Saturday, June 5, 2010


A review of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)

(Rating 5 of 5)

I was actually reading this book during the 2008 presidential primaries; I was a supporter of then-Senator Barack Obama. I could not help but notice some of the similarities of a tall skinny lawyer with little Washington experience running against a more seasoned senator from New York in Hilary Clinton. Later as the future president won the nomination, it turned out that he had read this book as well and had mentioned it to the press. When he was elected over John McCain in November, he would take Senator Clinton on as his new secretary of state.

David Herbert Donald in his famous Lincoln biography gave us an intimate look into Abraham Lincoln the man. In this Pulitzer Prize winning work, Goodwin elegantly describes the inner working of the Lincoln Administration. The Lincoln presidency was the most accomplished on record. The Polk administration was the only presidency that accomplished all that it set out to do at the start, but Lincoln’s accomplished far more than even they could have dreamed in the beginning. Not only would the nation be saved from being torn in half but also slavery itself would be eradicated in all legal form from the nation forever.

Although Goodwin’s work focuses mostly on the team and its players, she also discusses how their families also played an important part. The team was as follows:

· Abraham Lincoln, the President. The clear but not undisputed leader of the group, the president came out of nowhere to capture the Republican Nomination from men far greater experience. Only a former one-term congressman, Lincoln managed to win the nomination and ultimately the presidency. He would assemble and lead his Cabinet through the darkest times in our nation’s history.

· William H. Seward, Secretary of State. Lincoln’s number two, who was considered the front-runner going into 1860 Republican convention. Seward was the Senator and former Governor of the State of New York. Senator Seward had the most delegates going into the convention, but lost out to Lincoln. This was a good thing considering Seward’s bright idea to stop the Civil War was to declare war on England. Although that bullet was dodged, he did serve as an able to Secretary of State to President Lincoln and the nation.

· Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. Secretary Chase was Lincoln’s chief rival in the cabinet but an effective Secretary of the Treasury. Chase had been the sitting Governor and former Senator of the State of Ohio going into the convention. He was a devote Christian, a die-hard abolitionist, and an ambitious politician. Although an ambitious politician, he was not as skilled as Lincoln.

· Edward Bates, Attorney General. A conservative family man who is the senior statesman of Lincoln’s team of rivals, he would be the person involved with many of the legal aspects of the administration. He and Lincoln were the representatives of the old Whig party in the cabinet.

· Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. Taking over for the most incompetent Simon Cameron, Stanton was the ‘tough guy’ of the administration, considering most popular politicians, as a habit, have a tough time saying ‘no’—Lincoln would make fun of himself for this—Stanton would be that back bone that could tell people things they did not want to hear.

“In fact, as John Nicolay later wrote, Lincoln’s ‘first decision was one of great courage and self-reliance.’ Each of his rivals was ‘sure to feel that the wrong man had been nominated.’ A less confident man might have surrounded himself with personal supporters who would never question his authority. James Buchanan, for example, had deliberately chosen men who thought as he did. Buchanan believed, Allan Nevins writes, that a president ‘who tried to conciliate opposing elements by placing determined agents of each in his official family would find that he had simply strengthened discord, and had depended party divisions.’ While it was possible that his team of rivals would devour one another, Lincoln determined that ‘he must risk the dangers of faction to overcome the dangers of rebellion.” p.318-9

In addition, to the ‘team’ itself Goodwin also discusses their family life and some of the people who helped drive them. Some of these were:

· Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady. Born to a Southern family, the election of 1860 could have been described as a battle between all of her old boyfriends. Mrs. Lincoln is vilified often by the Northern press as being to pro-Southern, while her husband leads a war that her brothers are fighting in, but on the other side.

· Frances Seward, wife of Secretary Seward. Mrs. Seward often acted as the voice of moral reason in advising her husband. She hated slavery even more then him.

· Kate Chase, daughter of Secretary Chase. Miss Chase was every bit as ambitious as her father. Since her father is widowed and not looking to remarry, she saw herself playing the role of First Lady during her father’s presidency. She would become Mrs. Lincoln’s main rival in the Washington social circles.

“Observing Mary as she departed for her regular round of hospital visits, William Stoddard wondered why she didn’t publicize her efforts. ‘If she were worldly wise she would carry newspaper correspondents, from tow to five, of both sexes, every time she went, and she would have them take shorthand notes of what she says to the sick soldiers and of what the sick soldiers say to her.’ This, more than anything, he surmised, would ‘sweeten the contents of my many journals’ that had frequently derided the first lady’s receptions and redecorating projects. The New York Independent had been particularly relentless in its attacks on Mary. ‘While her sister-women scraped lint, sewed bandages, and put on nurses’ caps,’ Mary Clemmer Ames wrote, ‘the wife of its President spent her time in rolling to and fro between Washington and New York, intent on extravagant purchases for herself and the White House.’” p.458

Team of Rivals is history that reads like a novel. It is an exiting book about a terrible time in our nation’s history. If someone knew nothing about the Civil War, he or she would still find this book enjoyable.

{Even though 'the West Wing' was not built yet that really cool video comes from Manny535 on Youtube}

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment on any article at anytime, regardless how long ago I posted it. I will most likely respond.