I wrote a little about Team of Rivals last week, but now that I’ve actually finished and had time to digest the book, I wanted a chance to get some more thoughts out of my head.
Goodwin’s book is daunting — not only because of its length and profusion of historical figures, but also because it includes so much political history and endeavors to make out the character of a man who died almost 150 years ago. Many of Abraham Lincoln’s contemporaries didn’t understand him; how are we to?
Our 16th President was not a man about whom I knew much before I picked up Team of Rivals, but the further I got into the book and the more I learned of him, the more I came to realize what a truly great man he was.
An incredible read
I already knew a great deal of the facts around the Emancipation Proclamation—like the fact that Lincoln didn’t want to issue it, didn’t think the government had the right to stop slavery in the south, and didn’t believe in black-white equality so much as a variation of “separate but equal”—but I loved learning about how he filled his Cabinet with men who challenged him at every turn.
In what would seem a bizarre fashion these days, Lincoln chose to work closely with his rivals and those who were both more radical and more conservative. It’s a cliché phrase now, but Lincoln really was a master of “reaching across the aisle” and collaborating with people.
His enemies called him simple and insisted he was a puppet president controlled by Secretary of State William H. Seward, but again and again Goodwin shows examples of his tactfully managing flaring tempers and inflated egos, turning a political or military defeat into a victory, and holding back knowledge and decisions until the precise moment it would do him—and the country—the most good.
Caution: political thoughts ahead
Lincoln’s abilities strike me as particularly divergent to what’s happening in politics in this decade. What I know about politics would fit on a hanging chad (see what I did there?), but I do know that there’s something seriously wrong.
I wish that current politicians—Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between—would take a page from Lincoln’s book and learn how to discuss, compromise, and be honest. It’s sickening to hear about the name-calling and lack of respect these people seem to have for each other, their constituents, and the country.
The long and short of it
I think Team of Rivals should be required reading for high school students, history buffs, Abraham Lincoln fans…and politicians.