A Team of Rivals

A friend was kind enough to give me this book for Christmas. Being a devout fan of Lincoln and given its timeliness (the President-elect has suggested it as a model for his cabinet), I'm looking forward to reading it. By way of balance, I should also link to this review by Professor Pinsker of Pennsylvania's Dickinson College, who provides several serious caveats to Doris Kearns Goodwin's themes:

"Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet," is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin's thesis, adding, "Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis."

That's true enough, but the problem is, it didn't work that well for Lincoln. There were painful trade-offs with the "team of rivals" approach that are never fully addressed in the book, or by others that offer happy-sounding descriptions of the Lincoln presidency.


By December 1862, there was a full-blown Cabinet crisis.

"We are now on the brink of destruction," Lincoln confided to a close friend after being deluged with congressional criticism and confronted by resignations from both Seward and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Goodwin suggests that Lincoln's quiet confidence and impressive emotional intelligence enabled him to survive and ultimately forge an effective team out of his former rivals, but that's more wishful thinking than serious analysis.

Consider this inconvenient truth: Out of the four leading vote-getters for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination whom Lincoln placed on his original team, three left during his first term — one in disgrace, one in defiance and one in disgust.

Obama has already heard rumblings from allies over his choices. Given the strong personalities and questionable character of some of his appointees, he might want to study the evolution of Lincoln's "Team of Rivals" more closely.

Meanwhile, I've got a lot of reading to do. Nerd


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