Book Review: Team of Rivals – The Political Genius of Abraham Lincloln – Doris Kearns Goodwin

NOTE: This was from my old A&L Enterprises blog – but I thought it was interesting…

I just finished reading “Team of Rivals – The Polical Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I enjoyed reading this book – in large part because of how much respect and admiration I have for Abraham Lincoln.  I think Lincoln has become one of the people that represents the greatness of America – one of our heroes.  I would definitely recommend this book – but if you don’t like to read you might try an audiobook version as it’s 700+ pages.

This book took an interesting approach – constrasting Lincoln with some of his rivals – those who would become part of his cabinet during his presidency.  It was fascinating to understand more the context of the life of Lincoln – in terms of what was normal for a man of his era to experience.  It was an age of America where many men went “West” – to create for themselves a new life – one of economic opportunity.  Lincoln was a complex man – suffering from depression, anger  – but all of those life experiences culminated in a powerful personality as President.

One of the key points of this book was how brilliant that Lincoln was in working with people.  He took offense very rarely, was patient and forgiving – holding few grudges (unlike many others around him). What Lincoln did in bringing these rivals into his Cabinet was a brilliant move – in that it brought unity to his party.  Lincoln clearly saw the need to balance the different elements of the North in order to preserve the union on the eve of war.  He surprised a lot of people in his ability to pick the members of his goverment carefully  – balancing the different interests against each other and picking people of ability.  It was remarkable that many of these “rivals” became his dearest friends and staunchest allies by the end of his Presidency.  He did not leave a trail of hurt and hate like so many of his peers did…

He also had a keen sense of when to move forward on an issue – resisting many of the more radical elements of his party to wait for the right time to move forward on key issues – like slavery.  He seemed almost too patient as he would hold off making decisions – waiting for the right moment – giving people extreme amounts of grace.  Part of this was his nature and part of it was political – for each person that worked for him represented a group of people who would be offended by their dismissal.

He was also quite the storyteller – telling humorous and fascinating stories all of his life.  He started telling these stories as a child and continued through the rest of his life – making him the life of many parties.  I think it was in the story that Lincoln often came alive – and helped him make points with his listeners.  The language of his letters and speeches was calculated and dramatic – yet accessible to even those uneducated.

He was a man of deep convinction – not easily swayed by others – but he was willing to listen – and change if they spoke the truth.  The job of the president will never be easy – as the pressure is immense – but Abraham Lincoln set the bar high for how good of a job a president can do.  He set the bar for how good a person could be in dealing with others.

The other fascinating thing about this book was how it revealed how divisive the issue of slavery and equality was in that time.  What was surprising to me was how even many of those who believed so fervently in ridding the US of slavery didn’t see the African-American as an equal.  In fact Lincoln and his peers believe that returning them to Africa was a feasible solution – as he had a hard time believing they were equals.  Lincoln did believe that the war was, in part, a punishment for the sin of slavery in America.

However during the war itself the Northern population’s opinion changed over time – from one where the war was principally about restoring the union to one where slavery became a equal issue.  Lincoln started the war with a position that slavery was legal in the original Southern states – but not in any new territories/states (Linclon, like others believed that slavery, if confined to the south would die on its own).  As the war progressed he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and then eventually supported a constitutional amendment banning slavery.

One of the sad things about Lincoln’s assassination was how it was not in the South’s best interest.  Lincoln was one the supporters of a gentle, not punitive, approach the South.  Lincoln’s life, like many others of that era, was filled with sorrow.  His death brought sorrow to the many who learned to love and respect the man…

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