David's Reviews > Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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's review
Oct 03, 12

Read on August 25, 2012

This is a wonderful biography, not just of Lincoln, but of the entire 'team.' It was full of revelations for me. I had always thought about slavery like Apu from the Simpsons, in the episode where he's applying for citizenship. The man administering the test asks him why the Civil War was fought, and Apu begins a long and complicated answer about the economics of the time and states' rights and such, and the testing guy waves him off and says, "Just say 'slavery.'" I knew that slavery was a big part of it, but I didn't understand how.

But slavery was a defining issue of the day. I had not realized that most of Lincoln's Republican rivals for the nomination in 1860 were much more staunch abolitionists than Lincoln was. Seward and Chase were heroes of the abolitionist movement and had spoken forcefully and courageously against it. Lincoln may have been against slavery personally, but he dealt with it in a very nuanced way. He wanted to oppose it strictly on constitutional grounds, and in so doing he was willing to be bound by the Constitution as well. His belief was that they could forbid slavery in new states, or in states that did not already have it, but that they could not, under the Constitution, take it from states that already had it.

Goodwin depicts Lincoln's evolving genius. He was animated by a deep reverence for the Constitution, and he also had instinct for when the country was ready for change, and when to hold back on an issue because to press to hard would be to turn people away from it.

Another delightful aspect of Goodwin's book is the human qualities she describes. You can see this tall, ungainly, unkempt man, too tall for his trousers and much of the furniture, and you can understand how the political class at the time would have completely underestimated him. But he considered his positions carefully, and once he took a position he owned it and never went back on his word. He was compassionate and magnanimous with everyone, from his cabinet secretaries (Chase) and generals (McClellan! the scoundrel), from whom he tolerated many affronts because they served a larger purpose; to court-martialed soldiers, whom he took any opportunity to pardon, if he could.

Goodwin observes at the end of the book that Lincoln's death was an irreparable blow to the _South_. I had not considered this. But Lincoln's compassion, and his desire to bring the South back into the Union as it was, and not break up the states in ways advantageous to the Union, or punish those who had served the Confederacy--these were what the battered and disgraced South needed. This was a sad irony I had not considered.

It's a massive book, but full of vivid detail and keen insight, and well worth the six weeks it took me to read it.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Lish (new)

Lish I have always meant to read this book. Thanks for the well written review, Dave.

message 2: by Loo (new) - added it

Loo BTW, I wrote that comment. Didn't realize he was signed in.

Larry Bassett I hope in a few weeks I will be able to join you in saying, "It's a massive book, but full of vivid detail and keen insight, and well worth the six weeks it took me to read it." But I am not sure I can manage the six week deadline! My audio version says I have 75 hours to go...

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