Review

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The subject of Abraham Lincoln has fascinated author Doris Kearns Goodwin for years as a working historian. Her credentials include the coveted Pulitzer Prize for NO ORDINARY TIME (a portrait of FDR and Eleanor) and works about the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson. TEAM OF RIVALS is a well-documented work that chronicles not only the life of Abraham Lincoln but also those of his rivals for the Republican nomination for President in 1860. William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates served with Lincoln as members of the most unusual cabinet in American history.

Goodwin's first nine chapters deal with the life stories of these four men, with contrasts and similarities skillfully detailed. Their personal struggles and victories dominate each personality and groom them for life in the political arena. By the end of Chapter 9 Lincoln has been elected President, with national tragedy looming in the form of Southern state succession from the Union. Lincoln's ability to unite his rivals and assimilate diverse ideologies into his cabinet is one of the greatest stories in political history.

William Henry Seward is the product of an upper class heritage. Married to Frances Miller, the daughter of a wealthy judge, Seward acquires wealth, position and a mansion in Auburn, New York. Salmon P. Chase lives through the tragedy of losing three wives, seeking compassion from political friends like Edwin Stanton and eventually becoming the governor of Ohio. Edward Bates leads perhaps the most normal existence of the four political rivals; his wife, Julia Bates, remains loyal to him for four decades. The divisive Compromise of 1850 clouds the political stage for a decade and smothers all other national issues for debate. Bates is the only man of the foursome to strongly support the Compromise, which keeps Southern states in check for a number of years.

Seward is purported to be the unanimous choice of the Republicans in the 1860 convention. Lincoln's nomination is "received with general incredulity" on Capitol Hill. Bates is the first of the rivals to endorse Lincoln's candidacy. "While Lincoln worked to enlist the cooperation of all his rivals, he knew that the active support of William Henry Seward would be pivotal to his campaign."

Following his nomination, Lincoln weaves a political masterpiece in his choice of cabinet members. Seward becomes Secretary of State, Chase is named Treasury Secretary, and Edward Bates is picked to be Attorney General. The meat of the book deals with Lincoln's uncanny ability to work through the difficulties faced when the South finally secedes from the Union and civil war ensues.

Throughout this turbulent time, these men solidify Lincoln's positions and stand beside him, though not without their individual differences. His ability to manipulate them to his cause and support the war effort is unequaled in our history. Dominant political geniuses in their own right, their combined strengths enhance Lincoln's resolve on numerous issues. Coupled with additional strong men of resolve and generals brought in to oversee Northern war strategies, Lincoln is blessed by his choices.

Goodwin's documentation is extensive. Nearly 90 pages detail sources used within each of the 26 chapters, sources for pictures and maps are listed in a separate reference sheet, and the book concludes with an epilogue. This fine author should receive a stable of honors for her latest achievement. Lincoln and his rivals come to life on these pages, political turmoil is chronicled with authority, and her use of resource material will certainly qualify this book as a choice for serious scholastic usage. TEAM OF RIVALS is recommended as a first-rate literary piece.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 23, 2011

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

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2006
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743270754
  • ISBN-13: 9780743270755