton's demeaning behavior, Lincoln
    offered him "the most powerful civilian post within his gift"--the post of secretary of war--at their next encounter six
    years later. On his first day in office as Simon Cameron's replacement, the energetic, hardworking Stanton instituted
    "an entirely new regime" in the War Department. After nearly a year of disappointment with Cameron, Lincoln had found in
    Stanton the leader the War Department desperately needed. Lincoln's choice of Stanton revealed his singular ability to
    transcend personal vendetta, humiliation, or bitterness. As for Stanton, despite his initial contempt for the man he
    once described as a "long armed Ape," he not only accepted the offer but came to respect and love Lincoln more than any
    person outside of his immediate family. He was beside himself with grief for weeks after the president's death. 2.
    Salmon P. Chase
    Chase, an Ohioan, had been both senator and governor, had played a central role in the formation of the national
    Republican Party, and had shown an unflagging commitment to the cause of the black man. No individual felt he deserved
    the presidency as a natural result of his past contributions more than Chase himself, but he refused to engage in the
    practical methods by which nominations are won. He had virtually no campaign and he failed to conciliate his many
    enemies in Ohio itself. As a result, he alone among the candidates came to the convention without the united support of
    his own state. Chase never ceased to underestimate Lincoln, nor to resent the fact that he had lost the presidency to a
    man he considered his inferior. His frustration with his position as secretary of the treasury was alleviated only by
    his his dogged hope that he, rather than Lincoln, would be the Republican nominee in 1864, and he steadfastly worked to
    that end. The president put up with Chase's machinations and haughty yet fundamentally insecure nature because he
    recognized his superlative accomplishments at treasury. Eventually, however, Chase threatened to split the Republican
    Party by continuing to fill key positions with partisans who supported his presidential hopes. When Lincoln stepped in,
    Chase tendered his resignation as he had three times before, but this time Lincoln stunned Chase by calling his bluff
    and accepting the offer.

    3. Abraham Lincoln
    When Lincoln won the Republican presidential nomination in 1860 he seemed to have come from nowhere--a backwoods lawyer
    who had served one undistinguished term in the House of Representatives and lost two consecutive contests for the U.S.
    Senate. Contemporaries attributed his surprising nomination to chance, to his moderate position on slavery, and to the
    fact that he hailed from the battleground state of Illinois. But Lincoln's triumph, particularly when viewed against the
    efforts of his rivals, owed much to a remarkable, unsuspected political acuity and an emotional strength forged in the
    crucible of hardship and defeat. That Lincoln, after winning the presidency, made the unprecedented decision to
    incorporate his eminent rivals into his political family, the cabinet, was evidence of an uncanny self-confidence and an
    indication of what would prove to others a most unexpected greatness.

    4. William H. Seward
    A celebrated senator from New York for more than a decade and governor of his state for two terms before going to
    Washington, Seward was certain he was going to receive his party's nomination for president in 1860. The weekend before
    the convention in Chicago opened he had already composed a first draft of the valedictory speech he expected to make to
    the Senate, assuming that he would resign his position as soon as the decision in Chicago was made. His mortification at
    not having received the nomination never fully abated, and when he was offered his cabinet post as secretary of state he
    intended to have a major role in choosing the remaining cabinet members, conferring upon himself a position in the new
    government more commanding than that of Lincoln himself. He quickly realized the futility of his plan to relegate the
    president to a figurehead role. Though the feisty New Yorker would continue to debate numerous issues with Lincoln in
    the years ahead, exactly as Lincoln had hoped and needed him to do, Seward would become his closest friend, advisor, and
    ally in the administration. More than any other cabinet member Seward appreciated Lincoln's peerless skill in balancing
    factions both within his administration and in the country at large.

    5. Edward Bates
    A widely respected elder statesman, a delegate to the convention that framed the Missouri Constitution, and a former
    Missouri congressman whose opinions on national matters were still widely sought, Bates's ambitions for political
    success were gradually displaced by love for his wife and large family, and he withdrew from public life in the late
    1840s. For the next 20 years he was asked repeatedly to run or once again accept high government posts but he
    consistently declined. However in early 1860, with letters and newspaper editorials advocating his candidacy crowding in
    upon him, he decided to try for the highest office in the land. After losing to Lincoln he vowed, in his diary, to
    decline a cabinet position if one were to be offered, but with the country "in trouble and danger" he felt it was his
    duty to accept when Lincoln asked him to be attorney general. Though Bates initially viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning
    but incompetent administrator, he eventually concluded that the president was an unmatched leader, "very near being a
    'perfect man.'"

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