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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of…

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Viewing Lincoln through his cabinet is an incredible shot at his life. The book gives brief biographies of Seward, Chase, Bates, and Stanton along with a few others. It gives a healthy small biography of Lincoln before becoming President, enough to satisfy this book as a full life biography.

The books helps humanize and idolize Lincoln at the same time. You see the limits of 19th century racial relations; Lincoln many times in the Lincoln-Douglass debates states how he does not believe blacks should be considered absolutely equal with whites (in the debates he argues that he is against black suffrage and inter-racial marriage) but later in the book it shows how equal he thought blacks were. He did argue for black suffrage and thought very highly of Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass meets the President a few times and at his second inaugural party Mr. Douglass attempts to meet the President but is turned away at the door by a guard who says that under order from the President blacks were not allowed. Mr. Douglass knew that the President would offer no such order and had someone notify the President, who quickly had Mr. Douglass brought in. The President also spoke to Douglass for what Douglass felt was too long considering the number of people the President had to greet.

It is interesting that most people felt, and it appears as though, the South were the ones who really lost by Lincoln's assassination. He was such a compassionate, sympathetic, and capable person that it seems as if he was allowed to remain President the South would surely have been dealt with in a better way during Reconstruction and I feel that racial relations would have improved much more than they did.

This book is incredible ( )
  JaredChristopherson | Nov 16, 2015 |
This isn't just a history book, it's a book on leadership. Wonderful descriptions of Lincoln's cabinet and a great resource is studying the political history of the Civil War. ( )
  jpb355 | Nov 2, 2015 |
Simply one of the best books I've ever read. I thought "No Ordinary Time" was superb, but this book eclipsed that one. Brings Lincoln and his cabinet to life. ( )
  VashonJim | Sep 6, 2015 |
Simply a masterpiece. Beats many novels I've read. This is the story of a prairie lawyer who came to the 1860 Republican Convention to vie for the presidential nomination against three other highly-credentialed, well-connected politicians and then went on, not only to win the nomination, but the presidency itself. With the nation on the brink of civil war, many feared that this "gorilla" (as some of this enemies characterized him) would lead everyone to doom.

All Americans are raised upon the mythology of Abraham Lincoln, and as I've been disillusioned by the politicians of my own lifetime as to be wary of any hagiography, I come away from this book truly awed by what an extraordinary individual Lincoln was. He literally came out of nowhere--born in poverty, self-educated, formed by the culture of the frontier--to prove himself to such a degree that only a couple of decades after his death, Leo Tolstoy would report he'd meet peasants on the Russian steppe who held Lincoln in the same regard as the greatest heroes in world history.

But besides being a biography of Lincoln, a distinguishing mark of this book is that it is also provides lessons in leadership. Lincoln succeeded because of his magnanimous (and ultimately shrewd) way of turning rivals into partners. His three competitors at the 1860 convention were invited to be part of Lincoln's cabinet--and though the rivals often continued to go head-to-head with each other, Lincoln earned their respect by taking a personal interest in all of them.

I admit taking a long time to read this book, but I think I benefited from that extended spell, because what I was reading percolated within me, and I can see how it has influenced my own leadership style. It is one of those rare reads that was not only enjoyable and informative but has changed me through the course of it. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
Team of Rivals is a fascinating history of the Lincoln administration and how Lincoln's personality could bring out the best in such antagonistic men, almost all of whom had a grudge against the American president.

Rather than write a review of the book itself, I wanted to note some thoughts about the differences between the 1860s and today, which were quite obvious after reading this history.
* Poor Hannibal Hamlin. Lincoln's vice-president is all but invisible throughout the book, as he was rarely invited to cabinet meetings. Of course, this wasn't limited to Lincoln -- the second spot had been mostly ignored by all prior administrations too. But by this point in US history, we had already had one vice president elevated to the presidency, so there must have been some thought about including him in on important policy discussion in the rare case he might be promoted by fate. (There's some indication Lincoln had many premonitions about his untimely demise, which would suggest Hamlin *should* have been included in the cabinet.)
* Everyone walked. Roads -- such as they were -- were still dirt and mud, but it's amazing to see Lincoln grab his hat and hike several streets away to a friend's house or to a departmental building. Now there's an hour-long logjam if the president leaves the White House (and, most tellingly, most people now go to him, rather than make him go to them).
* Also, security sure has changed. Having recently taken a White House tour, I vaguely remember the guides bragging about the White House being the "people's house," but in early US history, it really was. Not only were job seekers walking in all the time, but there were receptions all day long. Incredibly, during the Civil War, soldiers -- with their weapons -- camped out in the East Room, which I know wasn't mentioned on my tour.
* Lincoln is portrayed as a slow, deliberate thinker. Could he be elected today? He'd get some support for being a "Washington outsider," and would gain points for always having a quip ready. But he tended to avoid making speeches until he was very sure of what he wanted to say -- he really wrestled with the problems of the day before he could come to a decision. That made him look like a simpleton, and he was roundly criticized in many opposition newspapers for being indecisive.

Well worth reading, even though there's a large cast of characters that sometimes gets bogged down by so many petty arguments. (I can't give it five stars because I really doubt I'll ever read this again.)

LT Haiku:

A group of very
disparate men uniting
for a common cause. ( )
  legallypuzzled | Feb 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 167 (next | show all)
"We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet," Lincoln replied. "These were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services." They were indeed strong men, Goodwin notes. "But in the end, it was the prairie lawyer from Springfield who would emerge as the strongest of them all."
"But this immense, finely boned book is no dull administrative or bureaucratic history; rather, it is a story of personalities -- a messianic drama, if you will -- in which Lincoln must increase and the others must decrease."
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"The conduct of the republican party in this nomination is a remarkable indication of small intellect, growing smaller. They pass over ... statesmen and able men, and they take up a fourth rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar." —The New York Herald (May 19, 1860), commenting on Abraham Lincoln's nomination for president at the Republican National Convention.
"Why, if the old Greeks had had this man, what trilogies of plays—what epics—would have been made out of him! How the rhapsodes would have recited him! How quickly that quaint tall form would have enter'd into the region where men vitalize gods, and gods devinify men! But Lincoln, his times, his death—great as any, any age—being altogether to our own." —Walt Whitman, "Death of Abraham Lincoln," 1879.
"The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years. ... He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together ... and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives." —Leo Tolstoy, The World, New York, 1909.
For Richard M. Goodwin, my husband of thirty years
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On May 18, 1860, the day when the Republican Party would nominate its candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln was up early.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A group of very

disparate men uniting

for a common cause.


Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743270754, Paperback)

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.'"

The Essential Doris Kearns Goodwin
Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

More New Reading on the Civil War
Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk
Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood
The March: A Novel by E.L. Doctorow

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:14 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history. Historian Goodwin illuminates Lincoln's political genius, as the one-term congressman rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals to become president. When Lincoln emerged as the victor at the Republican National Convention, his rivals were dismayed. Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery led inexorably to civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was because of his extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires. It was this that enabled Lincoln to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union.… (more)

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