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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 25, 2005
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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
3. Abraham Lincoln
4. William H. Seward
5. Edward Bates
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
From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winner Goodwin (No Ordinary Time) seeks to illuminate what she interprets as a miraculous event: Lincoln's smooth (and, in her view, rather sudden) transition from underwhelming one-term congressman and prairie lawyer to robust chief executive during a time of crisis. Goodwin marvels at Lincoln's ability to co-opt three better-born, better-educated rivals—each of whom had challenged Lincoln for the 1860 Republican nomination. The three were New York senator William H. Seward, who became secretary of state; Ohio senator Salmon P. Chase, who signed on as secretary of the treasury and later was nominated by Lincoln to be chief justice of the Supreme Court; and Missouri's "distinguished elder statesman" Edward Bates, who served as attorney general. This is the "team of rivals" Goodwin's title refers to.The problem with this interpretation is that the metamorphosis of Lincoln to Machiavellian master of men that Goodwin presupposes did not in fact occur overnight only as he approached the grim reality of his presidency. The press had labeled candidate Lincoln "a fourth-rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar." But East Coast railroad executives, who had long employed Lincoln at huge prices to defend their interests as attorney and lobbyist, knew better. Lincoln was a shrewd political operator and insider long before he entered the White House—a fact Goodwin underplays. On another front, Goodwin's spotlighting of the president's three former rivals tends to undercut that Lincoln's most essential Cabinet-level contacts were not with Seward, Chase and Bates, but rather with secretaries of war Simon Cameron and Edwin Stanton, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. These criticisms aside, Goodwin supplies capable biographies of the gentlemen on whom she has chosen to focus, and ably highlights the sometimes tangled dynamics of their "team" within the larger assemblage of Lincoln's full war cabinet.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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For example, Ms Goodwin lets us know a lot of details about the parties being given by Mary Lincoln, how many steps a certain house was from the center of power, where Lincoln spent his time waiting for election returns, who he talked to during the time he was waiting for election returns, what jokes Lincoln would tell while he was a circuit court attorney, what kind of bonnet Mary Lincoln bought that needed ribbon or strings, how much money was spent on decorating the White House by Mary Lincoln, and on, and on, and on.
Meanwhile, not much is said about the Civil War. Battles, and their results, are recounted in the most abbreviated way. Lincoln's disappointments in his generals are given very short treatment. Of course, we are told how many drafts the Emancipation Proclamation went through and who changed what words or made recommendations for changes, but as for the war itself we are told very little. Too bad, because Lincoln was probably a better general than many of those in charge during the Civil War. More was needed on conversations with the generals, and less on who attended what party and was wearing what kind of dress.
Another shortcoming of the book is its reluctance to criticize Lincoln. Lincoln was not a demigod without flaws who always made wonderful decisions. It is true that the author handles some of his flaws and points out some minor problems with his decisions; however, the really large errors are simply not discussed.
For example, after the election Lincoln did not go to great lengths to make it clear to the Southern States that he would not abolish slavery and might even support a Constitutional Amendment to allow slavery to continue in the Southern States where it was already a fact. He would only oppose its expansion to the territories. By not speaking out more forcefully, he allowed Southern secessionism to go forward on misinterpretations of his stands. The discussion of this decision is ignored. His decision to raise an army after the Confederates fired on Union forces in Charleston Harbor drove Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina into the Confederacy, but not much is said about this. This exit of the more moderate and powerful states along the border with the Union had disastrous consequences; however, little is said about this decision... and so on.
By failing to discuss important decisions, or even non-decisions, the author leaves the reader with the impression that what ball was thrown by Mary Lincoln was more important than what evaluations may have started, or hurt or helped, the war against the South.
The book is easy to read, as are most gossip magazines, but actually conveys little in the way of real information of lasting value. Most of the information was boring and of little use. A Team of Rivals is good for tidbits of history but not for a deep understanding of history. Much better and more complete information, important information, can be had in so many other books that reading this was a waste of time.
Instead, Lincoln chose to lead in the only way he knew how, by putting the country first, soothing everyone's ego but his own, and saving the US from a fate that could have changed the entire history of the twentieth century. In a feat that has been accomplished by few, if any other politicians, Lincoln was able to ignore the machinations of William Seward, the hubristic animosity of Edwin Stanton, and the muckraking self-aggrandizement of Salmon Chase in order to utilize their talents for the good of the Union. Seward and Stanton became not only an admirers of the president, they were converted into two of his closest friends, whose grief at their friend's death surprised even them. (Seward's grief is even more poignant when one realizes that he too was the target of the assassination plot.)
Goodwin has made a significant contribution to the already voluminous collection of Lincoln and Civil War studies. Impeccably researched, there are near 150 pages of notes, referring often to previously unknown primary resources. Though many will buy this monstrosity of a book because of all the buzz, the truth is, few will finish. Goodwin is no David McCullough; she is not a storyteller. She is an historian, and her writing is often stilted and overwhelming to the reader, two of the traditional hallmarks of historical writing.
One last complaint. Goodwin dedicates too much time and too much ink to her favorite tangents: Kate Chase and Mary Todd Lincoln. She could have significantly slimmed down this tome by removing the repetitious accounts of the Washington social scene during the war. Instead, Goodwin could have made a second contribution to the literature by writing a book on Kate Chase, Mary Todd Lincoln, and the women of the Civil War.
The other problem is that Godwin is a well-documented plagiarist. She has a research team that has lifted whole passages and even pages from the works of others which she has dropped wholesale, verbatim into her books. In reading this book, I noticed the sudden changes of style that are more descriptive and colorful, for example about members of Lincoln's cabinet, before reverting to her plodding style. I've read my share of well-written biographies and histories. It can take on a novelistic flair in the right hands, but she belongs to the dry, pedantic German school of historiography. I donated the book to my public library.