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Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin




Overview -
Winner of the Lincoln Prize

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln's political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an 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 capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history.

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Overview

Winner of the Lincoln Prize

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln's political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an 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 capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history.

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684824901
  • ISBN-10: 0684824906
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publish Date: October 2005
  • Page Count: 916
  • Dimensions: 9.48 x 6.76 x 1.96 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.04 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

The president's men

Doris Kearns Goodwin pinpoints Lincoln's political genius

Vigorous research has a way of toppling a scholar's most reasonable expectations. When Doris Kearns Goodwin decided more than 10 years ago that her next book would be about Abraham Lincoln, she assumed it would roughly parallel the approach and structure of No Ordinary Time, her Pulitzer Prize-winning study of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt confronting World War II.

But as Goodwin delved into the wealth of primary sources, she became convinced that the story she really needed to tell was that of Lincoln's close and productive relationship with his three rivals for the Republican presidential nomination of 1860. At Lincoln's insistence, these men—William H. Seward of New York, Salmon Chase of Ohio and Edward Bates of Missouri—all became key members of his cabinet and went on to serve him well throughout the bloodiest years of the Civil War. He appointed yet another former adversary, Edwin Stanton, as his secretary of war. In recognizing, recruiting and relying on talent, Lincoln held no grudges.

Speaking to BookPage from her home in Concord, Massachusetts, about her new book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Goodwin says her awareness of Lincoln's political talents emerged slowly. "I thought at first that I might focus on Abraham Lincoln and [his wife] Mary, just as I had done with Franklin and Eleanor. You tend to get a certain comfort from knowing what you've done before. But then, [during] those early months and months of reading, I realized that [Lincoln] was spending even more time with these colleagues in the cabinet . . . than he was with Mary. And he was sharing emotions with them. Unlike with Franklin and Eleanor, where Eleanor was a central figure in the [World War II] home front, the story of Mary would be important, but it would be a private story."

Apart from Mary Lincoln, Goodwin also casts her attentive eye on several other forceful and fascinating women within the Lincoln milieu, notably Seward's politically radical wife, Frances, and Chase's beautiful and socially astute daughter, Kate. The author's depictions of the Washington social scene are photographic in both detail and dramatic impact.

Goodwin admits that she knew relatively little about the 19th century when she began her work. "All the other history that I've done has been in the 20th century. I wondered, will I be able to feel what it was like to live on a daily basis in an earlier time? Unlike the book on Roosevelt, where I was able to interview people, and certainly [the one on] Lyndon Johnson [Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream], where I knew him, I knew I wouldn't be talking to anybody [from that era]." Instead, she relied on primary source material. "They wrote so many letters and kept those extraordinary diaries. I could feel them living day by day, even more intimately than I understood Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt."

Virtually perching on Lincoln's shoulder as he navigates through incompetent generals, battlefield setbacks and warring factions within his own administration, Goodwin portrays him as a master manipulator—although never for petty or destructive causes. She illustrates how he led his cabinet, the military and the country with a light and sensitive rein, even as he endured a succession of personal crises. Oddly enough, the theater, where he would meet his death, became a principal source of solace in his final years.

In Goodwin's estimation, Lincoln has had no political equal. "Roosevelt understood timing, as Lincoln did. He had a feeling for the country as a whole, I think, so that he knew when to get Americans involved in [World War II], even before Pearl Harbor. And that's similar to Lincoln's understanding of timing—with when to do the Emancipation Proclamation and when to bring black soldiers in." But, Goodwin points out, it was Lincoln's "decency and morality"—and his ability to turn these virtues into political instruments—that ultimately set him above other leaders.

"My husband [Richard Goodwin] worked in the Kennedy administration," she says. "He remembers this great dinner one night with the great British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin. . . . Anyway, they were having a discussion about whether you could be great and good at the same time, and the only people they came up with were Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln."

Integrating the personalities of Seward, Chase, Bates and Stanton into the Lincoln chronicle was especially time-consuming, Goodwin observes. "I think the reason that it took so long was that it was like doing a biography on each one of them. It's the only way you could get the best stuff. You could have done this book, I suppose, by just reading secondary sources on the guys and then doing all the original research on Lincoln. But [you had to do more] in order to get the best stories and to emotionally connect with all these other people. . . . I had to have these huge chronologies of each one, and I would actually put them on a wall so I could see where they overlapped."

In 2002, a number of critics accused Goodwin of plagiarism or, at minimum, insufficient documentation, particularly in her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. "The main thing about this book [on Lincoln]," Goodwin offers, when asked about the controversy, "was that I was able in this whole research—really from the beginning—to have everything on a computer, which made all the difference. It meant that all the notes that were taken on books could be scanned into the computer, not handwritten, and all the footnotes could be inserted simultaneously, instead of doing it after the chapter was done. So I had, all along as I was doing this, absolute confidence that there would be no [documentation] problem."

The problem Goodwin faces now is withdrawing from Lincoln's world without having another project to fall back on. "I miss it already," she laments. "It's weird, because—especially in the last couple of years—there was such pressure to finish it. You knew how to focus your day. It feels strange now, not having that. I wake up and I feel sort of scattered."

Edward Morris writes from Nashville.

 

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