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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Simon & Schuster, 2005
916 pp., $37.50

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Ronald C. White, Jr.


Love Your Enemies

How Lincoln turned his rivals into allies.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has written a compelling collective biography of an unlikely political quartet in which Abraham Lincoln had to earn the right to sing lead. We have become accustomed to recent biographies of leaders of the American Revolution—Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton—where a wide-angle lens always keeps in view others of "the Founding Brothers." By contrast, the lens for many biographies of Abraham Lincoln has often been narrowly focused, so that the contributions of other leaders of the Second American Revolution are barely in view.

Goodwin originally contemplated writing an account of Abraham and Mary Lincoln in the White House as a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning No Ordinary Time, the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Early on she abandoned that double story for what she believed was the more fascinating story of an odd political quartet. The result is an absorbing biography because it is not just about Lincoln but about a talented collection of men and women who find, to their surprise, that Lincoln is the person who binds them together. In Goodwin's narrative we meet Lincoln afresh as a leader whose "extraordinary array of personal qualities … enabled him to form friendships with men who had formerly opposed him." Goodwin's portrait of Lincoln's political genius allows us to appreciate his "astoundingly magnanimous soul."

She begins with a dramatic, detailed account of "four men waiting." William H. Seward, who had served as governor and senator from New York; Salmon P. Chase, who had filled the same offices in Ohio; Edward Bates, former congressman and judge from Missouri; and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns to hear who would be the nominee of the Republican convention meeting in Chicago. When Lincoln was finally nominated on the third ballot, the other three leaders were stunned. Each believed he was better qualified by education, experience, and political savvy ...

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