am 12. November 2011
As readers of my Amazon reviews know, I have read extensively about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (War Between the States to our Rebel friends). "Team of Rivals" has to be one of the finest books ever written on either topic. The purpose of the book is to explain how Abraham Lincoln took a collection of his rivals, all of whom thought that they, not Lincoln, should have been president, and molded them into a team that held the country together and came to respect and love their chief. Beginning with Lincoln's background, author Doris Kearns Goodwin describes the backgrounds of each of the four other main characters, Secretary of State William H. Seward, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Attorney General Edward Bates.
Seward, Senator from and former Governor of New York, entered the Republican Convention of 1860 as the presumed nominee until the Lincoln operatives upset those aspirations. Although overcome by disappointment, Seward accepted the post of Secretary of State, expecting to become a defacto Prime Minister to a president who, despite his extraordinary height, was in over his head. Becoming Lincoln's most trusted advisor, Seward came to realize that he was just that, an advisor to a superior politician.
Gov. Chase of Ohio was the champion of the abolitionists who also saw himself as the logical standard bearer whose day in the sun was delayed, not eclipsed, by the Lincoln ascendency. Although Chase continued to use his position to undermine Lincoln politically with the intention of replacing him in 1865, Lincoln was able to use Chase's considerable talents to keep the war effort financed.
Stanton, a Washington insider, who had served as President Buchanan's Attorney General, came into the cabinet with heavy personal baggage. During their legal careers, Lincoln had been hired as local counsel for a case pending in Illinois. After venue was transferred to Ohio, Lincoln appeared to participate in the trial. Stanton, upon seeing the Western ruffian, disparagingly refused to allow Lincoln to play any role. At the end Lincoln returned to Illinois with bruised ego, a large legal fee, but no apparent grudge. It was Stanton who would collaborate with Lincoln in the prosecution of the war and who would cry at his death.
Bates, the conservative Missourian would largely confine himself to legal matters while providing Lincoln with a political balance to the more abolitionist Chase and Seward.
On the pages of this book the reader is brought through the victories and defeats of war, the personal agonies and political challenges through which Lincoln and the country passed. Here we read of mortal threats along the train trip to Washington, Lincoln's skill in playing each appointee off against the others and the taming of the disparate cabinet members.
Goodwin has crafted, not just a multiple biography, but a seamlessly weaved history of the War as seen from the Administration's perspective. It follows the trail of the four years that these rivals worked together through the threats of Bull Run, the frustrations with McClellan, the euphoria of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Gettysburg Address, the electoral struggles during the war, the discovery of Grant and Sherman, the military team that would bring victory, and the difficult, but ultimately successful, reelection campaign. At the end the administration would complete the victory and prepare for the peace until it was terminated in perhaps the most elaborate assassination plot in American history.
Booth's plot itself deserves mention. It was not limited to the assassination of Lincoln, but was to include Seward, who was seriously wounded as he lay in his sickbed where he was recovering from a carriage accident, and Vice-President Johnson, who was saved only because his planned assailant lost his courage.
This book is a good read that never loses the reader's interest. It is one of those books that really enables the reader to understand how the whole story fits together. It helps us to appreciate the political genius of Abraham Lincoln, who was able to hold things together during our nation's greatest crisis. It is must reading for everyone who wants to understand Abraham Lincoln and how America survived the Civil War.