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The crafty side of honest Abe

The Lincoln Museum hosts renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-09-07


I’m a big fan of all our modern conveniences and amenities — radio, television, the inter-web, air conditioning, cars, telephones, not to mention penicillin and anesthesia. But if there’s one thing we should figure out how to resurrect from the U.S.A. of yesteryear it’s political conventions, where the party officials get together to choose their nominee for president.

Sure, the last few decades have given us protests and even riots outside the convention halls, but the conventions themselves… well, by the time those come around, we already know who is going to get the nomination. All that’s left is a big rally. I’m sure it’s fun if you’re actually there, but for those of us watching from home, seeing a gaggle of pasty delegates in blazers waving foam hands and bopping to an M.O.R. hit from the 70s leaves something to be desired in drama department.

Now, the Republican convention in Chicago in 1860 — that sounds like a real nail biter. Or at least it does in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Goodwin, a nationally-recognized, award winning political commentator, scholar and historian, will be in Fort Wayne on Friday, September 21, to present the 28th R. Gerald McMurtry Lecture hosted by the Lincoln Museum.

Goodwin is one of the nation’s leading authorities on American presidents and politics. She has written books on Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a White House Fellow during the Johnson administration and helped him draft his memoirs after he left office. She’s also a political analyst for NBC news.

Her latest book, A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, was awarded the Lincoln Prize. “It’s a fabulous book,” says Mary Clement of the Lincoln Museum. “It highlights the pure genius of Lincoln’s political strategy to surround himself with the people who were his rivals. It made for a very, very strong administration.”

Indeed, while the courage, eloquence, and integrity of our 16th president is well documented, Goodwin’s book examines a sometimes over-looked facet of Lincoln’s personality: the savvy political operator.

In May of 1860, as the Republican party gathered in Chicago to nominate its candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln was considered the long shot. It was widely expected that the nomination would fall to William Seward of New York, who had spent four years as governor of New York and 12 years in the Senate. The next favored was Simon Chase, governor of Ohio, who was a leader of the anti-slavery movement and a founder of the Free Soil Party in 1848, a party which opposed the expansion of slavery into the Western States. Also in the running was Judge Edward Bates from St Louis, a former Missouri Attorney General whose career had included service in the Missouri House of Representatives, the State Senate, and one term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As expected, Seward carried the majority on the first vote at the Chicago convention, with Lincoln some way behind and Chase and Bates in third and fourth place respectively. Chase dropped out (though he wasn’t happy about it) and threw his support behind Lincoln, who won the nomination on the third and final ballot.

After winning the presidency in 1860, Lincoln chose to bring many of his political rivals into his cabinet rather than stocking it with some of the loyalists who had helped secure him the Republican nomination. He named Seward Secretary of State, Chase the Secretary of the Treasury, and Edwards Bates Attorney General. Another former Republican presidential hopeful, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, was named Secretary of War.

A Team of Rivals takes a look at how the situation worked to the advantage of both sides. Lincoln, the relative newcomer, gained the experience of more seasoned political men, while at the same time placating those in his party who didn’t think he took a hard enough line against slavery (Lincoln was considered a moderate compared to the other men). Seward, Chase and the others got the opportunity to help shape policy.

But even after these former rivals were let into the fold, things weren’t always harmonious. Cameron lasted about a year as Secretary of War before leaving amid accusations of corruption (he was made ambassador to Russia, which was long way away from DC in the 1860s), and Chase made no bones about his ambitions for the presidency. Seward, on the other hand, became a great admirer and friend of Lincoln’s (he was attacked and wounded at home by a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth the night Lincoln was shot).

In Goodwin’s hands, the story of these men becomes a story of conflicting personalities and ambitions. It makes for an interesting and very exciting read as we follow their stories from the morning of the nomination in May 1860 through one of the most critical periods of US history. “In order to interpret Lincoln’s political savvy, you have to know a lot about political savvy itself,” says Mary Clement. “In A Team of Rivals, Goodwin has handled it beautifully.”

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin may be purchased in advance by visiting The Lincoln Museum Store or online at www.TheLincolnMuseum.org.

The 28th R. Gerald McMurtry Lecture
The Public and Private Lives of Abraham Lincoln and his Team of Rivals presented by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
First Wayne Street United Methodist Church Auditorium – 300 E. Wayne (corner of Wayne and Barr – across the street from The Lincoln Museum building.)
7:30 p.m.
Friends of The Lincoln Museum: $15.00. Non-members: $20.00. Please purchase all tickets by September 14, 2007.
Admission includes post-lecture reception at The Lincoln Museum.

9:00 p.m. – Post Lecture Reception, and Book-signing.
The Lincoln Museum, 200 East Berry Street

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