Stephen Spielburg based the epic film, Lincoln, on the book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Amazon already has 1,588 customer reviews of this book. Mine is not needed, and, although I read it two years ago as I prepared to visit Civil War Battlefields and museums, I can’t help but sing its praises as one of my all time favorite books!
The rivals mentioned were the others that wanted the Republican presidential nomination in 1860: William H. Seward – NY, Salmon P. Chase – OH, and Edward Bates – MO. Most of the research about this book came from their personal journals, and those of their family members who knew and interacted on a personal level with Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln amazed and saddened all the pundits when he won the Republican nomination for President in 1860. Goodwin maintains that he triumphed, not because of a fluke involving the swing state of Illinois, but because he controlled the nomination process with self-reliance, shrewdness, and canniness. Lincoln’s greatness showed when he managed opinions that differed from his. To add to more controversy than just having his party rivals for the nomination to the cabinet, Lincoln included former Democrats: Gideon Welles, Montgomery Blair, and Edwin M. Stanton. It was even-tempered Lincoln, who “dispelled his colleague’s anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift for storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor.” (loc.211-214) All his rivals eventually acknowledged his greatness. Even the treacherous Salmon P. Chase eventually realized that he’d been out witted by the comedy-cloaked brilliance of the 16th President of the United States.
Goodwin weaves the stories in this volume with such skill that you wonder what is going to happen next even when you know what happens. It was the most valuable resource in studying for a Civil War tour that I had personally. In the hands of language arts and history teachers, it has great use in the Common Core classroom. The character details will thrill the language arts teachers. “He lifted his whole foot at once rather than lifting from the toes and then thrust the whole foot down on the ground rather than landing on his heel.” Details like these that came from Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, turn students into historians in the classroom.
Unflattering stories told of Mary Todd Lincoln are somewhat softened by Goodwin’s quotes from primary sources. On their first meeting at a party Lincoln told the well-educated, lively woman, “I want to dance with you in the worst way.” Mary confided to her cousin, “He most certainly did.” (Hmmm, was he the worst dancer??) Lincoln developed unflinchingly loyal friends during his circuit experience as an attorney. “Lincoln and his fellow lawyers journeyed together throughout the state. They shared rooms and sometimes beds in the dusty village inns and taverns.” Lincoln was always the center of attention.
Through the pages of this book, you come to understand why Lincoln became the unsurpassed successful president he was. There is much more to this book than the movie, even though the movie portrayed a most crucial event during Lincoln’s presidency. If you are a Lincoln fan, you probably already read it. If you aren’t, it’s worth your time. 🙂
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