Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Now he belongs to the ages

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a very interesting biography of Abraham Lincoln. It follows not only Lincoln, but his top three rivals for the Republican Nomination for the Presidency in 1860, Salmon Chase; William Seward; Edward Bates; and later adds Edwin Stanton. All of whom end up in Lincoln’s cabinet. By taking this interesting approach, she is able to give us a glimpse into the personal side of Lincoln by quoting liberally from personal letters and journals of these men. In fact, she has done a remarkable amount of research into the journals of almost anyone who ever came across Lincoln giving you the thoughts of General McClellan, all of Lincoln’s cabinet, and Lincoln’s personal secretaries, just to name a few.

The book is quite good. I enjoyed her writing style. The ending where she describes the “Night of Horrors” where the assassinations of Lincoln, Seward, and Johnson were attempted is very good. She simply relates events, and lets the survivors and witnesses to the events tell the stories in their own words. It is actually quite moving, and I grew up in the South. Reading this book one gets a good insight into the burden of running a war, and political campaigns. I would recommend the book to all who want to know more about President Lincoln as a man.

Yet, I have this against her. She white washes Lincoln completely. The theme of her book is that Lincoln was a political genius because he never made an enemy, and never let grudges develop. Yet, she tries to equate this to being a great statesman and President. I do not believe the two to be the same. She never speaks of Lincoln’s attempt to arrest the Chief Justice of the United States. She never discusses the unconstitutional act of creating the state of West Virginia, or the dilemma of taking land from a Virginia which was still a state in the Union, only in rebellion in Lincoln’s view, without Virginia’s consent. She barely mentions his suspension of habeas corpus without Congressional approval. She dedicates all of two sentences to Lincoln’s raising money to sway critical off year elections in several states. Then when she has built this great picture of a Lincoln who was loyal to his friends and above reproach on all matters, she writes off his dismissal of Motgomery Blair from his cabinet, as only “possibly” a part of deal that caused Fremont to withdraw from the 1864 Presidential campaign. He had told Blair earlier that he would never ask Blair to leave to satisfy his political enemies, and then from all facts, did just that. These things make Ms. Goodwin fall into the category of hero worship in her biography. Yet, I still recommend the book for those who want to know Lincoln as a person. The book falls short of giving us a view of Lincoln the President or upholder of laws, or even a complete record of his events in Presidency; however, through the quotations from her many sources one finishes with a feeling they know Abraham Lincoln the man.


DrFunk said...

Lee--I was browsing Slate online and came across a review of Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, another book about Abe Lincoln. This book apparently deals (in part) with Lincoln's spiritual views. I was wondering if you could (1) comment on the book, if you get a chance to read it; and/or (2) comment on the Slate article about Lincoln's religious views, based on your other readings about the man.