Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
I’ve had Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln on my shelf for awhile, but I finally took it down and attacked it – it’s not always that I feel in the mood for a 700 page biography on Abraham Lincoln, but with a baby on the way, it’s not like a huge amount of free time is out there sitting on my doorstep.
And of course, I’m very happy I took the time, as Team of Rivals is fantastic. It’s really a comprehensive account of Lincoln’s political life and how unlikely a rise to prominence and power he charted. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think Lincoln was one of, perhaps THE, greatest President our country has been fortunate to have.
I’m not going to recite the details here – the book does that in a much better way, naturally. But the central thesis of the book, repeated in its title, is that Lincoln did not reject insight and opinion from those who disagreed with him – he did just the opposite. His cabinet was comprised of his chief rivals for the Republican nomination as well as some Democratic opponents who were aghast at his anti-slavery stance.
(It’s a bit jarring that back then, the Republicans were the party of tolerance and the Democrats the oppressors, but you’ll get used to it after awhile.)
Can you imagine that? It’s certainly possible that a Barack Obama presidency could include Hillary Clinton in his cabinet, as well as prior contenders for the nomination like John Edwards, Bill Richardson and maybe Joe Biden. (The same could likely be said for a Hillary Clinton presidency.) Presumably, John McCain – if he didn’t hate everyone – could include seats in his cabinet for Fred Thompson, and maybe others like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani…but it’s less probable. But can you imagine him putting Obama or Clinton in his cabinet? Or the reverse? It’s inconceivable.
Now…in an event that caused the incredibly angry John McCain to freak out at a reporter, it’s widely known that John Kerry asked McCain to be his VP pick in 2004. But…this was done as a purely political move, not – as President Lincoln did it – as a way to heal a fractured country and achieve solutions to problems by encouraging different kinds of opinion.
In any case, the book is fantastic – Kearns Goodwin is an incredibly talented historian, and she writes in a way that makes it so accessible that you almost forget its history you are reading. If all historians wrote like she does, our country would be a lot more informed of a place.