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Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This article was inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.

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Learning from Abraham Lincoln

“All his life, Lincoln had exhibited an exceptionally sensitive grasp of the limits set by public opinion.” When the presidential election of 1860 took place, Abraham Lincoln was only one of four impressive candidates. Having only served one term in Congress, he lacked the experience his rivals possessed, and unlike William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates, he did not present a definitive stance on slavery. Despite his opponent’s political backgrounds, Lincoln ran a methodical campaign and won the election. With his victory, the South seceded from the Union, and the American Civil War began.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Lincoln created a cabinet composed of the men who had run against him. Seward became secretary of state; Chase assumed the role of secretary of the Treasury and Bates became attorney general. Despite the risks of turmoil in his cabinet—Chase wished to best Lincoln in the 1864 election—Lincoln diffused tensions and helped political opponents work together as a team.

Though he had been rude to Lincoln before, Edwin Stanton was put in charge of the War Department, after the North’s army suffered harsh defeats at the beginning of the war. Lincoln recognized that Stanton was the right man for the job and refused to let personal feelings sway his decision.

By the end of the war, Stanton developed into Lincoln’s best friend next to Seward.

Conflicted over the issue of slavery and the desire to preserve the Union, Lincoln saved his Emancipation Proclamation until the opportunity to enforce it was right. Following the Union’s success at the Antietam, he introduced his proclamation.

Following the Union’s defeat at Fredericksburg, Seward was targeted by radical abolitionists in the Republican Party, as they thought they could get to the President through him. Playing both sides, Chase encouraged this “Committee of Nine,” since he disliked Seward’s close friendship with Lincoln. The committee broke up after they realized Chase’s deceit. Chase decided to resign, but the President refused to let him go, as he needed him too badly. Though he was a difficult person to deal with, Chase managed the Treasury well, and keeping him close would keep him too busy to prepare a political campaign for 1864.

Winning the election, Lincoln’s plans for his second term were never fully realized. With Ulysses S. Grant’s assured victory over the South, Lincoln helped pass the Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery in the US. On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, ending the bloody Civil War.

Intending to welcome the South back to the Union with open arms and repair country, Lincoln never saw his plans come to fruition. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth attacked the President, who died of his wounds the next day.

We all can learn something from Lincoln’s example. He never compromised on his values, and he turned political opponents into friends. With the help of a quarrelsome cabinet, he led America through its darkest days.


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