Team of Rivals (Goodwin)

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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