Team of Rivals (Goodwin)

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005
Simon & Schuster
944 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780743270755

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 life 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 incompentent 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. (From the author's website.)

Author Bio 
Birth—January 4, 1943
Where—Brooklyn, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Colby College; Ph.D., Harvard University
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1995 for No Ordinary Time
Currently—lives in Concord, Massachusetts

Doris Kearns Goodwin is an award-winning American author, historian, and political commentator. She won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995. She is the author of biographies of U.S. Presidents, including Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln; Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream; The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga; and her Pulitzer Prize winning book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Homefront During World War II.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Goodwin actually grew up in Rockville Centre on Long Island. She attended Colby College in Maine where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa; graduating magna cum laude in 1964 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in 1964 to pursue her doctoral studies. She earned her Ph.D. in government from Harvard University.

In 1967, Goodwin went to Washington, D.C., as a White House Fellow during the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) administration, working as his assistant. After Johnson left office, she assisted Johnson in drafting his memoirs. After LBJ's retirement in 1969, Goodwin taught government at Harvard for ten years, including a course on the American Presidency. In 1977, her first book, Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream, was published in which she drew on her conversations with the late president. The book became a New York Times bestseller and provided a launching pad for her literary career.

Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Homefront During World War II. In 1998 she received an honorary L.H.D. from Bates College. In 2005, she won the 2005 Lincoln Prize (for best book about the American Civil War) for Team of Rivals.

In 1975, Kearns married Richard N. Goodwin, who had worked in the Johnson and Kennedy administration as an adviser and a speechwriter. They have three sons, Richard, Michael and Joseph. One of her sons is heading to Iraq for a second tour of duty. As of 2007, the Goodwins live in Concord, Massachusetts.

Goodwin was the first female journalist to enter the Boston Red Sox locker room. She consulted on and appeared in Ken Burns' 1994 award-winning documentary Baseball and is a life-long supporter of both the Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
Ms. Goodwin's narrative abilities, demonstrated in her earlier books, are on full display here, and she does an enthralling job of dramatizing such crucial moments in Lincoln's life as his nomination as the Republican Party's presidential candidate, his delivery of the Gettysburg address, his shepherding of the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) through Congress, and his assassination, days after General Lee's surrender. She shows how Lincoln's friendships with Seward and his secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, indelibly shaped his presidency, and how his masterly ability to balance factions within his own administration helped him to keep radicals and moderates, abolitionists and northern Democrats behind the Union cause.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

More books about Abraham Lincoln line the shelves of libraries than about any other American. Can there be anything new to say about our 16th president? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Having previously offered fresh insights into Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Doris Kearns Goodwin has written an elegant, incisive study of Lincoln and leading members of his cabinet that will appeal to experts as well as to those whose knowledge of Lincoln is an amalgam of high school history and popular mythology.
James M. McPherson - New York Times Book Review

The task the popular historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has set for herself in writing the history of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet in Team of Rivals is neither easy nor immediately attractive. 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.
Allen G. Guelzo - Washington Post

(Audio version.) While Goodwin's introduction is a helpful summary and explanation for why another book about Lincoln, her reading abilities are limited: Her tone is flat and dry, and her articulation is overly precise. But the introduction isn't long and we soon arrive at Richard Thomas's lovely and lively reading of an excellent book. The abridgment (from 944 pages) makes it easy to follow the narrative and the underlying theme. Pauses are often used to imply ellipses, and one is never lost. But the audio version might have been longer, for there is often a wish to know a little more about some event or personality or relationship. Goodwin's writing is always sharp and clear, and she uses quotes to great effect. The book's originality lies in the focus on relationships among the men Lincoln chose for his cabinet and highest offices: three were his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, and each considered himself the only worthy candidate. One is left with a concrete picture of Lincoln's political genius—derived from a character without malice or jealousy—which shaped the history of our nation. One is also left with the painful sense of how our history might have differed had Lincoln lived to guide the Reconstruction.
Publishers Weekly

In an 1876 eulogy, Frederick Douglass famously—and foolishly-asserted that "no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln." Thirteen decades and hundreds of books later, that statement appears no closer to the truth than when Douglass uttered it. Although Lincoln may be the most studied figure in American history, there is no end to new interpretations of the man.... Goodwin's engaging new book ....argues that Lincoln's success in winning the election and in building an exceptionally effective administration lay in his extraordinary ability to empathize with his rivals. Much more than a biography of Lincoln, historian Goodwin's book also closely examines the lives of Lincoln's chief opponents for the Republican nomination—Edward Bates, Salmon P. Chase, and William H. Seward—all of whom appeared better qualified to be President than he. After Lincoln persuaded the three men-as well as other strong figures—to join his cabinet, it was expected that his former rivals would dominate him. Instead, the exact opposite occurred. —R. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA
Library Journal

Well-practiced historian Goodwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time (1994), examines Abraham Lincoln as a practical politician, focusing on his conversion of rivals to allies. Was Lincoln gay? It doesn't matter, though the question has exercised plenty of biographers recently. Goodwin, an old-fashioned pop historian of the Ambrose-McCullough vein, quotes from his law partner, William Herndon: "Lincoln had terribly strong passions for women—could scarcely keep his hands off them." End of discussion. Lincoln was, if anything, melancholic—possibly as the result of abuse on the part of his father—and sometimes incapacitated by depression. Thus it was smart politicking to recruit erstwhile opponents Salmon Chase and William Seward, who had very different ideas on most things but who nonetheless served Lincoln loyally to the point of propping him up at times during the fraught Civil War years. Goodwin indicates that Lincoln knew that war was coming, and he knew why: He'd been vigorously opposed to slavery for his entire public career, and even if "many Northerners...were relatively indifferent to the issue" of slavery and the westward expansion of the slave states, Lincoln was determined to settle it, even at catastrophic cost. Chase, Seward and his other lieutenants did not always fall immediately into step with Lincoln, and some pressed for compromise; when he declared the Emancipation Proclamation, writes Goodwin, he assembled the Cabinet and said that while he recognized their differences, he "had not called them together to ask their advice." They acceded, though by the end of the first term, enough divisions obtained within and without the White House that it looked as if Lincoln would not be reelected—whereupon he demanded that his secretaries sign a resolution "committing the administration to devote all its powers and energies to help bring the war to a successful conclusion," the idea being that only a Democrat would accept a negotiated peace. Illuminating and well-written, as are all of Goodwin's presidential studies; a welcome addition to Lincolniana.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We offer two sets of Questions: from a LitLovers reader...and from Simon & Schuster.

This superb set of questions was submitted by Maggie Bailey, avid reader and LitLover user, who generously offered her list. Much appreciated, Maggie. Thanks!

1. President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, seemed to have different relationships with their sons Will and Tad than they did with Robert. What role did their children’s lives play in the fabric of Lincoln’s presidency?

2. Many times in the book, Lincoln was present in the telegraph office waiting for news. Timely communication and information has been important to our political leaders. Can you draw parallels to current American leaders?

3. How did the issues described in the book affect the lives of everyday Americans? Were their lives significantly changed by the events that occurred during Lincoln’s presidency? Were these changes, if any, immediate or long term?

4. Was there a different solution to the resolution of the slavery problem that, in retrospect, may have been preferable to the one employed?

5. Lincoln and his cabinet’s solution to the slavery issue was controversial. Which of President Obama’s solutions to our current problems seem to carry the same divisive risks?

6. Could Seward or one of the other presidential possibilities have kept the country out of war or at least delayed it?

7. Are there parallels that can be drawn between Fort Sumter and the Iraqi War beginnings?

8. Kearns made a point occasionally of denying homosexual activity between men who slept together, often for several years. Given the talk of the great love some of these men felt for each other, do you agree with her assessment? How is that level of love for another man usually expressed today?

9. Did Mary Todd Lincoln help or hinder her husband in his role as President? How?

10. Can she (Mary Lincoln) be compared to any first ladies of the last one hundred years?

11. Which of the other women in the book seemed to play significant roles? Were you particularly fond of any of them? Who?

12. How did Lincoln handle his appointment mistakes? Were you surprised by some of Obama’s initial appointments?

13. Lincoln and Stanton seemed to feel the deaths of the soldiers deeply. Can you compare their reactions to Obama’s and Bush’s?

14. Obama and Lincoln began their first terms with very different public perceptions. Some Americans saw each of them as a kind of Messiah who would save the country from its woes. To others they were the carriers of doom and destruction. In which role did you place them?

15. Security and accessibility to the President were very different a century and a half ago. Would Lincoln have been the same kind of president under today’s security strictures?

16. Race is still an issue in the United States 144 years after the final battle of the Civil War, in spite of the legislation and proactive programs initiated in the 1960’s. Why do you think our country still battles with this issue?

17. References to poets and poems are interspersed throughout the book. Lines from poems were often used in speeches and writings from that era. Do you think that poetry is still integrated as strongly into our everyday lives or has it left us?

(Questions submitted to LitLovers by Maggie Bailey. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

More Questions (from the publisher)
1. Letters and diaries provided the greatest resource for Doris Kearns Goodwin in recreating the emotional lives of Lincoln and his cabinet. What will historians 200 years from now use to recreate our inner lives?

2. What are the leadership lessons that our new president can learn from a study of Lincoln’s emotional intelligence and political skills?

3. How was Abraham Lincoln able to win the Republican nomination in 1860 over his three chief rivals–Seward, Chase, and Bates–all of whom were more experienced, better educated and better known?

4. The night before his election as president, Lincoln made the decision to put each of these three rivals into his cabinet. What led him to this decision? What does it say about his temperament?

5. Lincoln has often been portrayed as suffering from depression all his life. Yet, Goodwin suggests that while he had a melancholy temperament, he developed constructive resources to combat his spells of sorrow. By the time he reached the presidency, Lincoln was the one who could sustain everyone else’s spirits. What were the means he used to shake off his sorrow?

6. How different would the course of the War been if Seward had won the nomination and the presidency?

7. President Barack Obama has said he would like to follow Lincoln’s example and surround himself with rivals and people who can question him and argue with him. What are the factors in our modern media and political culture that make it more difficult for a president to create and maintain a true team of rivals?

8. How did Lincoln stay connected with ordinary people during his presidency?

9. How and why did Seward’s attitude toward Lincoln shift?

10. What role did Lincoln’s sense of humor play? Where did he develop his storytelling ability? What are a few of the most memorable stories he liked to tell?

11. How did Lincoln’s thinking about slavery evolve over time? What led him to issue his Emancipation Proclamation? How would he answer complaints that the Proclamation did not free the slaves in the border states? How did Seward contribute to the timing of the Proclamation?

12. How would you characterize the complex relationship between Mary and Abraham Lincoln? When they first met they seemed well suited, yet their relationship deteriorated over time. To what extent did each partner contribute to their troubles; what role did external events play?

13. What role did Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas play in his rise to prominence? How would you describe Lincoln’s attitudes toward the prospect of black equality as revealed in the debates? Why did Lincoln favor the idea of encouraging blacks to emigrate back to Africa?

14. Why did Lincoln put up with Chase for so long, knowing that he was maneuvering against him to win the nomination in 1864? What finally undid Chase? Why did Lincoln appoint him Chief Justice?

15. How would you describe the change in Stanton’s attitudes toward Lincoln from the time they first met as lawyers to the end? How did their opposing styles lead to positive results in the cabinet?

16. What is the picture that emerges of George McClellan? Why did Lincoln not fire him earlier? Compare and contrast McClellan’s style with that of General Grant.

17. Lincoln took great pride in the fact that 9 out of 10 soldiers voted for his reelection, even knowing that a vote for him meant lengthening the War since McClellan was promising a peace compromise. How did he develop such a rapport with the soldiers?

18. How did the women in the story affect the lives and careers of the men surrounding Lincoln–Frances Seward, Kate Chase, and Julia Bates?

19. How would you describe the complex relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass?

20. How might reconstruction have been handled differently if Lincoln had not been killed?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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