Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” paints a captivating picture of Lincoln’s life and the lives of his three rivals for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates. This thorough and detailed book shares the separate and shared lives of these four men. The author includes colorful images with her descriptions of their lives. William H. Seward and his wife Frances found a home in Auburn, New York where he enjoyed his gardens, theater, novels, cigars, port, and playing cards. Salmon P. Chase was a widower who lost three young wives. He was a religious man who lived a life free from smoking and drinking. His daughter, Kate, was close to his heart and a great helper in his political life. Edward Bates considered himself a “home-family man” who had numerous children, lived an orderly life on an estate, wore Quaker-style clothing, and was married to Julia. And finally, Abraham Lincoln, did not grow up on an estate but was from much more humble beginnings. He was a voracious reader and was known to always have a book in his hands as a child. He was a good storyteller, kind, loyal, and known for his honesty and character. He was married to Mary Todd and became known as the poet-president. Although this “team of rivals” grew up different, they all studied law. And each man was a staunch opponent of the spread of slavery. Goodwin shares fascinating tales from the lives of each of these men.
This book interweaves their lives, ideas, family incidents, etc. and follows them before and after Lincoln’s election to presidency. Of interest to me was the strategies of Lincoln and the costly errors of the others leading up to the nomination. Lincoln, according to this book, did not appear hasty but steadfast in his message and mission. One thing he did was have his debates with Stephen Douglas, the Democratic leader, published so that more people could get to know him and his message. And after Lincoln was elected he hired his three rivals as part of his presidential team.
Abraham Lincoln was the final nail in the coffin of legal slavery in the United States. His reputation spread across the world. The writer Leo Tolstoy recounts a story of when he was in North Caucasus that a chief asked him to talk about Lincoln. The man, the chief explained, who “…spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock.” (747) Tolstoy told the chief and his group what he knew about Lincoln’s life. On pondering why Lincoln’s greatness overshadowed other national heroes, he concludes, “Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country – bigger than all the Presidents together.” (748)
My biggest takeaway from this book is – to be a great leader one must know the true heart of humanity; and this goes deeper than just the needs of those one leads. A great leader is able to see to the core of humanity, to the being of the being. I believe that Lincoln knew that the convenience and greed surrounding slavery was obstructing the deepest knowledge of its evils for those who engaged in it. He was able to use honest strategies to get elected, and once elected he was able to fulfill his mission. And the good in humanity once again overcame evil through his leadership.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005.