Monday, October 31, 2016

TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITICAL GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Doris Kearns Goodwin








I learned a new word this week--hagiographic. 

Hagiographic is an adjective which means to paint a rosy picture of an event or person. I learned it in relation to this present-day election. Someone wrote about Republicans' "hagiographic" view of Ronald Reagan.

Does hagiographic apply to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

I don't think so. Doris Kearns Goodwin doesn’t canonize Lincoln. Her clear, detailed, factual writing makes the book a powerful political history.

Godwin describes a president who is intelligent, ambitious, compassionate almost to a fault, and able to manage even competing politicians and political situations.

But more than that, Lincoln was single minded. He acted for the good of the nation no matter what his personal preference might be. At one point, he appointed his most duplicitous rival Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Late in the book, Goodwin writes: “[Lincoln’s] political genius was not simply his ability to gather the best men of the country around him, but to impress upon them his own purpose, perception, and resolution at every juncture. With respect to Lincoln’s cabinet, Charles Dana observed, ‘It was always plain that he was the master and they were the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will, and if he ever yielded to them it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate.’”

Lincoln’s tolerance and compassion could be a weakness. He kept some generals on too long. But when he had to decide, he decided, no matter how compassionate he might want to be.

And he was willing to change. He wanted this to be one nation. At first, he would have allowed the South to keep their slaves to save the nation. But then he changed. He did what would preserve the union.

I loved this book. I, like most Americans, I suppose, hold Lincoln in great esteem. I consider his second inaugural address one of the greatest theological statements ever written. And it is a theological statement from a man who probably didn’t believe in the afterlife, who had an almost non-personal relationship with God.

I’ve never been much interested in detailed descriptions of Civil War battles. Team of Rivals is not about the battles except as they touch on the politics and society of the time. Team of Rivals is about a great man, the ambitions and beliefs of those with whom he surrounded himself, and his tragic and difficult personal life.

Through it all, Abraham Lincoln seemed to be able to keep his ability to tell a good story, to focus on what was best for the whole nation, to lead the competing people around him, and to love his family in the most tragic of circumstances. 

Team of Rivals reminded me again, why I thank God for Abraham Lincoln.

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