Team of Rivals | Doris Kearns Goodwin

Summary of: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
By: Doris Kearns Goodwin


Dive deep into the story of Abraham Lincoln, a man of wit and wisdom, in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s ‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’. This captivating book summary takes you through Lincoln’s arduous journey from a modest upbringing to his role in the unfolding of the contentious political landscape of the United States, including the intense battles surrounding slavery and his daring decision to create a ‘team of rivals’ in his administration. Get ready to uncover the incredible story of a determined leader who never ceased to astound others with his sheer resilience, intelligence, and forgiveness in the face of adversity.

The Hardships of Abraham Lincoln’s Early Years

Abraham Lincoln’s early years were filled with significant hardships. Despite his illiterate father burning his books and the death of his mother and sister, Lincoln’s spirit remained unbroken, and his ambitions strengthened. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, played a crucial role in nurturing his self-confidence and encouraging his education, leading him to start a career in law. Through it all, Lincoln’s love of storytelling and innate spark of greatness shone through, transcending the poverty and misfortune of his surroundings.

The Road to the Republican Party

Abraham Lincoln’s political career was ignited by the pressing issue of slavery during the 1840s and 1850s, as the United States faced growing tensions over the expansion of slavery into western territories. Lincoln became a prominent anti-slavery advocate, and the debates ultimately led to the creation of the Republican Party. The Compromise of 1850 briefly defused tensions but was only a temporary solution. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed territories to decide for themselves regarding slavery, which repealed a previous statute that prohibited slavery north of Missouri. The Whigs and Democrats were so divided on the issue that anti-slavery advocates formed the Republican Party in 1854.

Lincoln’s Surprise Nomination

Despite having a modest political career compared to other candidates, Lincoln emerged as the Republican nominee for the 1860 election. William Henry Seward, an expert politician with Thurlow Tweed as his campaign manager, and Salmon Chase, an anti-slavery trailblazer, were also considered. Additionally, Edward Bates, an esteemed candidate with a long law career and experience in drafting a state constitution, ran for the nomination. However, Lincoln ultimately won despite his two failed senate bids and humble law career.

Lincoln’s Winning Strategy

Lincoln’s calculated campaigns and consistent anti-slavery stance solidified his Republican nomination win, contrasting his competitors’ complacency and indecisiveness.

None of Lincoln’s fellow nominees considered him a significant rival, yet he outpaced them by tirelessly building momentum instead of resting on his laurels. He lost to Douglas in the 1858 senatorial race, but he won the popular vote, and his speeches during the Lincoln-Douglas debates became an inspiration for debate classes for years. In preparation for the Republican Convention in 1860, Lincoln traversed the northern states, including vital regions like New England, delivering captivating speeches that meticulously presented the Republican agenda. With his winning anti-slavery stance, Lincoln acted as a compromising figure with the South and the border states. Furthermore, he made friends wherever he campaigned, a stark contrast to his opponents, Seward and Chase, who underestimated Lincoln’s strategic efforts by neglecting campaigning. Seward’s European tour and Chase’s lack of action on Seward’s absence allowed Lincoln to rise. Unlike Bates, who had a contradictory stance on slavery and was dismissive of the subject, Lincoln consistently pushed the issue to the forefront. Bates’s statements favoring enigmatic issues meant he ultimately stood no chance against Lincoln’s well-crafted and clear-cut campaign. The Republican Party was thus pleased with Lincoln’s unwavering principled stance, leading to his surprise nomination victory.

Lincoln’s Team of Rivals

Lincoln chose a diverse team of smart and ambitious individuals for his presidential cabinet, regardless of their political affiliations. This included his rivals such as Chase, Seward, and Bates. By appointing this surprising mix of people, Lincoln believed he could unite the North and South and make the best decisions. Despite the challenges ahead, he held firm to his belief in this team of rivals.

Lincoln’s First Challenge

It was 1861, and Abraham Lincoln had just assumed the presidency of a divided nation. The already-tense relationship between the North and South worsened, with newspapers branding him as the president of the Northern Confederacy. In the midst of this hostility, Lincoln faced his first challenge: the looming capture of Fort Sumter by the Southern Confederates. The president was presented with two choices: send reinforcements and risk further agitation or surrender the fort and be perceived as weak.

Lincoln sought advice from his cabinet, and while most agreed that reinforcement was necessary, Seward was opposed, recommending the surrender of the fort. Lincoln decided to send reinforcements. However, conflicting orders and revised plans that were intercepted by Confederate authorities led to the fort’s surrender. Lincoln took full blame for the failure and never wavered in his willingness to accept responsibility. The fall of Fort Sumter led to the secession of several states, pushing the nation to the brink of civil war.

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