Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Book Review

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Book Review

“We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.” – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln ranks at the very top of the list of greatest United States Presidents. For many, he is considered the greatest President. He led and guided the country through its most ominous calamity, the Civil War. He totally understood the weight placed on his shoulders at the time: “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves”. In addition to the dire need to preserve the Union, he comprehended the significance of his actions for civilization. If the United States failed as a country, it would have been a disastrous blow to the prestige of democracy as a reliable and achievable form of government. Of course, Lincoln ultimately led the North to victory and the Union prevailed. Moreover, the primary cause of the war was the irreconcilable quarrel over the proliferation and the safeguarding or the extinguishment of the immoral right to slavery. The Founding Fathers compromised to allow it so the South would be willing to join the Union. They hoped but were clearly wrong that a future generation would find the wisdom and understanding to resolve the issue peacefully. The crowned jewel of their labors, the Constitution, only delayed the ultimate confrontation and conflict to a later date. Obviously, slavery continues to be the greatest stain on the history of the United States. Nevertheless, Lincoln accomplished what none of his predecessors could by methodically engineering and attaining the abolishment of slavery during his Presidency. For his unparalleled historical triumphs, he has certainly earned a timeless case for the title of the greatest United States President.

Book cover

Nonetheless, no person succeeds or builds an enduring legacy without the aid of incredible individuals around him. Naturally, Lincoln assembled a team of extraordinary people. More impressively, he recruited, led, and inspired a group of men who were his political rivals, which included the other candidates for the presidential nomination in 1860 for the new Republican Party. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is a multiple biography of Abraham Lincoln and the exceptional men of his Cabinet who he relies on and delegates heavy responsibilities to during his Presidency. The book primarily and simultaneously follows the personal and political stories of the eventual Secretary of State William Henry Seward, Secretary of the Treasury and Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Portland Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates, and President Lincoln. The former three contend with him for the Republican Presidential nomination. A reader truly gets an understanding of why each of them are special. In addition, each man’s story is very intriguing. An interesting similarity among a lot of the members of his Cabinet is that they are lawyers or have a legal background. Although it may seem like a peculiar coincidence today, it makes total sense in the context of their era. The legal status of slavery is the most significant and divisive issue of their time. Consequently, it is compatible that some of the most prominent Americans are well versed in law. In addition, the driving force in the formation of the Republican Party is the urgency to take more immediate and powerful action towards the abolishment of slavery. Team of Rivals delivers thorough accounts of each Republican nominee’s views and stance on slavery. It also does an excellent job tracing the key moments and evolution of the debate over slavery from the formation of the United States through the end of the Civil War. It is very fascinating to read how Lincoln and his Cabinet members play their roles in history and the legal arguments they make.

At the time of the Republican Primary, Seward is a celebrated Senator and former Governor from the state of New York as well as the assumed nominee. Next, Salmon Case is a former Senator and Governor of the state of Ohio who is also a key figure in the formation of the national Republican Party. Edward Bates is a “respected elder statesman, a delegate to the convention that framed the Missouri Constitution” and former Congressman whose opinion on national matters is respected and sought out. On the other hand, Lincoln is not a nationally recognized name and whose only experience as an elected official is a very ordinary term in the House of Representative that ended 12 years before his Presidential election. It is a remarkable and improbable story that a seemingly unknown and undistinguished Lincoln is able to best these three formidable opponents in an election. It is even more incredible that he forms then effectively manages and leads a team of legendary talents and egos. For the most part, they put aside their personal interests and ambitions so that they work together for Lincoln and towards the preservation of the Union. As a result, Team of Rivals is also a book about brilliant leadership. Of course, some of the most compelling parts of the book is about the Civil War. From the desperate attempts to save the Union without a bloody conflict through all the key decisions made by Lincoln and his Cabinet to win the war, the book provides thought-provoking accounts of the events. It is truly an unparalleled time for the United States with unprecedented dangers the country had never, has never since, and hopefully never again endures. In order to emerge victorious, the responsibilities of the Lincoln administration include dealing with prima donna and ineffective generals and continually selling the reasons to fight to the North in order to maintain morale and support. Even after the war, there are key decisions to be made about slavery and Reconstruction of a destroyed South. As we know, the story ends tragically with the assassination of President Lincoln. In this regard, the book delivers a gripping and heartbreaking conclusion. Team of Rivals is a 700+ page masterpiece about Lincoln and his Cabinet from their individual personal and political rises to their critical roles in history. Despite being a multiple biography and covering a lot of ground in some of the most intense times in American history, the book flows perfectly and captivates its readers from start to finish. I highly recommend it and consider it a must read for anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War.

William Seward

The first individual the book discusses is William Henry Seward. He becomes Lincoln’s Secretary of State, his most trusted confidant, and his closest friend during his Presidency. Seward ranks as one of the best Secretaries of State of all time. He is most remembered for “Seward’s Folly”, the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Interestingly, the derogatory phrase only represents a fringe opinion from opponents of Seward at the time of the purchase. As such, it is a misnomer that the public disagreed with the acquisition. For this reason, it is one of the great myths in history. In addition to Seward’s association with Alaska, his work as Secretary of State is critical to the success of Lincoln’s Presidency. Among the Cabinet members, Seward lives the most privileged and charmed life. He comes from a wealthy family. An interesting part of his story is that he drops out of college because of pride and fashion. He has a passion for expensive clothes and his father’s allowance is not enough to pay for his tailors. As such, he drops out of school to work instead so he can fund his extravagant tastes. Eventually, he returns to graduate first in his class and serve as the commencement speaker. Next, he works his way up and is offered a junior partnership by Judge Elijah Miller at his thriving law firm. Moreover, Seward marries Miller’s beautiful daughter Frances and they move into the Miller family mansion in Auburn, New York. Seward primarily resides there the remainder of his life. Obviously, he enjoys the advantages and luxuries of the upper class his entire life.

In terms of politics, Seward is blessed with presence and charisma. In spite of his modest size at 5’6”, the book points out historian Henry Adams’s observation that he is a “commanding figure, an outsize personality” and a “most glorious original against whom larger men seemed small”. When he delivers speeches, “the galleries were full, for audiences were invariably transfixed not only by the power of his arguments but by his exuberant personality and, not least, the striking peculiarity of his appearance”. He is even respected by the opposition party. The book provides great examples of the reverence and respect Seward garnered from the Democrats. The New York Herald notes “He is beloved by all classes of people, irrespective of partisan predictions.” The local Albany Atlas and Argus declares its differences yet esteem for him: “No press has opposed more consistently and more unreservedly than ours the political principles of Mr. Seward… But we have recognised the genius and the leadership of the man”. Nevertheless, Seward does not succeed alone. It is an instance of fate when he meets Thurlow Weed, a Rochester newspaper editor. Seward is traveling with his family in a stagecoach when its breaks and they are throw into a “swampy ravine”. They are helped to safety by Weed. The two form a symbiotic political bond and close friendship. With Seward’s help, Weed launches the Albany Evening Journal. The periodical becomes an influential “party organ” for the Whigs then the upstart Republican political party. Weed becomes an extremely powerful political boss who is known as “the Dictator”.  He is critical and essential to Seward’s political rise and success. On the other hand, the book points out an unintended, odd consequence of their relationship. Senator Albert Tracy sees Seward as his protégé. He becomes jealous when Seward bonds and spends most of his time with Weed. Accordingly, Tracy forms a weird relationship with Seward’s wife, Frances. They correspond frequently, which includes sharing intimate thoughts with each other. However, there is no evidence of a physical relationship. If there is an affair between the two, it would only be an emotional one. Despite the relationship with Tracy, Frances understands Seward’s political ambition is more important than his family. It is a sacrifice she makes so he can make a difference in the world. The Seward and Weed alliance is incredibly successful. In a down economy, the Whigs are able to take power from the Democrats by winning elections throughout the state of New York. During that run, the two broaden the appeal of the Whig party to the working man. Moreover, they start a new partisan weekly, called The New Yorker, which becomes the New York Tribune. Seward is first elected to the state Senate. In 1938, he is elected as the Governor of New York. Moreover, he eventually ascends to the Senate of the United States. The book details how much Weed hustles to politically maneuver and exert influence to guide Seward’s rise. In my opinion, the best description in Team of Rivals of their relationship is attributed to Weed reflecting on it later in their lives: “Neither controlled the other… One did not always lead, and the other follow. They were friends, in the best, the rarest, and highest sense.” From my perspective, those words illustrates the perfect partnership between two individuals. As one could conclude, Seward has the qualities of a brilliant politician but owes a lot of his achievements to his friend Thurlow Weed.

Again, slavery is the most polarizing and significant issue of the times. Consequently, the stances of each key character in Team of Rivals regarding slavery is essential to the story. Seward’s reasons for his opposition to slavery is shaped by personal experiences and accounts. Since slavery is not outlawed in New York during his childhood, his father owned slaves. Accordingly, he spends a lot of time in the slave quarters and becomes friends with them. As such, he finds it “Difficult to accept these diminished status of these slave friends, whose lives were so different from his own”. Although Seward’s father is a slaveowner, he is progressive for his era as he allows his slaves to join his own children in the school house. However, the experiences of the slaves of neighboring families are very different. Seward constantly sees other slaves being whipped. In one situation, a slave tries to run away but is caught and forced to wear an iron yoke. From a young age, he attains an “Early unease and personal awareness of the slaves’ plight for his resolve to fight against slavery”. His determination to end slavery is hardened when he is an adult and takes a trip with his family to the South. Although he compliments southern hospitality, he sees stark signs of “poverty, neglect, and stagnation”. In addition to the blacks being cruelly held in bondage, slavery also traps most white Southerners in poverty because slaves are expensive and the only path to wealth in the region is to own salves to run a planation. Moreover, the South is plagued by high illiteracy and poor access to education. These reasons prevent upward mobility for most Southerners. Seward also makes an eye opening comparison of the South to France. He notes that only France “whose energies have for forty years been expended in war and whose population has been decimated by the sword is as much decayed as Virginia”. Of course, he and his family also witness the unbelievable suffering of slaves. Frances is absolutely appalled by what she sees. In one example, a blind, old woman is still working even though her husband and children have long been sold to different owners. In another case, she watches ten naked boys chained together. They are waiting to be auctioned in Richmond after they were purchased from various plantations. Frances has zero tolerance for slavery throughout her life and never wavers in her passion for its total destruction. During times in Seward’s political career, he needs to reign in his “extreme” positions in support of abolitionism in an attempt to be more moderate. In every instance, she is deeply disappointed with her husband compromising his values for political gain. As a result, she constantly pushes him to unconditionally fight for the extinguishment of the great sin. Any modern logic quickly concludes that slavery is an unacceptable evil. Nevertheless, an explicit, gut wrenching story is always more powerful than reasoning when it comes to exclaiming a point. The Sewards’ personal accounts of slavery are vivid reminders of how evil the institution of slavery is in the United States before it is eradicated.

Salmon Chase

The next big player in the Team of Rivals is Salmon Portland Chase. He serves as Secretary of the Treasury then is appointed the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He is easily one of the most important and best Secretaries of the Treasury ever. The actions he takes become crucial in financing the Union military during the Civil War. His legacy endures today as his name graces Chase banks that are present at many locations today. JP Morgan Chase traces its roots to Chase National Bank, which named itself in his honor although he did not have any affiliation with it. In contrast to Seward, Chase has a commanding physique standing over six feet tall with wide shoulders and a massive chest. The book utilizes the following description by a reporter: “he is one of the finest specimens of a perfect man that we have ever seen; a large, well formed head, set upon a frame of herculean proportions”. He also garners strong first impressions because he dresses with “meticulous care”. He is never late for an appointment because he has ““No patience with the sin of tardiness”. On the other hand, he is shy because he has a “minor speech defect that lent an unusual tone to his voice”. He is also tormented by his name, Salmon, because it is an “awkward, fishy” sound. Nevertheless, he is absolutely brilliant and works incredibly hard to squeeze as much as he can out of his intelligence. He is an early riser who wakes up at 4 AM and occasionally works on Sundays because he follows Benjamin Franklin’s advice of “continual self-improvement”. Consequently, he is naturally gifted, a tireless worker, and an overachiever.

However, Chase’s story is ridden with unimaginable, personal tragedy and hardships. From my perspective, it definitely contributes to his cold, stand-offish personality. In his early childhood, his father gambles on establishing and running a glass factory. During the War of 1812, foreign glass is prohibited from the American market. As such, he tries to profit off the diminished competition. However, foreign glass returns after the war so glass is not worth much afterwards. It is a poor miscalculation and bad investment that leads to bankruptcy and losing the family farm. More tragically, his father passes away when Chase is at a young age. His mother does what she can for her children. She invests in the education and future of Chase but is forced to divide her children up among relatives who can take care of them. She sends Salmon to his uncle in Ohio. His uncle is a bishop who is an “imposing figure, brilliant, ambitious, and hardworking”. He is also “often very harsh & severe” and “quite tyrannical”. The cruel tutelage of his uncle instills discipline in Chase that is demonstrated and utilized in his chores and his studies. He is single-minded in his desire to achieve and advance.  He sees most forms of leisure as a waste of time. It pays off when he graduates from Dartmouth with distinction. Although his uncle’s ways shape the work ethic that is critical to Chase’s successes, they are too extreme for most other people. For example, Chase uses corporal punishment, like his uncle, in the first week of his first job and is fired because of it. In his adult life; he faces additional, unthinkable tragedies when he marries three times and all three wives pass away during the marriages. Moreover, he has five daughters but only two survive to adulthood. The book details the anguish he feels from these losses but the most striking is definitely the death of his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Garniss. When she dies, he is on business because he received assurances that she was recovering. Naturally, he feels guilty for not being home to comfort her. To make matters worse, he believes that she did not reaffirm her faith before her passing so he feels personally responsible for her eternal damnation for not ensuring that she did. As one could conclude, his losses are unconscionable. Consequently, it is incredible that he finds the will and resolve to move forward in life and accomplish as much as he does. On the other hand, I also believe those life experiences leave him devoid of the ability to enjoy most pleasures in life or be personable. His always serious attitude is a strength but also a weakness. His cold demeanor seeps through the stories and recollections about him in the book. From my perspective, it is definitely a flaw that prevents him from having a legitimate chance at the Presidency.

In spite of the tragedies, he is also blessed with an amazing daughter: Catherine “Kate” Chase. She is named after Salmon’s first wife as well as the couple’s first and only child, who was named after her mother. Interestingly, Chase’s second wife and mother of Kate, Eliza, is a friend of his first wife. Accordingly, she is gracious in agreeing to name her firstborn in honor of her late friend. Chase and Kate have one of the most unique, high profile father-daughter relationships in the history of American politics. As her father, he is very critical of her. He utilizes tough love to push her to achieve. He criticizes her about her writing regardless of how well she writes. Moreover, he prohibits her from returning home from boarding school if he feels her report cards are not up to his standards. He is definitely a hard ass but undeniably loves her. There is no maliciousness in his actions. From my perspective, he is clearly grooming her the same way he was taught. It is a testament of his affection and esteem for her that he feels she can handle it. Despite the tough love, Kate is completely dedicated to her father and desperate for his approval. Kate is a very fascinating supporting character in the book. She is also a key figure in the political rise of her father. In addition to the wit and intelligence inherited from her father, she has the charisma and charm that he lacks. She is also stunningly beautiful. For these reasons, she is the most desirable bachelorette in her time and has countless suitors. She becomes a powerful political, high society socialite who pushes her father’s political aspirations. The book also points out that even her marriage to William Sprague is primarily motivated by choosing a spouse she feels can advance her father politically. Sprague is the governor of Rhode Island and hails from a wealthy family. His money and resources are his most attractive assets since they are valuable in a potential Presidential campaign. Even after the couple is engaged, Kate is unwilling to separate from her father. Accordingly, all three live in the same home. Although the couple eventually have four kids, it is no surprise they divorce since Kate does not marry for love. Among Lincoln’s Cabinet members, Chase is clearly the most disloyal to the President. He consistently eyes the Presidency for himself and schemes to attain it. With Kate’s social clout and political influence, she serves as her father’s public proxy and a “rival Court” to criticize Lincoln, push emancipation, and further her father’s Presidential ambitions. Kate Chase is definitely an interesting side character in the book. Their father-daughter connection is unbreakable. On the other, it is absolutely weird how unconditionally dedicated she is to him.

Salmon Chase’s political rise is intertwined with his stances against slavery. He makes some initial political connections when he establishes a school for boys in Washington D.C. that attracts the sons of John Quincy Adams’s Cabinet. Attorney General William Wirt takes a liking to his son’s instructor. He takes in the lonely Chase and mentors him by encouraging and nurturing his law studies and career. Chase focuses on his legal career until pro-slavery activists convince him he must do more. He springs into action when an angry mob attacks the abolitionist newspaper Philanthropist and its editor, James G. Birney. It attacks Birney’s office twice then turns its sights to his home. Chase springs into action by going to the home and blocking the door to stand between Birney and the mob. With his physique and commanding presence, he convinces the mob to back down. He instantly becomes an abolitionist hero because of his courage. Afterwards, he is appalled by the violence directed at Birney and realizes he must do more and enters politics to publicly stand against slavery. In terms of his anti-slavery views, Chase is more radical than Seward. His beliefs are based on religious arguments and he is in “favor of emancipation and equality”. In an era when the support for the abolishment of slavery is seen as an extreme view, Chase goes even further with his belief in full equality. Although the North outlawed slavery, the Black Laws exclude blacks from “public schools, the witness box, and the voting booth”. He lamented the laws and how unfair they are. For example, it is unequitable that black parents pay for school taxes but their children cannot attend public school. He truly champions an “unwavering and uncompromised defense of the cause of the black man”. No Cabinet Member is more progressive and on the right side of history than Chase. The best points about Chase’s views made in Team of Rivals is attributed to historian Albert Hart: “No man of his time had a stronger conception of the moral issues” and “none showed greater courage and resolution”. In fact, the driving force in the call for and the formation of the Republican Party is its urgent opposition to the institution of slavery. Not surprisingly, Chase is instrumental in the birth of the party. The book notes a study of the origin of the party by historian William Gienapp that concludes because of “Chase’s intellectual leadership of antislavery movement and organizational abilities”, “no individual made a more significant contribution to the formation of the Republican Party than did Chase”. He rides the enthusiasm and passion for the new party for his own successes. First, he wins the governorship of Ohio. In doing so, he is the first Republican elected governor of a state. He eventually maneuvers himself to the United States Senate. As one could clearly see, Chase has the strongest and most consistent positions against slavery that even far exceeds most of the progressives in his time. His dedication to the cause also powers his political ascension.


The next Cabinet member in the story is Edward Bates. He is tapped by President Lincoln to be his first Attorney General. The book definitely portrays him as a solid, moderate, and honest family man. If the country wanted to continue to compromise and find a middle ground that avoided Civil War, Bates could have totally won the Presidency. Of course, we know that is not the case. By the 1960 Presidential Election, the country is at its most polarized point in its history and neither side wants to give an inch. Nonetheless, Bates has an impressive resume. Similar to Chase, he suffers a number of personal tragedies. Bates is born on a planation named Belmont in Richmond, Virginia. His father, Thomas, is friends with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He also leaves home to fight in the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, he is ostracized from the Quaker community for going to war and never recovers from the debts incurred at home while he is off fighting. Tragically, he dies when Bates is 8 years old. Like Chase’s story, Bates’s mother is forced to send her children off to relatives who can care for them. Bates is sent to live with his scholar cousin. Later, his brother Frederick is named Secretary of the new Missouri Territory. He tutors Bates who becomes a layer. Bates is very successful because it is a growing territory and he starts his career there at an opportune time: 7 years before it becomes a state. Accordingly, he moves his entire family west. He marries and the marriage produces 17 children in 25 years. Sadly, only 8 make it to adulthood. Bates also has a distinct look with black hair but a white beard. As such, the book notes a funny comment Lincoln makes about Bates in that he uses “his Chin more than his head”. In terms of his political career, he is distinguished as one of the delegates who writes Missouri’s state constitution. He is also the state’s first attorney general and wins a seat in the Missouri House. Eventually, he ascends to the United States Congress as a Missouri Representative. In an interesting tidbit, he also challenges George McDuffie of South Carolina to a duel because they get into a heated argument and McDuffie ridiculed him. However, McDuffie declines and apologizes. Nevertheless, Bates later reflects that the “The [Southern] code [of dueling] preserved a dignity, justice and decorum that has since been lost”. Despite his political success, he is not meant to be a career politician. He misses his family too much when he is in Washington D.C. and away from them: “His ambitions for political success, however, has been gradually displaced by love for his wife and large family.”

He also never officially joins the Republican Party. His views on slavery are moderate for his time. He believes it should be restricted to the states “where it already existed”. Although he hopes containment to the Southern States ultimately ends the practice, he also “vehemently opposed an antislavery restriction as the price of admission [i.e. the admittance of a new territory as a state] into the Union”. He is a political star at the River and Harbor Convention that protests President James Polk’s veto of the Whig-sponsored internal improvements bill. Bates is chosen as the president of the convention and is praised for his speech about “voices of moderation and compromise, for only by statesmanlike concession could problems of slavery and territorial acquisition be solved so the nation could move on to material greatness”. He considers it the “the crowning act” of his life.” Regardless, he remains a slaveowner for a time and believes in the inferiority of the Black race. He is also cruel in his response to his slaves running away. For example, one of his female slaves escapes to Canada and he responds by calling her a foolish girl and immediately selling off her three daughters. Although Bates takes a long hiatus from politics to focus on his family, he is dusted off by Missouri Congressman Francis Blair, who is a close confidant of President Andrew Jackson. Blair is a slaveowner but disagrees with its extension into the territories. The Blairs are a wealthy and politically powerful family who have a strong presence in Team of Rivals. Blair settles on Bates as a Presidential candidate because he is a widely respected judge, a longtime Whig, and a former slaveowner who freed his slaves. In other words, he is qualified and is a compromise candidate who “could quell the threats of secession and civil war and return the nation to peace, progress, and prosperity”. Since he has been out of politics, he is not tainted with being a polarizing figure in the heated arguments. On the other hand, he is completely out of touch with the evolution of the arguments. Ultimately, that lack of awareness disqualifies him. Bates is not as interesting as the other characters in the book but he is definitely accomplished and important.

Of course, the star of the story is Abraham Lincoln. The legends of his humble beginnings are very true. He is born in a log cabin in Illinois. His father cannot read and lacks ambition. As a result, he is unable to work him and his family out of poverty. On the other hand, his mother Nancy is very intelligent and teaches Abe to read and spell. Unfortunately, she contracts milk sickness and dies when he is 9. His father leaves his family for a bit but returns with a stepmother. During his absence, Lincoln’s sister Sarah cooks for and cares for the family. He is obviously devastated when she passes away at the age of 19 after giving birth. Similar to his biological mother, his stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnson, is a tremendous influence on his life. She encourages him to “read, learn, and grow”. He has an insatiable appetite to learn and read books. He is always carrying a book with him. His favorites are the Bible and works from Shakespeare. Lincoln is “especially drawn to poetry that spoke of our doomed mortality and the transience of earthly achievements”. Not surprisingly, he is viewed as very strange in his community at the time. He resides in the “Pioneer world of rural Kentucky and Indiana, where physical labor was essential for survival and mental exertion was rarely considered a legitimate form of work”. Moreover, his “book hunger was regarded as odd and indolent”. He also draws the ire and “resentment of his father, who occasionally destroyed his books and may have physically abused him”. It is easy to see they have a strained relationship. Lincoln also suffers more tragedy when Ann Rutledge, who is his first and “perhaps most passionate love”, dies from a fever. Afterwards, he feels “indifferent”. It is heartbreaking that he loses the three women he is closest to in his life: mother, sister, and his love. An interesting fact about Lincoln is that he does not believe in the afterlife so he could not derive comfort from it: “To the end of his life, he was haunted by the finality of death and the evanescence of earthly accomplishments.”

An important person he meets in his life is Joshua Speed, an owner of a general store in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln enters the store and asks Speed to extend credit to him so he can purchase a bed. Speed hears pain in Lincoln’s voice as he speaks. Consequently, he feels sympathetic to him and makes him an offer to live with him and share his double bed. The book addresses the thought that the two men may have had a homosexual relationship. It mentions that it is not unusual for men to share a bed at the time. Nevertheless, its hearsay that matters much less in current times. More importantly, Speed is there for Lincoln at a dark time in his life and becomes a close friend. During Lincoln’s presidency, he appoints Speed as his second Attorney General after Bates steps down. In Springfield after work, Lincoln spends time in Speed’s store to read and discuss “newspapers, gossip, and engage in philosophical debates”. It is also fascinating that this social club includes three future US Senators: Stephen Douglas, Edward Baker, and Orville Browning. Douglas will be a primary rival and the Democratic opponent for President after Lincoln wins the Republican Nomination in 1860. Baker will introduce Lincoln at his first inauguration but is sadly one of the first casualties of the Civil War. Browning will help Lincoln secure the Presidential nomination. In retrospect, it is thought provoking to point out these odd coincidences and ponder whether it is pure chance or fate. Back to his love life, it is difficult for him to move on from his first love. In general, he has problems courting woman because he is awkward with them and physically looks gangly. He delivers an awful marriage proposal and is turned down by Mary Owen. He eventually meets his future wife, Mary Todd. It is an instance of opposites attracting because they are very different: “physically, temperamentally, emotionally”. Mary is prone to dramatic mood swings, which is discussed throughout the book. When she is crushed with terrible tragedies (e.g. deaths of her father, sons, husband), her mood swings are understandably drastically amplified. Regardless, there is a moment when her engagement with Lincoln is broken off. Combined with some political failures and Speed moving back to Louisville, there is a real fear that Lincoln is suicidal. Fortunately for the country and history, he does not end his life. Lincoln’s early life is compelling but only because he eventually becomes arguably the greatest President of all time. There is nothing that definitively predicts his rise. Of course, it only adds to his legend that he is a self-made man who accomplishes the impossible.

Team of Rivals also answers the question about Lincoln I am most curious about: What are the specific qualities and traits that make Lincoln great? The book notes that he is often depressed by the failure to leave an imprint in history. He has the “desire to engrave his name in history”. He views a lasting legacy that endures well past his life as a form of immortality. Obviously, he has sky high aspirations. One of his best qualities is the ability to be the center of attention because he is a captivating story teller. Although he is naturally melancholy, he compensates for it by telling stories with humor. He also “possessed an extraordinary ability to convey practical wisdom in the form of humorous tales his listeners could remember and repeat”. This skill translates to his legendary orator skills as “his speeches possessed unmatched power, conviction, clarity, and moral strength”. Another strength of Lincoln’s is his “extraordinary empathy”. A daughter of his private secretary, Helen Nicolay, explains it best when she says “With his wealth of sympathy, his conscience, and his unflinching sense of justice, he was predestined to sorrow”. His empathy is a tremendous advantage in politics because it allows him to anticipate what his opponents will do next so he can act or react accordingly to stay ahead of them. Of course, Lincoln is not a perfect person. He can get upset or snap like anyone else. Nevertheless, he is wise enough to clean up any messes and pivot to turn those moments of weakness into occasions of strength. One instance from the book occurs when a colonel asks for help to recover the body of his wife, who died in steamboat accident. Understandably, Lincoln is stressed from his responsibilities and burdens as the Commander in Chief during the Civil War. Since the colonel makes the request in a rare moment the President has to relax, Lincoln loses his temper and responds angrily. He feels guilty afterwards. In the following morning, he offers to help the colonel in any way possible. In another situation, Republican Carl Schurz blames Lincoln’s appointment of the opposition party Democrats for the lack of progress in the war. In response, Lincoln sends Schurz a testy letter. Nevertheless, he invites Schurz to his home to explain his angry reaction is at the end of a long string of criticism and he just reached his breaking point. In the end, the two men joke about it and become better friends afterwards. Finally, my favorite trait about Lincoln is his “profound and elevated sense of ambition”. The book utilizes a quote from historian Don E. Fehrenbacher that describes that ambition as “notably free of pettiness, malice, and overindulgence”. Furthermore, one of my favorite sentences in the books elaborates on this point: “Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his rivals, he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and openheartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.” In my own words, Lincoln is a driven individual who eventually becomes one of the greatest Presidents ever. Throughout his life and rise in his career, he maintains the humility to treat everyone with respect and never talk as if he is better than anyone else. That delicate balance is what I admire about Lincoln the most. As one could see, Lincoln’s genius as a storyteller, superior oratory skills, extraordinary empathy, and perfect balance of ambition and humility are the traits that make him special.

Before his Presidential run, his political career appears quite modest at first glance but his political genius reveals itself when one goes into the details. He loses his first run for state legislature but he is an unknown name in a new settlement. He springs right back up and wins the next four elections. During these campaigns, he demonstrates qualities that make him a brilliant politician. He is a “meticulous campaigner” who maps out effective plans to get out the vote. Next, he sets his sights on the seat for the House of Representatives from his Congressional District. In his first attempt, he does not even win the Whig Party nomination for his county. That honor goes to his friend Edward Baker. However, Baker does not win the party nomination for the District either as he is defeated by lawyer John Hardin, who goes on to win the seat. Even in defeat, Lincoln displays next level foresight and political maneuvering. He introduces a resolution within the party for Baker to be the next candidate. It subtly creates a precedence that the same person from the Whig Party will not serve consecutive turns and that a different person (i.e. eventually Lincoln) will have a turn. Baker gets the nomination two years later and wins the seat. Hardin wants to regain the seat after Baker’s turn but Lincoln totally outmaneuvers him. He moves to prevent Whig affiliated newspapers from supporting Hardin and sends letters to influential Whigs for their support. For these reasons, Hardin withdraws from the race once he realizes he cannot win. Lincoln is easily elected to the House seat after he is nominated by the Whigs.

It will not be the only time Lincoln turns a political defeat into an opportunity to enhance his political reputation and brand. In his era, state legislatures chose Senators instead of a popular vote by voters. In 1855, Lincoln gets 47 votes from the Illinois legislature but cannot procure the additional 5 votes from the Democrats to win. He makes no progress in changing Democratic minds after 9 ballots. However, Congressman Lyman Turnbull can attract enough votes from Democrats to be elected. Since Turnbull opposes the expansion of slavery, Lincoln has his 47 votes switched to him for the betterment of the anti-slavery cause. It should not be understated how gracious a move it is because it is a brutally disappointing loss. In contrast, his wife Mary Todd feels the Turnbulls stole the Senate seat. Mary never speaks to Turnbull’s wife, Julia, ever again even though she was one of her bridesmaids and they were close friends. Lincoln makes a run at the other Senate seat for Illinois when he challenges incumbent and former acquaintance Stephen Douglas. Again, he fails. Nevertheless, there are extenuating circumstances. Although the Republicans win the popular vote of the state, the Democrats retain control of the state legislature “by the gerrymandering the State seven hundred Democratic votes were equal to one thousand Republican votes”. Despite the loss, Lincoln knows he has the support of the people and his career is trending up for a Presidential run. In modern times, one term in the House of Representatives and two failed Senate runs would be considered a mediocre political career. When one analyzes the underlying facts and events, one can appreciate the political mastery Lincoln deploys to turn those setbacks into stepping blocks for future triumphs.

Even though Lincoln will become the President who abolishes slavery, he is not always progressive enough on the issue. His parents hold an anti-slavery stance. Lincoln is also against it but he believes it should be restricted to where it is already permitted. He contradictorily defends both slaveowners and fugitive slaves. He even criticizes the governor of Maine for abdicating his constitutional obligations by refusing to give up fugitive slaves. Lincoln has a moderate view of the issue similar to Bates’s. Nonetheless, Lincoln’s views on slavery evolve and the book does a great job illustrating its progression over time. One important moment is when he meets Seward for the first time while they are both in Massachusetts in support of Zachary Taylor’s presidential bid. They talk throughout the events and share a hotel room. Afterwards, Lincoln realizes he needs to personally do more on the slavery issue. Eventually, he understands that a continued compromise on the issue is unlikely. He communicates this sentiment to fellow lawyer T. Lyle Dickey: “I tell you, Dickey, this nation cannot exist half-slave and half-free.” Overall, he becomes much more realistic and informed about the issue over time. It is naïve and overly optimistic that slavery can be restricted to just the Southern states it already exists in until it dies out naturally. For the South, it is a way of life. It is foolish to assume the South is dumb and does not understand that slavery needs to spread so it can survive. By the time of his 1858 Senate campaign opposing Douglas, Lincoln is infinitely wiser about the issue. In a now legendary speech to the Republican convention on June 26, 1858 when the party nominates him for Senator, Lincoln declares “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the house to fall but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become one thing, or all the other.” Since Lincoln is the President who ends the scourge of slavery, it is fascinating to learn about how his views dramatically change and finally aligns with the right side of history.

In general, Team of Rivals does a great job refreshing readers on the history of the key debates and arguments over slavery. In order to form the United States, the Founding Fathers made various compromises on slavery so the South would not be antagonized and join the Union. They did not seriously address the issue then and it only delayed the inevitable conflict over it. The controversial issue creates an ideological, polarizing rift that boils and simmers many times before it finally explodes. Threats of secession by the South begin around 1820. However, the Missouri Compromise is passed to placate the South. Missouri enters the Union as a slave state while Maine is admitted as a free state. Except for Missouri, every remaining territory above the 36°30′ parallel is also free. North and South temporarily reconcile their differences again in the Compromise of 1850. In the legislation, California is permitted to determine if it is slave or free. Next, there are no slave restrictions for the New Mexico and Utah territories. In addition, the slave trade is ended in the national Capitol (i.e. Washington D.C.) and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 is strengthened. A key figure in both Compromises is Congressman and former Secretary of State Henry Clay. He suggests key stipulations in both pieces of legislations that assuage both sides. In the debate in 1850, he makes some keen observations about North and South. He notes that Northern objections are based on “ideology and sentiment”. In contrast, Southern concerns are in regards to “property, social intercourse, habit, safety, and life itself”. In other words, the North is motivated by morality while the South is fighting to save its way of life. In an ironic statement, Clay also declares “if the direful and sad event of the dissolution of the Union shall happen, I may not survive to behold the sad and heart-tending spectacle.” He passes away two years later, almost a decade before the start of the Civil War. While Clay distinguishes himself as a mediator, Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina acts as an antagonist during the debate. He launches a diatribe against the North. His most important point is that the North is trying to admit more and more Free States, which tilt power in the House and Senate in favor of the North. Again, Bates and Lincoln hold the moderate view on the restriction of slavery to where already exists until it dies out on its own.  As Calhoun clearly demonstrates, the South is fully aware that its power and say in the government will be diminished if only free States are admitted to the Union. It is naïve to assume the South would allow their way of life to progressively die out without a fight. As such, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 permits popular sovereignty to decide whether Kansas and Nebraska will allow slavery for themselves in each state. It virtually reverses the Missouri Compromise and completely re-opens the issue of slavery for all territories. Obviously, it is another very polarizing issue for the North and South.


In addition to the legislative battle, there is plenty of violence before the Civil War. The Kansas-Nebraska act leads to “Bleeding Kansas”. There is open violence and vigilante justice exercised by northern emigrants, anti-slavery “Free Staters”, and pro-slavery “Border Ruffians”. The violence even finds its way into Congress. In response to an anti-slavery speech by Charles Sumner that included personal attacks on Andrew Butler of South Carolina, Butler’s young cousin and fellow Congressman Preston Brooks nearly beats Sumner to death with a cane right on the Senate floor. It is definitely the most notorious incident in the history of the Senate. The attack drives moderates and conservatives in the North into the new Republican Party. On the other hand, Brooks is lionized in the South. Another inflammatory moment is when John Brown captures Harper’s Ferry Armory, which contains a federal arsenal, in an attempt to incite a slave resurrection. In response, the South blames the Republicans, especially Seward, for inciting violence and committing treason. Despite attempts by moderates to find compromises through legislation, ignitors spark the flames of Civil War. The book does a wonderful job rehashing the debate over slavery and the long but inevitable road to war.

The book also seamlessly weaves the stories of its main characters into their roles during those charged moments. From my perspective, their parts in history and actions in the debate and fight over slavery are among the most interesting aspects of the book. Again, a common denominator among these men are they are lawyers and have legal backgrounds. Accordingly, it is extremely thought provoking to assess their moral and legal arguments against slavery in the context of the limits of the legal framework in their era. Among the group, Seward is the most nationally prominent figure for the anti-slavery cause. As the Governor of New York, he makes a stand by refusing to give up three free black seamen who “conspired to hide the slave on the vessel” sailing from Virginia to New York. He argues that the seaman did not violate any laws because the state of New York does not recognize slaves as property. In retaliation, Virginia passes laws to hurt New York commerce and encourages other Southern states to do the same. Despite the political blowback, Seward is only hardened in his stance and leads New York to do even more by passing anti-slavery laws affirming the rights of black citizens and prohibiting New York officers from apprehending fugitive slaves. The greatest testament to Seward’s commitment to the cause is his actions in regards to the case of William Freeman in his hometown. Freeman, who is black, had been imprisoned wrongly for five years. When he is released, he murders Seward’s friend John Van Nest, his pregnant wife, and their small child. Although it appears to be a case of cold blooded murder, insanity runs in the Freeman family and the floggings in jail left him deaf and deranged. No one would take up the case to defend him. Nevertheless, Seward steps up and defends Freeman to the best of his ability. In doing so, he takes a lot of heat from his hometown. In addition, it is unnatural to fervently defend the person who kills a friend. Seward exemplifies great moral character when he does what he feel is right in spite of public pressure and the sadness over the murder of his friend.

Seward’s anti-slavery crusade continues as a Senator. When he is Senator-elect, he makes a “radical” speech in Ohio that slavery “can and must be abolished”. While he is sworn in as a Senator, a Southern Senator responds to that speech by threatening that if Seward is ever in Georgia “you will forfeit your odious neck”. His political partner, Thurlow Weed, understands the gravity of the slavery debate: “this question of slavery, when it becomes a matter of political controversy, will shake, if not unsettle, the foundations of our Government. It is too fearful, and too mighty, in all its bearings and consequences, to be recklessly mixed up on our partisan conflicts.” He attempts to moderate Seward’s stance on slavery. Nonetheless, Seward’s wife, Frances, continues to push him towards the most progressive views. In one of his most polarizing speeches, he opposes the Compromise of 1850. He notes there should be no compromise because there is a higher power than the Constitution. Obviously, slavery has no defense, especially through the lens of modern times. Nevertheless, the notion of undermining the Constitution is a dangerous one. Weed feels the speech overreached and I generally agree with the thought. The document is not perfect. However, the Founding Fathers understood that fact and put in mechanisms to correct flaws: Amendments. Of course, it is a difficult process. Anything worth fighting for is rarely easy. On the other hand, there are some evils that garner a higher urgency to act than others. Slavery would be at the top of list of mistakes that needed to be fixed. The democratic process needs to be followed in order for democracy to remain strong and survive. It is a thought provoking exercise to consider what evil would be so great that the rule of law should be overthrown and a democracy potentially sacrificed. Then again, accepting the process does not mean accepting the results of a vote or law forever. It does require abiding the rules of the system and enacting change through the various channels that democracy provides (e.g. the next election, the court system, protests, etc.). Citizens cannot ignore the Constitution and blow up the system whenever they do not get the result they want if the foundations of a country are to survive. It is a fascinating question to ponder. Of course, the real life test case is the events and reasons that lead to the Civil War. In the end, Seward is absolutely correct in calling for the abolishment of slavery but his speech is totally dangerous to the foundations of American democracy.

Interestingly, Chase gives a five hour speech after Seward makes that speech against the Compromise. However, Seward has already stole Chase’s thunder. The chamber empties well before Chase finishes. Although he makes great points, he has a lisp and is not as well-spoken as Seward. It is a reason Chase is jealous of Seward and the two men will be at odds with each other during Lincoln’s Presidency. Regardless, Chase is another prominent figure in the abolitionist cause. He distinguishes himself in many instances before that speech in the Senate. An example is defense of a girl named Matilda. Her master is also her biological father. He brings her into a free state, Ohio. While she is there, she pleads with him to give her freedom. When he refuses, she takes refuge with the black community until he returns home to Missouri. She is eventually caught by a slave catcher and set to return to her master/ father under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Chase makes a number of brilliant legal points in her defense. First, her father brought her into a free state so she should be considered free once she enters. Next, he interprets the Northwest Ordinance Act of 1787 as the Founding Father’s intent to limit slavery to the original states. Despite these arguments, he loses the case because the judge is Conservative. He becomes known as the “Attorney General for the Negro” because he volunteers for and works in a lot of fugitive slave cases in Cincinnati similar to Matilda’s. In the Van Zandt case, a farmer, Van Zandt, is accused of violating the Fugitive Slave Law because he provided transportation for slaves to cross into Ohio. Chase takes the case and makes and elaborates on the same points he made for Matilda. First, a slave is no longer a slave once he enters into free territory. He remains a person but his legal slave status does not. In other words, Van Zandt could not commit crime because the legal concept of a slave does not exist in a free state like Ohio. Moreover, Chase adds that any slave state created after 1787 is unconstitutional. The Cincinnati court does not buy the arguments and rules against Chase. The case eventually makes its way to the United States Supreme Court and Chase actually enlists Seward to help with the technical arguments. However, the Southern dominated Supreme Court quickly reaffirmed the lower court’s decision. Nonetheless, the arguments become very important to the abolitionist cause as well as thrust Chase into prominence.

In contrast, Bates supports the Compromise of 1850. He feels the issue of slavery is being exploited by extremists, like Seward and Chase, for “personal ambition”. He especially hates the line from Seward about a power above the Constitution. Of course, Bates has a moderate stance. He is also totally out of touch with the progression in the arguments. He sees slavery as a distraction from the real issues the country faces. Obviously, he is wrong because it is the one issue that can tear the nation apart. Lincoln offers a mix of the two different views. Like Bates, he feels slavery should be contained to the states that already permit it so it can naturally die out. However, Lincoln is a learned man who assimilates new information and adjusts. His views on the issue evolves over time. The book does a wonderful job portraying the evolution of his position. Lincoln finally realizes that his passive approach does not work after the Kansas-Nebraska Act is passed. It is the turning point that permanently changes his view. The book describes it perfectly when it notes “unless North mobilized into action against the proslavery forces, free society itself was in peril”. Nonetheless, he takes a different tact in talking to the country about the issue than other anti-slavery champions. His first speech against slavery is made on October 4, 1854 as a counter to his home state Senator, Stephen Douglas, who was instrumental in the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In Lincoln’s words, he does not denounce the South and slaveowners as “corrupt and un-Christian” like some of his rivals do. Instead, he chooses to appeal to moral and philosophical reasoning over resorting to personal attacks. In his arguments, he challenges Southerners to recognize the “contradictions surrounding the legal status of blacks that existed in their own laws and social practices”. However, he acknowledges “they [the South] are just what we would be in their situation”. In other words, it is the way of life they are born into so they are only living the way they have known their entire lives. He understands the nature of man is to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart” when they are “shunned and despised”. Lincoln knows that one must first reach a man’s heart, “the great high road to his reason”. It is wise insight into the psychology of human beings. It is absolutely the correct approach to stick with accentuating the substance of an argument rather than belittling the opposition. With his ability to empathize and understand opposing perspectives, he is uniquely qualified to appeal to the South. Of course, his legendary oratory skills cannot prevent the Civil War. Nevertheless, one can definitely enhance the effectiveness of one’s debate skills by studying Lincoln’s powers of persuasion and mimicking as much as one can.


One of the most fascinating discussions in the book is about Dredd Scott v. Sanford. The Dredd Scott case is easily the worst decision ever made by the United States Supreme Court. Dredd Scott, who was a slave, sues for his freedom because he was brought into free states. The Chief Justice, Roger Taney, is a supporter of the South. He pens the decision himself and it is filled with inflammatory statements. First, he declares that blacks “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution”. Consequently, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence do not apply to blacks. He reasons that they are “So inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. Moreover, the court decides that Congress exceeded its authority with the Missouri Compromise and the legislation is thus unconstitutional. In retrospect, future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter noted Dredd Scott was “one of the Court’s great self-inflicted wounds”. The decision sends shockwaves throughout the nation, especially to abolitionists. In response, Seward delivers a speech accusing the White House and Supreme Court of a conspiracy. Not surprisingly, his words are not received warmly. President James Buchanan does not allow for Seward to enter the White House. Taney adds that he would not administer the oath of office if Seward is ever elected President. Lincoln also agrees with the conspiracy theory. He uses a brilliant metaphor about the “four conniving Democratic carpenters” engineering a plot. The first is Stephen Douglas, who is the architect of the Kansas-Nebraska act and defender of the Dredd Scott decision. The next is the outgoing President, Franklin Pierce, who used his farewell address to emphasize the “weight and authority” of the Supreme Court before the decision is made. Of course, Taney is one of the carpenters. The fourth and final is incoming President, James Buchannan, who urges compliance with the Supreme Court ruling two days before it is official and made public. Their actions cannot be coincidence. As such, Lincoln makes a compelling argument that implicates a plot to overthrow the Constitution. Even Bates is frightened by the ruling. He fears that the federal government will nationalize slavery because the Northern anti-slavery laws could also be ruled unconstitutional. Team of Rivals does an excellent job detailing how terrible the Dredd Scott decision is and its impact in galvanizing the anti-slavery allies, especially the passive ones, to act urgently and resoundingly. It is also a reminder of the immense power the Supreme Court yields.

The book also does an excellent job emphasizing the unintended repercussions the Mexican-American War has on exacerbating the issue of slavery. In addition, the actions of the main characters in response to the event are intriguing to their overall stories. After the war; Pennsylvania Congressman, David Wilmot, introduces an amendment to the war appropriations bill to ban slavery in land acquired from Mexico. Obviously, the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions go to their corners as soon as the idea is broached. The additional land annexed after the war with Mexico reopens the debate over the status of slavery in territories. It is an underrated contributing factor for the inevitability of the Civil War. Again, restricting slavery to the original states will kill it. However, the South knows it too. With the potential, overwhelming number of new states that would eventually be added from the land taken from Mexico; the political power of the South would be completely marginalized if none of the states were admitted as slave states. Next, the reasons for war with Mexico are controversial and fabricated. Bates accuses President James Polk and his Administration of “gross & palpable lying” and recognizes the objective of the war is for “plunder & conquest”. He also theorizes that a reason for the war is to extend slavery. Lincoln’s short run in Congress starts with the war with Mexico. He joins Massachusetts Congressman, George Ashmun, in stating the war is “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally” initiated by President. Lincoln writes a letter to Polk but he is discredited as being “spotty Lincoln”, an opportunist who is opposing the President and the war just to get prominence because he is a relative unknown at the time. Lincoln’s arguments fall on deaf ears because the American people are generally thrilled with the outcome of the war. It is very difficult to criticize a war time President, especially when the military is producing victories on the battlefield. His home state Democratic Illinois State Register charges Lincoln with a “treasonable assault upon President Polk” and calls him “Benedict Arnold”. Lincoln’s actions are seen as political suicide. Fortunately for the country, he eventually recovers. On the other hand, Seward and Chase are more politically savvy. Seward is against the war but is experienced enough to know to “not expect to see the Whig party successful in overthrowing an Administration carrying on a war in which the Whig party and its statesmen are found apologizing for our national adversaries.” Chase cannot afford to challenge the Democratic President because he needs the support of Democrats in Ohio. From my perspective, the implications of the Mexican-American War are more severe than I recalled. Moreover, it is intriguing how the main characters in the book react to it. It is also a lesson in politics. Even though one may be morally correct about an issue (i.e. Lincoln’s protest of the war), politics requires one to pick their fights.

I also contemplate the idea of moral relativism when I read Team of Rivals. I definitely agree with the notion of evaluating a person’s decisions through context (e.g. social, cultural, historical, etc.). Lincoln, Seward, and Chase are remembered as heroes for the abolitionist cause. They are certainly among the most progressive on the issues of slavery and race for their time. Nevertheless, a lot of their views would be considered racist when viewed through the lens of the modern world. When Lincoln ran for Stephen Douglas’s Senate seat, the incumbent paints Lincoln as a “radical, bent on abolishing all distinctions between the races”. Moreover, almost every white man and abolitionist in Illinois do not believe in black equality. Douglas adds that the Declaration of Independence meant white men when it references “men”. In defense, Lincoln vows that he has no intention to “introduce political and social equality” (e.g. voters, jurors, hold office, intermarry). In addition, he notes that the physical differences between whites and blacks will “probably forever forbid their living together upon footing in perfect equality”. In terms of Seward and Chase, they both speak out against black laws. Seward is even in favor of suffrage. Nevertheless, neither man advocates for full social and political equality for blacks. The book notes a quote from Seward’s biographer that reads “Seward did not believe that the black man in America was the equal of the white, or that he was capable of assimilation as were the Irish and German immigrants. But he did believe that the Negro was a man, and as such deserved and should have all the privileges of the whites”. Chase does not think races could live together and told famous black abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, that blacks would find “happier homes in other lands”. To his credit, he also states that so long as blacks are in the country, he will fight against discrimination. Similar to Chase’s thought, Lincoln believes in freeing the slaves and sending them back to Africa: Liberia. Out of historical context, a lot of those views are obviously racist. The progressiveness of their views are limited to their era. In evaluating morality, malicious intent should be considered. None of the three show ill intent in their statements. For example, the book emphasizes that Lincoln never committed one act of bigotry. Frederick Douglas observes that Lincoln is the “first great man that I talked with in the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself”. When Douglas travels to the White House to meet the Lincoln for the first time, he immediately feels welcomed and is impressed with the President. As one could see, context is very important. In addition, history is progress. It takes visionaries to push society in the right direction. However, not everyone will come around on an issue at the same time as the examples in the book proves. Many people may never be enlightened on particular issues in their lifetimes. In today’s polarized times, we should remind ourselves of moral relativism. We should not be so quick to condemn others for not conforming to our points of view. Instead, we should continue to debate and persuade through the democratic process.

Lincoln is romanticized as arguably the greatest President and a genius politician. He has certainly earned it. On the other hand, it is far from a guarantee that he even wins the Republican nomination. In fact, the odds are clearly stacked against him. Team of Rivals does a marvelous job informing the reader of the magnitude of Lincoln’s challenge. It also thoroughly explains how he engineers the epic upset and the flaws of his rivals that sink their candidacies. Lincoln knows he has an uphill climb against his impressive competition. Seward is clearly the favorite. Chase is the definitive favorite in his own mind. Lincoln develops a counterintuitive and astute strategy. He knows he will not be anyone’s top candidate heading into the Republican Primary. Instead, he decides to position himself as most voters’ second candidate and be the default choice if they sour on their first pick. It is a brilliant plan because the other candidates have flaws that keep them from securing the nomination. Seward’s prominence is due to his strong anti-slavery stances, especially his reputation as the principal anti-slavery voice in the Senate. His strength is his weakness. He is seen as a radical in the most polarized time in US history. Weed attempts to send his friend on an extended tour to Europe so he does not make “radical statements” that alienate party members. As history as shown in other times; favorites, who think their leads are safe and disappear with the assumption that their opponents will defeat themselves instead of continuing to connect to voters (e.g. Thomas E. Dewey against Harry S. Truman, Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump, etc.), have been upset by their opponents in epic fashion. Eventually, Seward attempts to appeal to moderates. He notes that the differences between the North and South are political as opposed to social or personal. He promises to not impose on the South’s sovereignty and assures voters that he is not trying to break up the Union. When he tries to go back towards the center on this issue, he loses supporters because the abolitionists hate it and he obviously does not pick up any traction with the pro-slavery voters because his notoriety is already cemented in their eyes. Next, he also upsets Protestants during his time as the governor of New York because he diverts public funds to parochial schools. He does it since the anti-Catholic curriculum keep immigrants away from school and in “illiteracy, poverty, and vice”. He does the moral thing but it costs him dearly politically. Although he overcomes the anti-Catholic Know Nothings party to win a second Senate term, those Protestants never forgive him and they haunt him in his Presidential bid. Another consequence of Seward’s long track record is that he was bound to make some unintended enemies. For example, his friend and powerful editor of the New-York Tribune, Horace Greeley turns on him. Greeley sends Seward a letter stating his disappointment of the lack of support from Weed and Seward for his political aspirations and getting passed up as a candidate for positions. As such, he uses his influential Tribune to support Bates. Weed meets with Greeley but mistakenly assumes he is fine and supports Seward based on their old friendship. It is not the only foolish presumption Wed makes. He also fails to meet with Simon Cameron, the Pennsylvania political boss, to procure his support because he expects Cameron’s help based on Seward quasi mentioning that he met with him already. All of those flaws and errors made by Seward’s campaign prove fatal to his Presidential hopes.

Although Chase and Bates are great men and good candidates, they do not have a real chance at winning the Republican nomination. Similar to Seward, Chase’s strength becomes his ultimate weakness. Chase is self-righteous and inflexible with his principles. He is motivated and succeeds with those qualities but they make him oblivious to how others perceive him. He believes the country owes it to him to be President. He completely lacks humility. He sees his personal defeats as a setback for freedom. He assumes that voters will flock to him because he is the “guardian of the antislavery tradition and father of Republican Party”. He never hires a campaign manager, never capitalizes on the on the support from the editor of the powerful Chicago Press and Tribune, turns down key invitations to speak, and does not even reaffirm the votes for him from his own state. His arrogance clearly blinds him. In addition, he makes a lot of enemies to win one of Ohio’s Senate seats. When his Free Soilers win seats in the Ohio state legislature, he has significant say in determining who is Senator. Accordingly, he makes deals with the Democrats to procure the seat for himself. That maneuver alienates his allies. In contrast to Lincoln who graciously gives up a Senate seat and wins valuable allies for his future Presidential run, Chase selfishly takes a seat and makes dangerous enemies who later sink his bid. In terms of Bates, he never leaves his own state and is unware of the current national political landscape. His views on slavery are totally out of date regardless if a voter is pro-slavery or anti-slavery. He states that Congress should decide the fate of slavery even though the Dredd Scott decision already ruled it does not constitutionally have that authority to do so. He sees slavery as “a pestilential question”. He believes the country should focus on “topics of general importance”, economics, and internal improvements. He just does not have enough appeal to most voters. His base is old Whigs and Americans. He also never officially joins the Republican Party. Furthermore, he calls “Black Republicans” both “agitators” and “dangerous enemies to the peace of our Union”. In a previous decade where North and South were looking to find a medium to avoid the dissolution of the Union at all costs, Bates may have been a solid and boring compromise candidate. Of course, 1860 is not conducive to such a candidate. As one could conclude, Chase’s and Bates’s shortcomings disqualify them quickly from a real chance at the Presidency.

Next, the 1860 Republican Convention is one of the most dramatic political party conventions in US history. An interesting note for this Republican Convention is that Chicago wins by 1 vote over St. Louis to be the site for it. Seward is so confident of his impending victory that he does not care where it takes place. It is another example of Seward and his campaign’s lack of attention to detail that opens the door for Lincoln. The book astutely points out that Charles Gibson, friend and Bates supporter, claims that “Had the convention been held in St. Louis, Lincoln would not have been the nominee.” Home court advantage is crucial for Lincoln. As the event proceeds, the fear at the Convention is that Seward is too radical on slavery and too liberal on immigration to win the General Election. Nevertheless, he is poised to secure the nomination at the end of the first day, especially when a proposal to change to a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority to nominate the candidate is rejected. However, the vote is moved to the second day after the Secretary of the Convention notes there is not enough paper available to tally the votes on day one. The extra time allows for the tide to completely turn against Seward. First, the candidates for the Governors of Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania threaten to resign if Seward is nominated and hurt the Party in other elections. Next, Horace Greeley makes his move against his old friend. He addresses the delegates and comments that the party is sectional and needed to win every Northern state in the General election to have a mathematical chance of winning. He also claims that he could bring in a representative from each swing state that could attest Seward could not win the state. Greeley is a Trojan horse. He is seen as a friend of Seward by the delegates. As a result, his motives are never questioned. Instead, he appears to be genuinely concerned Seward could not win. As the situation snowballs into an avalanche for Seward, Chase and Bates still do not gain any traction. Chase theoretically has appeal as an economic conservative compared to Seward’s liberal spending. However, Chase fails to speak out against the Know Nothings. He also fails to unite his own state, the powerful Ohio contingent, behind him. Again, his past mistakes catch up with him. Judge McLean, another Ohio candidate for President, represents the sentiments of Ohio accurately when he says Chase “is selfish, beyond any other man. And I know the bargain he has made in being elected to the Senate, he is ready to make any bargain to promote his interest.” In regards to Bates, the German Americans do not forgive him for supporting the Know Nothing Party. In general, he is too conservative for the very liberal, upstart Republican Party. Consequently, Lincoln plays his card perfectly by setting himself up as everyone’s number 2 choice. He does not disparage the other candidates. His team works tirelessly for him because they love him. They turn Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to Lincoln’s corner on route to engineering one of the most amazing, historic upsets in politics. It is exciting to read about all the deals and promises that are made to various contingents to secure the nomination. After Seward’s defeat, Weed cries and proclaims it as “the great disappointment of his life”. Lincoln leaves no rocks unturned as he brilliantly maneuvers through the Primary and Convention. It is an example of his political genius in peak form. The book sums it up seamlessly when it notes “Having risen to power with fewer privileges than any of his rivals, Lincoln was more accustomed to rely upon himself to shape events.” Although he controls as much as he can, he also needs to get lucky and have many things go his way (e.g. location of the convention, flaws and missteps from his opponents to open the door, etc.). The United States is lucky that everything breaks right for Lincoln.


The General Election is also very interesting to read about in the book. The Democrats nominate Lincoln’s old Illinois nemesis, Stephen Douglas. However, he is too moderate and the party splinters. Southern Democrats nominate John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky and the new Constitutional Party nominate John Bell of Tennessee. Lincoln and Douglas battle for the free sates and Breckinridge and Bell fight for the slave states. After Republicans win state elections in Indiana and Pennsylvania, Douglas realizes Lincoln will be President. As a testament to Douglas’s commitment to preserve the Union, he goes to and confronts hostile crowds in the South to plea for them to accept the inauguration of Lincoln should he win. Douglas understands the South is serious about secession threats. With the splintered electorates in the North and South, the state of New York becomes critical in Lincoln winning the election outright and it not going to the House of Representatives to be decided. The problem with New York is that Democratic Irish immigrants are “unfriendly” to the antislavery cause. Moreover, influential merchants and manufacturers view Republicanism as a threat to commercial relations with the South. In response, Weed asks Seward to make a speech in New York City attesting to the Republicans’ commitment to preserving the Union. This key move swings New York and the election in Lincoln’s favor as he becomes the 16th President of the United States. Due to all the moving parts noted above, the General Election is very compelling for readers.

In addition, Lincoln is legendary for his leadership skills. One of the prime examples of his greatness is how he recruits and retains his Cabinet, which features his rivals he defeated during the Primary. The first man he speaks to and the easiest to recruit is Bates. Although Bates prefers to not take high office because the low pay will tempt him to be dishonest in order to live above his means, he “felt it his duty to sacrifice his personal inclinations, and if he could, to contribute his labor and influence to the restoration of peace in, and the preservation of his country”. He understands the nation is on the brink of disaster and his abilities are needed to aid the new President. Lincoln offers Bates the position of Attorney General. He is also the backup pick to be Secretary of State. Lincoln’s clear first pick for his Secretary of State is Seward. However, he needs to reign him in first and establish that he is the President. Again, Seward was the clear favorite for the Republican nomination and is still a political powerhouse. He assumes he will be the actual President while Lincoln will be a puppet he controls and the figurehead of the Presidency. Seward is willing to be Secretary of State but wants Whigs to dominate the positions within the Cabinet and the administration. He also expects to pick the rest of the Cabinet himself. Lincoln is flawless in how he handles Seward. First, he declines all meetings to meet in Auburn [Seward’s hometown] or a neutral setting. He makes Seward come to him to set the tone that he is in charge and “Springfield” [Lincoln’s hometown] will be making the ultimate decisions. Next, Lincoln utilizes his extraordinary empathy to understand his rival and convince him to join his team. He sends one letter to officially offer the position to Seward. Then, he sends a second, confidential one to “soothe” Seward’s ego. In the letter, he explains that the position is not being offered just as a compliment intended to be declined. He flatters him by saying Seward’s “position in the public eye, your integrity, ability, learning, and great experience, all combine to render it an appointment pre-eminently fit to be made”. It is a genius move that works. However, the Seward and Chase camps quarrel with each other. As such, Seward threatens to withdraw his previous acceptance if Chase is in the picture. Nevertheless, Lincoln sees right through the bluff and calls it. After Lincoln recruits and reigns in Seward, the Secretary of State becomes his greatest ally and friend during his Presidency. When Lincoln’s competency is questioned early in his Presidency, Seward comes strongly to his boss’s defense by reassuring the public that “It is due to the President to say, that his magnanimity is almost superhuman. His confidence and sympathy increase every day… Executive skill and vigor are rare qualities. The President is the best of us; but he needs constant and assiduous cooperation.” Lincoln returns the favor later. Seward offers his letter of resignation after Radicals accuse him of influencing Lincoln negatively and hurting the prosecution of the war. Of course, Lincoln knows it is not the case and Seward is the most important member of his Cabinet. He confronts the “Committee of Nine”, the group that wants the resignation and is also being incited by Chase, in a joint meeting with his Cabinet that lasts five hours. He changes the minds of five members of the Committee and saves Seward. It is impressive how Lincoln wins Seward’s respect and adoration.

On the other hand, it is not a surprise that Chase leads the charge against Seward.  Chase is easily the most difficult member of Lincoln’s Cabinet. Nonetheless, Lincoln is totally aware that Chase’s abilities will prove essential to his Administration and the country as Secretary of the Treasury. Lincoln is correct because the financing the Civil War will become critical to the survival of the nation. Under Chase’s tenure as the leader of the Treasury, the Legal Tender Bill is passed. It switches the coin currency to the paper greenbacks we use today. Moreover, a comprehensive tax bill to establish an Internal Revenue Bureau and federal income tax is passed. Chase’s intelligence and talents are important in overseeing these measures that fund the war. Consequently, Lincoln puts up with the impossible task of managing an individual who consistently tries to backstab him. Persuading Chase is not easy either. However, Lincoln reads his adversary perfectly and coerces Chase’s cooperation in a series of witty maneuvers. Chase publicly claims that he prefers to stay in the Senate. Of course, Lincoln sees right through that façade: “His desire for position and glory, as Lincoln shrewdly guessed, would allow Lincoln alone to determine the time and place of his appointment.” Despite Chase’s public pretending that he does not want a prominent position, Lincoln nominates him anyway. In addition, he does it without Chase’s knowledge. Chase is confused when other Senators congratulate him. By that point, Chase understands he will be embarrassed if he declines. He is clearly angry but accepts the position. Of course, Chase is a handful to manage. Moreover, he utilizes his daughter, Kate, to publicly criticize and undermine Lincoln. In addition, Samuel Pomeroy is the chair of the committee that seeks to elect Chase as President. An infamous Pomeroy Committee circular is sent in private to leading Republicans to criticize Lincoln to gauge support for Chase. It completely backfires. After the circular is released, many state legislatures come out in support of Lincoln’s re-election. Before it, Ohio blocks attempts to endorse Lincoln. After it, Ohio joins the other state legislatures in supporting the President. In addition to Chase’s disloyalty to Lincoln, he oversees some very questionable activities. For example, a treasury agent forges a document used to accuse Frank Blair, a member of the powerful Blair family who opposes Chase, of swindling the government by charging $8 thousand for the personal shipment of liquor and tobacco. It is obvious that Chase abuses his power to attack a political opponent. As a result, Blair makes a speech accusing Chase of “corruption, treachery against Lincoln, lack of patriotism, and sordid ambition for the presidency”. In a power move, Chase threatens to resign for his honor. It is not the only time in he pulls this diva move to get his way.

Throughout his time as Secretary of the Treasury, he truly tests the patience of Lincoln. Eventually, even the great Lincoln is fed up with the behavior. The final straw comes when Chase attempts to nominate unqualified Democratic journalist, Maunsell Field for assistant treasurer of New York. At the time, Field is the third assistant secretary of the treasury as a reward for providing Chase access to New York inner circles. The additional promotion is ludicrous. Chase threatened to resign again assuming he is too important and thus will just get his way again. Lincoln wisely accepts the resignation. He puts up with Chase to utilize his special abilities for the betterment of the country. Great management and leadership includes reeling in rogue agents whose talents are invaluable to your team. On the other hand, one also needs to know when it is necessary to get rid of a cancer on a team. When Lincoln accepts the resignation, Chase is shocked. Not surprisingly, he takes no responsibility for his fate. Consistent with his self-important arrogance, he is very self-centered in his rationalization of the situation: “I can see but one reason… that I am too earnest, too antislavery, &, say, too radical to make him willing to have me connected with the Admn., just as my opinion that he is not earnest enough; not antislavery enough; not radical enough, – goes naturally with those hostile to me”. He is incapable of perceiving how his constant selfishness is viewed by and despised by others. Only one other Cabinet members sees him before he departs. The relationship between the two men highlights Lincoln’s strengths as a leader and Chase’s fatal flaws. Lincoln is able to empathize and view scenarios from the perspective of others. He processes that knowledge and comes up with brilliant plans to fit a diverse group of people and utilize their talents for his team and the country. He also has the humility to set aside his ego to tolerate Chase’s ridiculous disloyalty because he knows Chase produces irreplaceable contributions in service to the nation. In contrast, Chase is blinded by his ambition. He is oblivious to how his actions affect others and doom his Presidential hopes.

While Seward, Chase, and Bates are the key members of the Cabinet that Team of Rivals follows throughout the story, it also significantly features Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s second Secretary of War. The first Secretary of War is Simon Cameron. The appointment is made to reward Cameron and Pennsylvania for their support during the Primary. Cameron wants Chase’s position, Secretary of the Treasury. He eventually settles for Secretary of War. Unfortunately, he is in over his head and Lincoln is forced to replace him. Of course, Cameron is upset. Nevertheless, Lincoln uses his wit to smooth the situation over. He nominates Cameron to the position of minister to Russia. More importantly, he explains that the service is as important as the work at home. Lincoln also pulls a fast one on Cameron with some mind manipulation by asking for his recommendation on his successor. Lincoln knows Cameron will choose Stanton, who is a fellow Pennsylvanian. Even though he had already picked Stanton, he gives Cameron the power of making a decision that had already been made. It is another genius political move by Lincoln.


Stanton’s story is captivating because of his brutal criticism of Lincoln before he accepts the position and the incredible responsibilities he bears as a Secretary of War during the Civil War. Similar to the other main characters in the book and common to the era, Stanton is inflicted with a lot of personal tragedy. His father dies when he is young so his family is forced to be frugal in order to keep him in school. Next, his daughter passes away. Then, his wife dies three years after. In a sweet but heartbreaking moment, he pens letters to his son, Edwin Jr, about his mother and his parent’s romance because he is too young to have memories of her. Stanton notes he wrote with tears “obscuring his vision” and “anguish of heart”. After his younger brother, Darwin, dies; Stanton is seen as suicidal. Although he fortunately does not take his own life, the tragedies imprint a lot of resentment and anger into his persona. He becomes “increasingly aggressive in court, intimidating witnesses unnecessarily, antagonizing fellow lawyers, exhibiting rude and irascible behavior”. Not surprisingly, he is in a dark place and “derived his only satisfaction from his growing reputation and his increasing wealth” to care for his family. He takes a monumental step in his career when he is assigned to the Reaper case. It is the biggest moment of his legal career when he argues for and wins the case to uphold the “Manny” patent. It is upheld by the Cincinnati and United States Supreme Courts. With the experience and enhanced reputation, he contests more cases in front of the highest court in the land. In a stroke of fate, Lincoln has connections who help him get assigned to the same case with Stanton. However, Stanton has nothing but disdain for the much less experienced lawyer. He demeans Lincoln by calling him a “long armed ape”. Eventually, Stanton successfully phases out the tag along lawyer from the case. Nevertheless, Lincoln is honored just to be involved and watch a great lawyer in action and marvels at Stanton’s legal arguments. That elevated impression of Stanton is a primary reason Lincoln later makes Stanton Secretary of War, which he sees as “the most powerful civilian post within his gift”. It is another example of Lincoln’s immaculate leadership and uncanny humility. Stanton completely humiliates Lincoln during that case. Furthermore, he is one of the most critical, public voices against Lincoln before he joins the Cabinet. Nevertheless, Lincoln looks past those swipes. Most people would hold a grudge. I probably would. Instead, Lincoln focuses on Stanton’s overall character. In addition to his impressive work as a lawyer, Stanton also proves himself to be a patriot loyal to the Union. He joins President James Buchanan’s Cabinet near the end of that Administration. With the information available to him via his position, he learns of a fear that the South will capture Washington D.C. to prevent Lincoln’s inauguration. It is a legitimate fear if Virginia and Maryland secede and surround the capitol. Consequently, Stanton goes behind Buchanan’s back to alert Seward and other key Republican Senators. In addition, he has the support of Seward and Chase because they know he is against slavery. Stanton’s colorful past and run-ins with Lincoln make the Secretary of War’s story intriguing. It also speaks to the character of both men that they move past it.

Next, Stanton is assigned the greatest responsibilities and burdens within the Cabinet as the Secretary of War during the Civil War. Again, his predecessor, Cameron, is completely in over his head with the position. He is also a bit crooked. He does not leave the War department in adequate shape for Stanton. For example, the House Committee publishes a 1,100 page report in February 1862 detailing the corruption within the department. It mentions instances of the purchasing of malfunctioning weapons, diseased horses, and rotten food. In response, a bill is passed to punish with death any person who “commits a fraud upon the Government, whereby a soldier is bodily injured, as for instance in the sale of unsound provisions”. Stanton has a monumental task cleaning up the mess. He is swift and unsympathetic in changing the tone at the top. He establishes a new culture in his department based on merit and accountability. The best example of his resolute leadership occurs when he receives a request from First Lady Mary to make an appointment as a favor to her. He immediately declines the request. He explains that the country is “in the midst of a great war for national existence”. Accordingly, “his first duty is to the people” and his “next duty is to protect your husband’s [Lincoln’s] honor, and your own”. Mary understands the reasoning and respects him for it. Stanton’s honorable, sound, and wise leadership is critical to the execution and ultimate success of the war. Naturally, it is also a highly criticized position. For instance, the book points out that thousands in the military blame him for not promoting them and other thousands because he did not appoint them. Of course, he also endures a heavy emotional burden. The most heartbreaking example in the book is when a mother, wife, and children of a deserter meet with him to beg for the soldier’s life. In order to fulfill his duties as Secretary of War, he appears unmoved by the family’s pleas and only answers with a short, cold response that the man must die. In private after the family leaves his presence, he is crushed by his decision: “leaning over a desk, his face buried in his hands and his heavy frame shaking with sobs. ‘God help me to do my duty; God help me to do my duty!’ he was repeating in a low wail of anguish.” As Secretary of War, he certainly makes countless more decisions that carry unbearable personal weight. To Lincoln’s credit, he rarely overrules Stanton because he comprehends the responsibility the position bears. Moreover, their relationship dramatically changes during the war. Stanton grows to respect and love Lincoln. He succumbs to tears after Lincoln is assassinated. It is a far cry from their first interactions when Stanton calls him a “long armed ape”. Of course, it is another testament to Lincoln’s interpersonal skills and overall greatness.

Not surprisingly, the most hectic and interesting parts of Team of Rivals is how Lincoln and his Cabinet handle the Civil War. Before the war starts, they desperately attempt to save the Union without a bloody conflict. Although a reader knows the terrors that eventually fall upon the country, it is dramatic to follow the events that occur right before the fighting ensues and the frantic but ultimately fruitless moves that are made to avert a catastrophic war. As soon as Lincoln is elected, South Carolina holds a convention to discuss secession from the Union. William Smedes, a wealthy Mississippi gentleman, represents the sentiment of the South when he remarks that secession is justified because Lincoln “pledged to the ultimate extinction of slavery, holds the black man to be the equal of the white, & stigmatizes our whole people as immoral & unchristian”. Lincoln knows there is nothing he can say that will placate the South. He also worries the appearance of trying to offer concessions to the South will concern the North that the President they helped elect is abandoning Republican principles. As President-elect, he nonetheless understands that he must try everything in his power to prevent a Civil War even if he realizes it is probably inevitable. Since it is not customary for the President-elect to address the Senate, Seward assumes the task. Seward obviously consoles Lincoln beforehand and it is understood that Seward’s words and promises are the equivalent of Lincoln’s. Seward’s speech occurs on January 12, 1861 and obviously highly anticipated. The key points in the speech are Lincoln’s resolutions for a constitutional amendment to prevent Congress from interfering with slavery where it already existed and the repeal of personal liberty laws of the North in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law. Seward adds the prospect of another Constitutional Convention for further dramatic and permanent resolutions that will reconcile the differences between the North and South. Naturally, Seward’s speech is received as too conciliatory for radical Republicans, who believe they are trying to purchase peace by concession. His wife and moral compass, Frances, is disappointed in the speech: “You are in danger of taking the path which led Daniel Webster to an unhonored grave ten years ago. Compromise based on the idea that the preservation of the Union is more important than the liberty of nearly 4,000,000 human beings cannot be right. The alteration of the Constitution to perpetuate slavery-the enforcement of a law to recapture a poor, suffering fugitive… these compromises cannot be approved by God or supported by good men.” It is difficult to argue with Frances from the perspective of modern civilization. However, the South is not going to listen to Lincoln by the time of Seward’s speech anyway. He has already been absolutely demonized in the South so any words of reconciliation or compromise will fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, it is mind-boggling to ponder how the history of the United States changes if the South accepts the offer. Lincoln and his Cabinet would have been remembered as another Administration complicit in the perpetuation and enabling of slavery instead of the reverence they receive today for extinguishing it.

Fort Sumter Bombardment

Of course, allowing the South to secede is not an option either. Lincoln views a failed American democracy as a disaster with terrible consequences for society. As we know, the Civil War is inevitable. Although we know this outcome, the book does a wonderful job providing an interesting account of the direct moves that lead up to the Battle of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war. The thought process and decision making of Lincoln and his Cabinet as they try to balance avoiding and preparing for war simultaneously make for a great read. The last ditch efforts to avoid war are futile once South Carolina threatens Federal forts. It takes Fort Moultrie uncontested once Federal forces withdraw to Fort Sumter. The incident is escalated when South Carolina prevents Fort Sumter from being resupplied via Charleston. Alternatively, it will take 6-8 weeks months to resupply the fort with war vessels and transports directly. Accordingly, Lincoln and his Cabinet need to evaluate their options and response to the aggression. One consideration discussed is Andrew Jackson’s reaction to threats by South Carolina of secession in 1833: a clear threat of punishment if the state followed through. However, five Cabinet members strongly oppose the resupply and reinforcement of the fort. Instead, Seward advises Lincoln to allow the state to take Fort Sumter too. He and other Cabinet members believe that as long as Fort Pickens, in Pensacola Bay, Florida is held that the loss of Fort Sumter will not matter. Nonetheless, Lincoln sets his red line at Fort Sumter. Unfortunately, they completely botch the defense of Fort Sumter. There is confusion in the orders sent to the flagship Powhatan for it to sail to Charleston as a show of force to back up tugboats that will resupply the fort. The ship goes to Fort Pickens in Florida instead of Charleston. The first order, to proceed to Fort Pickens in Florida, is signed by Lincoln. The updated order to go to Charleston is signed by Seward. As such, Lincoln’s orders takes priority over Seward’s. Moreover, the Confederacy intercepts the message and attacks Fort Sumter before the Powhatan and its powerful howitzer can arrive to turn the outcome of the battle. After Lincoln’s call for arms, Virginia secedes from the Union. It is a devastating blow since it is considered the state of Presidents. North Carolina, Arkansas, and Kentucky join but not all 15 slave states do. For all those reasons, it is fascinating to read about the considerations, chaos, and choices made leading up to the opening shots of the war. Interestingly, not a single Union soldier is lost in the battle. It is an ironic start to what will be the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States. Up to the Vietnam War, more Americans died in combat during the Civil War than all other wars combined.

Similarly, Team of Rivals does an excellent job detailing the key decisions and moments for Lincoln and his Cabinet during the war. It provides vivid reminders of the unprecedented and unparalleled danger that the United States had never, has never since, and hopefully never again experience. For example, a lot of Southerners are in the navy. Moreover, the Confederates secure the Norfolk Navy Yard and the premier vessel in the fleet, the Merrimac. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles asks Lincoln to reinforce Norfolk but the President does not want to provoke Virginia. Obviously, a significant portion of the navy changing sides to the opposition forces is something that has never happened outside of the Civil War. Moreover, the war is the only time Washington D.C. faces a legitimate threat of being captured by enemy forces. On April 19, 1961, the first casualties occur in Baltimore when secessionists attack the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment. Wires are cut and mails are stopped going to Washington. There is a real fear of the city being taken by the Confederate forces before reinforcements can arrive from the North. In order to protect the military line (i.e. train tracks), Lincoln authorizes General Winfield Scott to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus for the sake of public safety. Of course, the idea of suspending of basic civil rights is frightening in itself. Nonetheless, the Civil War is an extraordinary circumstance that forces Lincoln’s hand. The first significant threat to the Capitol occurs after the first Battle of Bull Run. The Confederates score a resounding victory at Manassas, about 25 miles west of Washington D.C., and cause a disorganized Union retreat. That battle is also famous for Thomas J. Jackson earning his legendary nickname “Stonewall Jackson” because he stands his ground like a stonewall during the fighting. If the Confederates advance on the Capitol after the victory, they could have taken the city. The book does a great job detailing the other close calls. Next, an underrated threat during the Civil War is the prospect of European powers intervening on behalf of or in support of the South, especially Great Britain. In fact, a member of the British Parliament introduces a resolution to grant belligerent status to the Southern Confederacy which would grant Southern ships the same “rights in neutral ports enjoyed by Federal ships”. There is also a fear that British will break the Union blockade because it relies on Southern cotton. While Seward is willing to wage war with Britain, Lincoln is wise to want to avoid fighting two wars. Nonetheless, Seward is instrumental in preventing interference from Europe. A great example highlighted in the book is when he gives foreign dignitaries a tour of the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, and thousands of factories (i.e. the might of the North). It is a subtle but clear message deterring Europeans from delivering on contracts with the Confederacy for ironclad ships that are vastly superior to the Union’s fleet.

Another unique danger and tragedy presented by the Civil War is the idea of “brother against brother” as families split up by the geography of living in separate regions, North and South, go to war against each other. It is a cruel fate that not even Lincoln can escape. His brother-in-law, Benjamin Hardin Helm, resides in the Southern states. He opposes Lincoln’s candidacy for President then eventually joins the Confederate Army as a brigadier General. On the other hand, Helm does admit it is the “most painful hour of his life” to decline Lincoln’s of major and paymaster of the Union army. Ultimately, he is killed in battle. Afterwards, his wife and Lincoln’s sister-in-law, Emilie, reaches out to Lincoln to get safe passage through the Union forces to travel to the North. When she is stopped by the Union army, she is asked to give an oath to the Union before she can proceed. She refuses but Lincoln instructs his troops to send her to him and she is received at the White House. It is scandal when a General and a Senator recognize and are outraged by the sight of a perceived traitor granted asylum at the White House while Union troops are dying on the battlefield to defeat the Confederates. In addition to the Helms, there are more personal connections to enemy forces via Mary’s family as she has a full brother, three half-brothers, and three brother in laws serving in the Confederate army. Naturally, it is not a great look for the Commander in Chief of the Union army. Interestingly, Mary has some Marie Antoinette moments when she seemingly appears oblivious to the real perils and horrors of war around her. She is overbearing and needs to have “what she wanted when she wanted it”.  In her defense, she feels the pressure to be an “accomplished and sophisticated” woman as First Lady. Nevertheless, her redecoration of the White House, in midst of Civil War, seems frivolous. Her big spending spree includes purchasing the “Lincoln bed”, which resides in the White House today. In the end, her impulses and lack of awareness make her a political liability at times and another issue Lincoln needs to manage during the War. Furthermore, he endures the unbearable and unthinkable loss of one of his children, Willie. Mary views it as punishment for her pride in their status: “I had become, so wrapped up in the world, so devoted to our own political advancement that I thought of little else”. Of course, it is a devastating personal burden that adds onto the heavy emotional toll Lincoln endures in general as the President during the Civil War. As one could definitely see, this war presents remarkable and unmatched dangers the nation has not faced outside of those four years. The book does an incredible job painting the picture of that terrible nightmare.


General George McClellan

Similarly, Lincoln and his Cabinet face many more unique, onerous challenges during the war. One of the most difficult issues Lincoln faces during the war is managing prima donna and ineffective Generals. At the beginning of the conflict, Lincoln adviser Francis Blair invites Colonel Robert E. lee to Virginia and asks him to command the Union army. In response, Lee notes “Mr. Blair, I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four million of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?” As such, it is very painful for him to resign from the Union army. If Lee commands the Union army instead of the Confederate army, I have no doubt that the North would prevail much quicker. Lee’s Union’s counterpart do not match his military brilliance. The Union General, who is the biggest thorn in Lincoln’s side during the war, is George McClellan. Lincoln knows McClellan is a prima donna but he puts up with it because the General teaches the troops’ discipline and increases morale. Those qualities are absolutely essential with the chaos at the beginning of the war. The country cannot afford to take chances with a wild card or inexperienced General with the enemy at the gates of the Capitol. For this reason, he is the General in Chief of the Union Forces at the start of the war. Nevertheless, McClellan’s flaws are plentiful. First, he is not a team player. He butts heads with General Winfield Scott, outright ignoring communications from his counterpart. Similarly, he has no respect for authority as displayed when he outright insults Lincoln’s Cabinet. For example, he calls Secretary of State Seward “a meddling, officious, incompetent little puppy” and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles “weaker than the garrulous old woman”.

Moreover, he is blatantly insubordinate to his Commander in Chief, which is in full display during the Peninsula Campaign, an offensive into Virginia intended to capture the Confederate Capitol of Richmond. Lincoln wants McClellan to aggressively advance to spur the war. He realizes the Union will run out of money to fund the war without significant victories to dissuade possible public dissent against it. However, McClellan is overly cautious and not aggressive enough. In an embarrassing episode, the “Quaker gun” affair; painted logs are utilized by the Confederates to deter McClellan from attacking for months. By the time the General decides to advance, the Rebels have completely withdrawn and only the painted logs are left behind. It is the last straw that gets him demoted from the General in Chief to just the General in charge of the Potomac army. His ineffectiveness does not stop there. In another incident, he leaves the defense of Washington D.C. to only 20,000 raw recruits in direct disobedience to Lincoln’s mandate to ensure the security of the Capitol first. In response, Lincoln is forced to bypass his General by withdrawing General McDowell’s 1st Corps from the command of McClelland and redirecting it to the defense of Washington D.C. During the siege of Yorktown, McLellan inexplicably stalls again despite orders from Stanton and Lincoln to move in. His excuses are strong enemy batteries and his reduced force with the loss of the 1st Corps. He waits a month before proceeding. Again, the enemy is gone by then. It is costly because it allows time for reinforcements to arrive and counterattack.

In contrast, Lincoln is very aggressive as a leader and probably very reckless with his own personal safety. For example, the Union knows it needs to capture Norfolk and its navy yard from the Confederates because the iron clad Merrimac is terrorizing the seas. For this operation; Lincoln, Chase, and Stanton personally survey the shoreline. Moreover, Lincoln actually goes on a rowboat and ashore on enemy soil. As soon as the best spot for the assault is chosen, Chase pushes for an immediate attack. However, McClellan acts as the bottleneck again by delaying the assault. By the time he allows Union forces to move in, they take it uncontested because the Confederates are given enough time to evacuate. In addition, the enemy even has time to dismantle the Merrimac before the Union can commandeer it. Not surprisingly, the prima donna McClellan refuses to bear any responsibilities for his failures as he defends his overcautious command by saying “If I save this Army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.” From his perspective, his superior are encouraging him to be reckless. In reality, he is completely out-generaled during the war. Of course, McClellan continues to be a problem and insubordinate. At one point, Lincoln’s Cabinet moves to remove McClellan for “willful disobedience to superior orders” and having “imperiled the army commanded by General Pope” by intentionally delaying the deliverance of his troops to Pope’s aid. McClellan reads between the lines in assuming his army would have been assimilated into Pope’s and the merged army would have been commanded by Pope. Regardless, it is an account of a prima donna prioritizing his ego over the good of the country and the welfare of other troops. On the other hand, McClellan has his moments too. At Antietam, he pushes Lee and his forces back. However, he believes he has more clout than he does after the victory. He oversteps his bounds by asking for his full command back and speaking against the Emancipation Proclamation [Lincoln’s Executive Order that frees the slaves]. Finally, he is relieved of his command after the mid-term elections and allowing the rebels to flee back to Virginia. As one could see, McClellan is a real headache for Lincoln. He is necessary at the beginning of the war because the enemy is at the gates of the Capitol and there is no time to risk appointing an inexperienced or questionable General who might not have the troops ready to fight. Nonetheless, McClellan’s indecisiveness and insubordination are issues for a significant part of the war.

On the other hand, a lot of Lincoln’s other generals are not much better. After McClellan is relieved of duty, he is replaced with General Ambrose Burnside. Unfortunately, Burnside is “ten times as much heart as he has head”. Under his command, the Union suffers a brutal loss at Fredericksburg where General Lee and his forces inflict 13 thousand casualties. Earlier in the war, Lincoln appoints John C Fremont as a General. He is hero in the liberation of California from Mexico. As such, Lincoln sends him to Missouri. However, he completely oversteps his authority. During the war and before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Congress passes the Confiscation Act that allows the military to confiscate rebel property, including slaves supporting Confederate Troops. Without the authorization of Lincoln, Fremont instructed his troops to confiscate all property, including all slaves and not just the ones aiding Rebel troops. It is a significant issue because there is a fear that his actions will lead Kentucky and other borders states to join the Confederacy. Another colorful General is Joseph Hooker. He makes the comment that the country needs a dictator to assume command of “both the Army and the government”. In response, Lincoln writes the General a letter explaining that he appointed him in spite of and not for that reason. However, he concedes he will risk a dictatorship for military success. He tells Hooker “Beware of rashness, but with energy; and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.” Nevertheless, Hooker is also outgeneraled by Robert E. Lee. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, he does not commit his full force and resorts to a defensive position too quickly. It results in 17 thousand dead Union troops. Despite the crushing loss, there are a couple of key results in favor of the Union in that battle. First, the Confederate casualties of 13 thousand are less than the Union’s losses but a higher percentage of their total forces. Next, they also lose Confederate hero Stonewall Jackson in the battle. Unfortunately, Hooker’s woes do not end there. When Lee and the Confederates invade Maryland and Pennsylvania, Hooker eventually sends a telegram asking to be relieved of his command. Lincoln appoints General George Meade as Hooker’s replacement. Meade leads the successful defense of the North at Gettysburg. Nevertheless, the victory is marred by when Lee’s forces escape back into Virginia. Lincoln’s order to cut them off is either never received or ignored. As one could conclude, Lincoln’s experiences with his Generals are a very interesting part of the book. He deals with egos, insubordination, overreach of authority, and ineffectiveness on the battlefield. A reader certainly gains a better appreciation for the difficulties Lincoln and his Cabinet face and manage during the war.


Lincoln can finally put his full trust in a general when he names Ulysses S. Grant Lieutenant General, the first since George Washington, and gives him full command of all Union forces. The General and future President will become a legend himself. Of course, there are full biographies written about him. In regards to Team of Rivals, he is a side character but a reader will definitely be impressed by his part in the story. Unlike his counterparts (e.g. General McClellan), Grant is “consummately modest and quietly confident”. In addition, he is far from a prima donna who wants to bask in the glory of his position. When Lincoln attempts to throw a dinner in his honor, Grant asks to go back into the field and return to his troops instead. As a result, he is a man of substance who worries about doing a job well instead of getting the credit for it. He is also ready to always take the blame for any failure unlike McClellan. As a leader, it is important to be accountable and set a strong tone at the top. Grant certainly exudes this positive trait. In addition, Grant is a much more aggressive field commander. For example, he concocts a plan to strike the Confederates in three directions, which is known as the Overland Campaign. Grant and the Army of the Potomac will strike Lee to force him to a retreat toward Richmond, General William Sherman will move through Georgia west to east to take Atlanta, and General Benjamin Butler will attack Richmond from the northeast via the James River. On the other hand, the campaign is costly. One of the bloodiest battles of that three pronged push and the war occurs at Cold Harbor. It results in 86 thousand Union and Confederate casualties. Even though the Confederates are heavily fortified, Grant continues the attack instead of retreating. He regrets that the assault ever had to occur but understands it is necessary. The Overland Campaign is essential to the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. As a General, Grant has the lives of many men in his hands. He has difficult decisions to make, that includes sending young men into battle and a lot of them to certain death. Again, it is war. In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, John Voight’s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt explains it best when he addresses his Cabinet and says “Does anyone in this room think that victory is possible without facing danger? We are at war. Of course, there is a risk.” A great General needs to be decisive and make choices in the face of those daunting dangers that lead to a victory so each casualty means something. Grant is an exceptional leader that understands his burden and accepts the responsibility.

Of course, he is not perfect. Grant gets outmaneuvered and flanked too. While he is in Virginia, Confederate General Jubal Early and 15 thousand troops go north and make an incursion into Maryland toward Washington D.C. Fortunately, Early and his troops are slowed on their way to the Capitol. Seward’s son, William, leads Union troops at the Battle of Monocacy. While they are defeated, they contest the battle fiercely to buy time for the Capitol to organize its defense. The Confederates also delay themselves by sacking and looting the town of Silver Spring, home to the wealthy Blair family. Nevertheless, Grant is decisive in his response to the hiccup. He sends the highly respected Sixth Corps to the aid of the Capitol. The militia is called up and even government clerks are armed. Ultimately, Early attacks but is repelled by the Capitol. Grant is also the perfect extension of Lincoln on the battlefield as he executes his Commander in Chief’s orders to the tee instead of exceeding his authority. For example, he follows Lincoln’s lenient terms at Appomattox where Lee surrenders and virtually ends the war. In the terms of surrender, Grant allows “Confederate officers, after relinquishing their arms and artillery, ‘to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authority,’ on the condition that they never ‘take up arms’ against the Union ‘until properly exchanged’”. It is an incredibly gracious gesture that starts the path to reconciliation and Reconstruction. It takes time for Lincoln to find a General he can put his full trust in but he certainly has his man in Ulysses S. Grant.

With war, battles and great Generals receive most of the fanfare. However, maintaining morale and giving a country clear reasons to fight are just as important. Without the support of the people, a war effort cannot be sustained. Victories on the battlefield are crucial to the psychology of a nation. Nevertheless, a President or leader needs to guard against his country growing wary of war. Not surprisingly, Lincoln’s greatest challenge in maintaining morale centers on slavery. While the North is predominantly against the practice of slavery, it is questionable whether the people are willing to fight, die, and kill their fellow Americans in the South for the abolishment of slavery. It is fascinating to read how Lincoln initially stays away from using slavery as the primary reason for the war then methodically pivots to it at the appropriate time during the war. It is another grand example of his political genius. Lincoln knows not to fully abolish slavery at the start of the war. He cannot afford to lose the border states. The first move against it during the war is the Confiscation Act. The slaves who are used for insurrection are “forfeited” and “provided for in some way”. Of course, they do not stop there. With a Republican majority free of Southern opposition in Congress, a second Confiscation Act is passed. In it, a slave’s involvement with the insurrection need not be military. Slaves aid the rebels when they dig trenches and build fortifications, serve as cooks and attendants in camps, and labor at home so their masters’ families are fed. Finally, Lincoln takes advantage of his unique wartime powers and issues the Emancipation Proclamation to free all slaves on January 1, 1963. Beforehand, he informs his Cabinet he is considering “emancipating the slaves by proclamation in case the Rebels did not cease to persist in their war”. Moreover, he concludes that “it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued”. The book explains it well when it notes “Thus, the constitutional protection of slavery could and would be overridden by the constitutionally sanctioned war powers of the president.” There is a savvy, smart underlying reason for liberating the slaves too: keeping Europe out of the war. Lincoln and his team are astute in realizing the masses in Europe will not support the South once he frames the end of slavery as a primary goal of the war since the Europeans sees slavery as an evil. Moreover, he understands that his perfect timing for the Proclamation will unleash the “moral fervor” of the North and keep the Republican Party united.

As expected, Lincoln gets criticism for his Proclamation. Even Chase is against it. He is in favor of gradual emancipation through the military. However, his opposition to the decision is probably self-serving since being more progressive on slavery and accusing the President of moving too slowly on the issue is his only chance of defeating Lincoln in the next election. Not surprisingly, the strongest and most vocal Peace Democrats, aka as Copperheads, are against his executive decision. Ohio House Representative Clement Vallandigham protests that the war waged to defend the Union is now a “war for the negro”. As such, he declares “no — not a day, not an hour”. Furthermore, he proposes an extreme plan for the Northwest and South to come together with slavery intact and then let New England go it alone. Lincoln is perceptive enough to not allow that movement to gain any traction. He needs $15 thousand to defeat the Copperheads in New Hampshire and Connecticut so they do not get momentum with key election wins. Accordingly, Weed gets 15 New Yorkers to donate $1 thousand each for the effort and they successfully stop the Copperheads in their tracks. In addition to the polarizing issue of slavery, there are other matters that threaten public support. The most significant is the Draft. In response, there are riots in New York. The Conscription Act allows for an individual to pay $300 or provide a substitute. Consequently, the Civil War is accused of being “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”. Conspiracy theorists also suggest it is a plot to kill off Democrats: the Irish working class. The Union produces the necessary battlefield victories but support for the war is far from certain because of the divisive issues of civil liberties and slavery. As one could see, Lincoln surely has his hands full trying to manage the psychology of the nation. Naturally, he is well equipped to handle the challenge with his oratory skills and charisma. The best example of his legendary, inspirational speaking skills is during his Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” Before Lincoln enters the stage; Edward Everett, former president of Harvard, speaks for two hours. However, he speaks as a historian and an encyclopedia with no heart. In contrast, Lincoln has the crowd captivated with his “extreme brevity” and “abrupt close” per George Gitt, a reporter at the speech. Since it ends suddenly and unexpectedly, the crowd has no reaction because they are totally engaged by the power of his words and expected it to go on. Ironically, Lincoln misinterprets the initial response as the crowd’s disappointment. Lincoln’s leadership is also crucial to sustaining the morale of the troops. Their devotion to their Commander in Chief can be descried as “mythical”: “The men had come to regard Mr. Lincoln with sentiments of veneration and love.” In Lincoln’s re-election, he faces General McClellan in the general election. The soldier vote swings overwhelmingly in favor of the President. He wins 8 out of 10 votes from the Armies of the West. From the Army of the Potomac that McClelland commanded, Lincoln gets 7 out of 10 votes. As one could see, maintaining morale during the Civil War is essential and extremely difficult because of the inflammatory issue of slavery and other problems that arise from waging a massive war (e.g. imposing a Draft). It is riveting to read how Lincoln maneuvers through these obstacles with his brilliance.

Two very interesting topics at the end of the war are the passing of the 13th Amendment and debate over Reconstruction. The one disappointment with Team of Rivals is that it glances over the story behind the 13th Amendment. In order to fill in that gap, I recommend the film Lincoln (2012) which tells an amazing story about how Lincoln’s flawless political jockeying achieves the historical moment of abolishing slavery through the passing of the 13th Amendment. Daniel Day Lewis is incredible in his portrayal of President Lincoln. In the book, it is brief on the how the 13th Amendment gets passed. It notes the key appointment of Lincoln’s old friend, Joshua Speed, to replace Bates as Attorney General after Bates resigns. Speed is considered radical on his position of slavery. He pushes for a Constitutional Amendment to abolish it. He understands that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation could be reversed by the courts after the war, especially after the South is readmitted back into the Union. In order to make Lincoln’s Proclamation permanent, he knows a Constitutional Amendment is necessary. It is a very difficult process. The Amendment passes the Senate but falls short of the 2/3 required in the House to pass on its first attempt. Lincoln demonstrates great political skill and genius to appeal to Congressmen to get just enough votes to finally pass it. Obviously, it is a very dramatic and historically significant moment. When I arrive at this part of the book, I have expectations of a detailed account of the events. Consequently, I am disappointed I do not get more from it. Nevertheless, Team of Rivals is a long enough book. I am fine watching Lincoln for the story behind the 13th Amendment.

In addition to slavery, Reconstruction is a major issue near the end of the war. The South is completely devastated by the war. For example, General Sherman destroys 400 hundred miles of railroad and millions of dollars of cotton, which would have been used for credit to purchase arms and munitions, on his “March to the Sea”. Of course, rebuilding the South is a given. However, the debate over punishment for treason and rebellion is a much more polarizing issue. There are some who want to exact extreme punishment such as bringing back all the Confederate states as territories instead of states. Lincoln is on the side of leniency. He does not want to punish. He wants the Confederates to swear allegiance to the Union and accept the Emancipation Proclamation. He plans on pardoning all individuals who take the oath except for the higher ranks of the Confederate government and army. He proposes that states will be readmitted into the Union if 10% of the 1860 electorate takes the oath. The book also points out a key appointment Lincoln makes to carry out his vision. When Chief Justice Taney passes away, Lincoln picks Salmon Chase to replace him as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Lincoln’s thought process on the selection is very interesting. Stanton is his first choice but he is too important as the Secretary of War to leave his department. General Grant also pushes for Stanton to stay in his position. Monty Blair, from the influential Blair family, and Edward Bates are too conservative. Lincoln believes they will hurt Reconstruction and the rights of free blacks. Consequently, he determines Chase is the best choice despite any personal issues they may have with each other. As we know, he is already forced to dismiss Chase as his Secretary of the Treasury. It is another great statement of Lincoln’s character that he puts aside any personal feelings to do the right thing for the country. Next, the book does not delve too far into Reconstruction. It brings the reader to Louisiana beginning the process by drafting a new state constitution so it can be readmitted into the Union. Although it does not provide suffrage for blacks, the state emancipates all slaves and offer “the benefit of public schools equally to black and white”. It makes sense that the book does not go into detail about Reconstruction because it occurs after Lincoln’s life. As we know, the President is sadly assassinated in office. Nevertheless, his vision for Reconstruction is important. The process is rocky and retribution and punishment are demanded by a significant number of Republicans. Obviously, Lincoln would have been a powerful advocate of leniency and looking forward instead of at the past. As my high school history teacher once noted in class, it is not farfetched to state that the South lost its greatest friend with the death of Lincoln. Elizabeth Blair reflects the same sentiment when she writes to her husband after the assassination: “Those of southern sympathies know now they have lost a fried willing- & more powerful to protect & serve then than they now ever hope to find again”.


Naturally, the assassination of Lincoln is a significant moment at the end of the book. Of course, it is well known that Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Despite knowing the outcome, the book does a thorough job giving a full picture of what happened and keeps it interesting by discussing fascinating facts that have been forgotten by most people over time. Before his death, Lincoln experiences dreams with “ominous intimations”. In other words, he foresees his own death. Next, he is very cavalier about his own safety. As noted previously, he stepped on Confederate soil to select the best point of attack in Norfolk. In another story, he is reckless during Confederate General Early’s futile attempt to take Washington D.C. by engaging Fort Stevens. Lincoln is in the line of fire when he watches the battle from a parapet. In fact, the surgeon next to him is shot. As a result, it is puzzling and chilling that Lincoln does not fear death. Along the same lines, he is not afraid to appear in public places despite Stanton’s pleas and warnings against it. In contrast, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, the Grants, and Stanton decline invitations to attend the theater because of the obvious danger. Accordingly, a reader is left believing that the assassination could have been prevented. The book also does well in exploring the point of view of John Wilkes Booth. He attends a speech where Lincoln speaks about extending suffrage to blacks. In response, Booth turns to one of his co-conspirators and says “That means nigger citizenship. That is the last speech he will ever make.” Next, I likely learned in school but forgot that the plot includes assassination attempts on Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson. In Booth’s sinister mind, he makes a Roman analogy by comparing himself to Brutus, who took the lead in assassinating Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. In that ancient plot, the full conspiracy is foiled by Marcus (Marc) Anthony. Booth sees Seward as Lincoln’s Marc Anthony and targets the Secretary of State with death. In regards to the murder of Lincoln, Booth disguises himself as an actor, roams around the theater freely, and enters Lincoln’s box to shoot the president in the head. When the shot is heard, the audience has no idea what has occurred since they believe it is part of the play. The crowd comes to a dreadful realization of what they are witness to when Mary Lincoln screams “They shot the President!” Booth escapes but is eventually tracked down to and cornered at a barn. The Union forces set fire to the barn and Booth is shot and killed by a soldier. In terms of the plot against Seward, he is already bedridden at home after a near death horse carriage accident. Co-conspirator, Lewis Powell, disguises himself as someone bringing medicine to Seward. However, he is intercepted and confronted by Seward’s son, Frederick. Powell’s revolver misfires but he uses the gun to smash Fred’s skull to the extent that his brain is exposed. Next he stabs Seward in the head and the neck. Remarkably, father and son recover from their life threatening wounds. Vice President Johnson has a more fortunate fate. Co-conspirator, George Atzerodt, has second thoughts and does not follow through on the attempt on Johnson’s life. Of course, Lincoln is a legend and beloved by the end of his life. Many people mourn his death. It is a great testament to his life and legacy. One of the best tributes comes from Stanton. As we know, he calls Lincoln a “long armed ape” in their first encounter. They come a very long way during the story in the book. By the end of Lincoln’s life, he has Stanton’s full respect and adoration. In fact, Stanton breaks down and weeps bitterly at the mention of Lincoln after his death. He also comments that “I HAVE NO DOUBT that Lincoln will be the conspicuous figure of the war. He was incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.” Stanton is also present at Lincoln’s deathbed. In a moment of maybe fate or pure genius, the perfect words comes to Stanton’s mind and they have become legendary: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is a masterful multiple biography about Abraham Lincoln and his incredible Cabinet. Each man has a unique and interesting story. In addition, their incredible talents become essential to the success of Lincoln’s Presidency. It is an absolute wonder that Lincoln is able to overcome the odds as a dark horse underdog and beats out these extraordinary gentleman for the Republican Nomination on route to winning the Presidency in 1860. The United States is indebted to Lincoln and his Cabinet’s roles in history, especially their stances against Slavery and contributions to winning the Civil War. A reader certainly gains a full appreciation for the dangers and challenges that the team of superstars overcome to preserve the Union. Of course, Lincoln is the star of the book. His political genius, charisma, and leadership are featured in the book and have left a lasting legacy in history. Abraham Lincoln certainly “belongs to the ages”. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals does an amazing job bringing us back to Lincoln’s time.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>