Have you read: Abe Lincoln’s courage, humor explored in bio | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Have you read: Abe Lincoln’s courage, humor explored in bio

Jerome Evans

“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

We have been blessed in recent years with several excellent biographies of our early leaders, including those of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington himself. To my mind, however, none has surpassed this fine work by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doris Kearns Goodwin.

As the subtitle suggests, this is not another book about Civil War battles. It is, rather, the story of an extraordinary leader and his relationships with his friends, false friends, critics, enemies, wife, but most of all his countrymen during the nation’s most trying time. And for lovers of language, there is enormous pleasure to be found in the prose of that era, and in Lincoln’s command of the language, throughout the book.

Goodwin begins by introducing us to each of the four rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates and Lincoln. Each was propelled by great ambition, and three had substantial reputations. Yet it was Lincoln who had served only a single term in Congress, had lost two campaigns for the Senate, and had no administrative experience who would become president and, in Goodwin’s words, “the greatest historical figure of the nineteenth century.”

Once elected, Lincoln immediately called upon his three rivals to form the nucleus of his cabinet, to help him hold the union together as it descended into civil war. Lincoln knew that in this grave crisis he needed not only his friends and supporters, but also the talents of his critics and rivals. Yet, because he was so gifted at understanding the motives and desires of others, he was seen by some as indecisive, particularly in dealing with his generals early in the conflict, as well as with the slavery issue itself.

Why and how he succeeded in defeating the secessionists, holding the union together, and ending slavery, Goodwin makes very clear in her depiction of his courage and humor at times when even he despaired of his ability to accomplish what needed to be done.

Of course the ending is once again terrible. With his assassination, the nation suffered a grievous loss, but at the end of this story we can only be glad that such a great man came to us when we most needed him.

– Jerome Evans is an art dealer, freelance writer, recreation advocate and avid reader.

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