Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

This book resonates because it paints a portrait of a leader beset by all manner of perdicaments:

  • attempting to hold together warring external factions
  • building coalitions where he is the second choice
  • dealing with warring internal factions, some of whom detest each other and even himself
  • Maintaining public sentiment as he introduces radical changes such as the emancipation proclamation or the first conscription.
  • both the radical and conservative elements within his own party often critiqued him
  • Mediocre or incompetent leadership from his subordinates

Subtitled “the political genius of Abraham Lincoln”, clearly because of Lincoln’s adroit handling of the myriad problems laid before him.

One of the striking things about Lincoln’s leadership is his magnanimity and spirit as he dealt with perhaps our country’s worst crisis. He remained calm and resolute in his dealings. His humor and ability to tell stories follows his throughout his entire career. He forgives those who wrong him.



In public, Lincoln expressed no hard feelings toward either Trumbull or Judd. He deliberately showed up at Trumbull’s victory party, with a smile on his face and a warm handshake for the victor. Consoled that the Nebraska men were “worse whipped” than he, Lincoln insisted that Matteson’s defeat “gives me more pleasure than my own gives me pain. . . . On the whole, it is perhaps as well for our general cause that Trumbull is elected.” Lincoln’s magnanimity served him well. While Seward and Chase would lose friends in victory—Seward by neglecting at the height of his success his old friend Horace Greeley, and Chase by not understanding the lingering resentments that followed in the wake of his 1849 Senate victory—Lincoln, in defeat, gained friends. Neither Trumbull nor Judd would ever forget Lincoln’s generous behavior. Indeed, both men would assist him in his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1858, and Judd would play a critical role in his run for the presidency in 1860.


More ominous still was the reaction of the distinguished Richmond Whig, a professed opponent of extremism on sectional issues. “We are rejoiced at this,” the Whig proclaimed. “The only regret we feel is, that Mr. Brooks did not employ a horsewhip or a cowhide upon his slanderous back, instead of a cane. We trust the ball may be kept in motion. Seward and others should catch it next.” The Petersburg [Virginia] Intelligencer sounded a similar theme. “If thrashing is the only remedy by which the foul conduct of the Abolitionists can be controlled . . . it will be very well to give Seward a double dose at least every other day until it operates freely on his political bowels . . . his adroit demagoguism and damnable doctrines are infinitely more dangerous to the country than the coarse blackguardism of the perjured wretch, Sumner.” The antipodal reactions of North and South, David Donald notes, made it “apparent that something dangerous was happening to the American Union when the two sections no longer spoke the same language, but employed rival sets of clichés to describe the Brooks-Sumner affair.


Two days later, on March 6, the historic decision was read by the seventy-nine-year-old Taney in the old Supreme Court chamber, one flight below the Senate. The 7–2 decision was breathtaking in its scope and consequences. The Court ruled that blacks “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution.” Therefore, Scott had no standing in federal court. This should have decided the case, but Taney went further. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution had been intended to apply to blacks, he said. Blacks were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” But the Chief Justice did not stop even there; he went on to say that Congress had exceeded its authority when it forbade slavery in the territories by such legislation as the Missouri Compromise, for slaves were private property protected by the Constitution. In other words, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. The act itself, of course, had already been repealed by the Nebraska Act, meaning that the Court was pronouncing on an issue that was not before it. One of the justices later asserted that Taney had “become convinced that it was practicable for the Court to quiet all agitation on the question of slavery in the territories by affirming that Congress had no constitutional power to prohibit its introduction.” But the fierce sectional conflict of the age, the question that had given birth to the Republican Party, could not be quieted by a divided judicial fiat. The Dred Scott case, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter later said, was “one of the Court’s great self-inflicted wounds.


The image of America as an unfinished house in danger of collapse worked brilliantly because it provided a ringing challenge to the Republican audience, a call for action to throw out the conspiring carpenters, unseat the Democratic Party, and recapture control of the nation’s building blocks—the laws that had wisely prevented the spread of slavery. Only then, Lincoln claimed, with the public mind secure in the belief that slavery was once more on a course to eventual extinction, would the people in all sections of the country live together peaceably in the great house their forefathers had built.

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His son is excluded from the school where the descendants of Europeans come to be instructed. In theaters he cannot buy for the price of gold the right to be placed at the side of one who was master; in hospitals he lies apart. The black is permitted to beseech the same God as whites, but not to pray to him at the same altar. He has his own priests and churches. One does not close the doors of Heaven to him; yet inequality hardly stops at the boundary of the other world. When the Negro is no longer, his bones are cast to one side, and the difference of conditions is still found even in the equality of death." Even when abolition should come, Tocqueville predicted, Americans would “have still to destroy three prejudices much more intangible and more tenacious than it: the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of race, and finally the prejudice of the white.”

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Lincoln understood that the greatest challenge for a leader in a democratic society is to educate public opinion. “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed,” he said. “Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.” This statement goes to the heart of his disagreement with Douglas; when such an influential leader as Mary’s “Little Giant” insisted that blacks were not included in the Declaration, he was molding public opinion and bending history in the wrong direction. “He is blowing out the moral lights around us,” Lincoln warned, borrowing a phrase from his hero Henry Clay, “eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty in this American people.”

Lincoln’s goal was to rekindle those very beacons, constantly affirming the revolutionary promises made in the Declaration. When the authors of the Declaration spoke of equality, Lincoln insisted, “they did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality…. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constant attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”


strategy began with an awareness that while each of his three rivals had first claim on a substantial number of delegates, if he could position himself as the second choice of those who supported each of the others, he might pick up votes if one or another of the top candidates faltered.

As a dark horse, he knew it was important not to reveal his intentions too early, so as to minimize the possibility of opponents mobilizing against him. On April 16, 1859, when the Republican editor of the Rock Island Register proposed to call on other editors to make “a simultaneous announcement of your name for the Presidency,” Lincoln replied: “I certainly am flattered, and gratified, that some partial friends think of me in that connection; but I really think it best for our cause that no concerted effort, such as you suggest, should be made.” He added that he “must, in candor, say I do not think myself fit for the Presidency.” By “fit,” the self-confident Lincoln meant only to suggest that he did not necessarily have the credentials or experience appropriate to the office, not that he lacked the ability. It was important that any efforts on his behalf be squelched until the timing was right. And Lincoln, as would be evidenced throughout his presidency, was a master of timing.


More than any other cabinet member, Seward appreciated Lincoln’s peerless skill in balancing factions both within his administration and in the country at large. While radicals considered Seward a conservative influence on the president, in truth, he and the president were engaged in the same task of finding a middle position between the two extremes—the radical Republicans, who believed that freeing the slaves should be the primary goal of the war, and the conservative Democrats, who resisted any change in the status of the slaves and fought solely for the restoration of the Union. “Somebody must be in a position to mollify and moderate,” Seward told Weed. “That is the task of the P. and the S. of S.” In another letter to his old friend, Seward expressed great confidence in Lincoln. “The President is wise and practical,” he wrote. His trust in Lincoln was complete, inspiring faith in the eventual success of the Union cause.


“McClellan’s chronic delays allowed General Lee to take the initiative once again. During the last week in June, the Confederates launched a brutal attack on Union forces that became known as the Seven Days Battles. The bloody series of engagements on the plains and in the swamps and forests surrounding the Chickahominy River left 1,734 Federals dead, 8,066 wounded, and 6,055 missing or captured. At the end of the first day’s fighting, McClellan telegraphed Stanton to warn that he was up against “vastly superior odds.” He calculated that the rebels had 200,000 troops when in fact they had fewer than half that figure. He would carry on without the reinforcements he had repeatedly requested, but, he continued, if his “great inferiority in numbers” caused “a disaster the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders—it must rest where it belongs.” Irked, Lincoln replied that McClellan’s talk of responsibility “pains me very much. I give you all I can . . . while you continue, ungenerously I think, to assume that I could give you more if I would.”


“In fact, not once during the vicious public onslaught against the secretary of war did Lincoln’s support for Stanton waver. During the hours he had spent each day awaiting battlefront news in the telegraph office, Lincoln had taken his own measure of his high-strung, passionate secretary of war. He concluded that Stanton’s vigorous, hard-driving style was precisely what was needed at this critical juncture. As one War Department employee said of Stanton, “much of his seeming harshness to and neglect of individuals” could be explained by the “concentration and intensity of his mind on the single object of crushing the rebellion.“And, as always, the president refused to let a subordinate take the blame for his own decisions. He insisted to Browning “that all that Stanton had done in regard to the army had been authorized by him the President.” Three weeks later, Lincoln publicly defended the beleaguered Stanton before an immense Union meeting on the Capitol steps. All the government departments had closed down at one o’clock so that everyone could attend. Commissioner French believed he had “never seen more persons assembled in front of the Capitol except at an inauguration, which it very much resembled.” Lincoln sat on the flag-draped platform with the members of his cabinet, including Chase, Blair, and Bates, as “the ringing of bells, the firing of cannon, and music from the Marine Band” heralded the speakers. After a speech by Treasury Registrar Lucius Chittenden, Lincoln turned to Chase, who sat beside him. “ ‘Well! Hadn’t I better say a few words and get rid of myself?’ Hardly waiting for an answer, he advanced at once to the stand.”


“The desultory talk abruptly ended when Lincoln took the floor and announced he had called them together in order to read the preliminary draft of an emancipation proclamation. He understood the “differences in the Cabinet on the slavery question” and welcomed their suggestions after they heard what he had to say; but he wanted them to know that he “had resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask their advice.” Then, removing two foolscap sheets from his pocket and adjusting his glasses on his nose, he began to read what amounted to a legal brief for emancipation based on the chief executive’s powers as commander in chief” “His draft proclamation set January 1, 1863, little more than five months away, as the date on which all slaves within states still in rebellion against the Union would be declared free, “thenceforward, and forever.” It required no cumbersome enforcement proceedings. Though it did not cover the roughly 425,000 slaves in the loyal border states—where, without the use of his war powers, no constitutional authority justified his action—the proclamation was shocking in scope. In a single stroke, it superseded legislation on slavery and property rights that had guided policy in eleven states for nearly three quarters of a century. Three and a half million blacks who had lived enslaved for generations were promised freedom. It was a daring move, Welles later said, “fraught with consequences, immediate and remote, such as human foresight could not penetrate.”


“Perhaps the most astonishing response came from Salmon Chase. No cabinet member had more vehemently promoted emancipation, and none could match his lifelong commitment to the abolitionist cause. Yet when faced with a presidential initiative that, he admitted, went “beyond anything I have recommended,” he recoiled. According to Stanton’s notes, Chase argued that it was “a measure of great danger—and would lead to universal emancipation.” He feared that widespread disorder would engulf the South, leading to “depredation and massacre on the one hand, and support to the insurrection on the other.” Chase recommended a quieter, more incremental approach, “allowing Generals to organize and arm the slaves” and “directing the Commanders of Departments to proclaim emancipation within their Districts as soon as practicable.” Still, since he considered the proclamation better than no action at all, he would support it. Although Chase’s argument that the army might better control the pace of emancipation was legitimate, it is difficult not to suspect personal considerations behind his failure to wholeheartedly endorse the president’s proclamation. Chase had seen his bright hopes for the presidency vanish in 1856 and 1860. No president since Andrew Jackson had been reelected, and the next election was only was only two years away. Chase’s strongest claim to beat Lincoln for the nomination in 1864 lay with the unswerving support he had earned among the growing circle of radical Republicans frustrated by Lincoln’s slowness on the slavery issue. The bold proclamation threatened to undercut Chase’s potential candidacy, for, as Welles astutely recognized, it “placed the President in advance of [Chase] on a path which was his specialty.”

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“Although Chase’s argument that the army might better control the pace of emancipation was legitimate, it is difficult not to suspect personal considerations behind his failure to wholeheartedly endorse the president’s proclamation. Chase had seen his bright hopes for the presidency vanish in 1856 and 1860. No president since Andrew Jackson had been reelected, and the next election was only two years away. Chase’s strongest claim to beat Lincoln for the nomination in 1864 lay with the unswerving support he had earned among the growing circle of radical Republicans frustrated by Lincoln’s slowness on the slavery issue. The bold proclamation threatened to undercut Chase’s potential candidacy, for, as Welles astutely recognized, it “placed the President in advance of [Chase] on a path which was his specialty.” Stanton feared that Chase’s arguments would deter Lincoln from issuing his proclamation, letting the “golden moment” slip away. Should this come to pass, Stanton’s brother-in-law, Christopher Wolcott, wrote, then “Chase must be held responsible for delaying or defeating the greatest act of justice, statesmanship, and civilization, of the last four thousand years.” Lincoln later maintained, however, that not a single argument had been presented that he “had not already fully anticipated “and settled in [his] own mind, until Secretary Seward spoke.” William Henry Seward’s mode of intricate analysis produced a characteristically complex reaction to the proclamation. After the others had spoken, he expressed his worry that the proclamation might provoke a racial war in the South so disruptive to cotton that the ruling classes in England and France would intervene to protect their economic interests. As secretary of state, Seward “was particularly sensitive to the threat of European intervention. Curiously, despite his greater access to intelligence from abroad, Seward failed to grasp what Lincoln intuitively understood: that once the Union truly committed itself to emancipation, the masses in Europe, who regarded slavery as an evil demanding eradication, would not be easily maneuvered into supporting the South. Beyond his worries about intervention, Seward had little faith in the efficacy of proclamations that he considered nothing more than paper without the muscle of the advancing Union Army to enforce them. “The public mind seizes quickly upon theoretical schemes for relief,” he pointedly told Frances, who had long yearned for a presidential proclamation against slavery, “but is slow in the adoption of the practical means necessary to give them effect.” Seward’s position, in fact, was nearly identical to that held by Chase. His preference, he said, “would have been to confiscate all rebel property, including slaves, as fast as the territory was conquered.” Only an immediate military presence could assure escaped slaves of protection. Yet Seward’s practical focus underestimated the proclamation’s power to unleash the moral fervor of the North and keep the Republican Party united by making freedom for the slaves an avowed objective of the war”


“Lincoln scanned the resignation “with a face full of pain and surprise, saying ‘What does this mean?’ ” After listening to Senator King’s description of the overwrought emotions that had created “a thirst for a victim,” Lincoln walked over to Seward’s house. The meeting was painful for both men. Masking his anguish, Seward told Lincoln that “it would be a relief to be freed from official cares.” Lincoln replied: “Ah, yes, Governor, that will do very well for you, but I am like the starling in [Laurence] Sterne’s story, ‘I can’t get out.’ ” Lincoln straightaway understood that he was the true target of the radicals’ wrath. “They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them,” he told Browning two days later. He described the chatter setting forth Seward’s controlling influence over him as “a lie, an absurd lie,” that one “could not impose upon a child.” Seward was the one man in the cabinet Lincoln trusted completely, the only one who fully appreciated his unusual strengths as a leader, and the only one he could call an intimate friend. Still, he could scarcely afford to antagonize the Republican senators so essential to his governing coalition. He had to think through his options. He had to learn more about the dynamics of the situation.”

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“This grim arraignment was attributed to Seward’s domination of policy and his “lukewarmness in the conduct of the war.” While the Republican senators professed belief in the president’s honesty, Lincoln later said, “they seemed to think that when he had in him any good purposes, Mr. S[eward] contrived to suck them out of him unperceived.” Lincoln worked to defuse the anger and tension. He confessed that the movement against Seward “shocked and grieved him,” maintaining that while his cabinet had been at loggerheads on certain issues, “there had never been serious disagreements.” Rumors that Seward exercised some perfidious influence in opposition to the majority of the cabinet were simply not true. On the contrary, the cabinet had acted with great accord on most matters. Indeed, in his most trying days, “he had been sustained and consoled” by their “mutual and unselfish confidence and zeal.” As the conversation continued, Lincoln seemed to sense that the committee members were “earnest and sad—not malicious nor passionate.” He “expressed his satisfaction with the tone and temper” of the conversation, promised to examine the prepared paper with care, and left them with the feeling that he was “pleased with the interview.” “Aware that “he must work it out by himself” with no adviser to consult, Lincoln “thought deeply on the matter.” By morning, he had devised a plan of action. He sent notices to all of his cabinet members except Seward, requesting a special meeting at 10:30 a.m. When all were seated around the familiar oak table, Lincoln asked them to keep secret what he had to say. He informed them of Seward’s letter of resignation, told them about his meeting with the Committee of Nine, and read aloud the paper the committee members had presented to him. He reiterated the statements he had made to the committee, emphasizing how his compound cabinet had worked together “harmoniously, whatever had been their previous party feelings,” and that during the “overwhelming troubles of the country, which had borne heavily upon him,” he had counted on their loyalty and “good feeling.” He “could not afford to lose” any of them and declared that it would not be “possible for him to go on with a total abandonment of old friends.” “Knowing that, when personally confronted, the cabinet members would profess they had worked well together, Lincoln proposed a joint session later that evening with the cabinet and the Committee of Nine. Presumably, they would disabuse the senators of their notions of disunity and discord in the cabinet. Chase was panicked at the thought of the joint meeting, since tales of the malfunctioning cabinet had originated largely with his own statements to the senators. Chase argued vehemently against the joint meeting, but when everyone else agreed, he was forced to acquiesce. On the evening of December 19, when the members of the Committee of Nine arrived at the White House, Lincoln began the unusual session by reading the resolutions of the senators and inviting a candid discussion of the issues raised. He acknowledged that cabinet meetings had not been as regular as he might have liked, given the terrible time pressures that faced his administration. Nonetheless, he believed that “most questions of importance had received a reasonable consideration,” and that “all had acquiesced in measures when once decided.” He went on to defend Seward against the committee’s charge that he had “improperly interfered” with decisions and had not been “earnest “in the prosecution of the war.” He specifically cited Seward’s full concurrence in the Emancipation Proclamation. The senators renewed their demand that “the whole Cabinet” must “consider and decide great questions,” with no one individual directing the “whole Executive action.” They noted with approval that John Quincy Adams adhered to the majority vote of his cabinet even when he disagreed with them. In like fashion, “they wanted united counsels, combined wisdom, and energetic action.” “Blair followed with a long argument that “sustained the President and dissented most decidedly from the idea of a plural Executive.” Though he “had differed much with Mr. Seward,” he nonetheless “believed him as earnest as any one in the war; thought it would be injurious to the public service to have him leave the Cabinet, and that the Senate had better not meddle with matters of that kind.” Bates expressed wholehearted agreement with Blair, as did Welles. As he contemplated the discussion, Welles wrote the next day, he realized that while he had likewise differed with Seward on numerous occasions, Seward’s faults were “venial.” Moreover, “no party or faction should be permitted to dictate to the President in regard to his Cabinet.” “After nearly five hours of open conversation, sensing he was making headway, Lincoln asked each of the senators if he still desired to see Seward resign his position. Though four, including Lyman Trumbull, reaffirmed their original position, the others had changed their minds. When the meeting adjourned at 1 a.m., the senators suspected that no change in the cabinet would be made. The disappointed senators now turned their wrath upon Chase, whose duplicitous behavior infuriated them. When Collamer was asked how Chase could have presented such a different face when confronted in the meeting, the Vermont senator answered succinctly, “He lied.” Lincoln agreed that Chase had been disingenuous, but not on that night. On the contrary, after months of spreading false stories about Seward and the cabinet, Chase had finally been compelled to tell the truth! Lincoln’s political dexterity had enabled him to calm the crisis and expose the duplicity of his secretary of the treasury.”


“When Stanton departed, Welles told Seward that he had advised the president not to accept his resignation. This “greatly pleased” Seward, who had been distraught over the whole episode. In short order, another visitor knocked on Seward’s door and Monty Blair entered, also to object to the idea of Seward’s resignation. So Lincoln had brought the cabinet to rally around one of their own. Like family members who would fault one another within the confines of their own household while fiercely rejecting external criticism, the cabinet put aside its quarrel with Seward, based largely on jealousy over his intimacy with Lincoln, to resist the interference of outsiders. Still, Lincoln’s troubles were not over. The news of Seward’s offer of resignation had produced widespread comment, particularly among radicals who hoped that his departure would signal a first step toward a reconstructed cabinet purged of conservative influences. To refuse Seward’s offer now that its tender was public knowledge would be interpreted as a slap against the radicals. ”


“As soon as they left, Lincoln wrote a letter to both Seward and Chase, acknowledging that he had received their resignations, but that “after most anxious consideration,” he had determined that the “public interest” required both men to remain in office. “I therefore have to request that you will resume the duties of your Departments respectively,” he concluded. Welles immediately fathomed Lincoln’s insistence on keeping the two rivals close despite their animosity: “Seward comforts him,—Chase he deems a necessity.” By retaining both men, Lincoln kept the balance in his cabinet. When Senator Ira Harris called on him shortly after he had received Chase’s resignation, Lincoln was in a buoyant mood. “Yes, Judge,” he said, employing a metaphor shaped by his rural childhood, “I can ride on now, I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag!” Seward responded to Lincoln with alacrity. “I have cheerfully resumed the functions of this Department in obedience to your command,” he replied. That afternoon, a relieved Fanny received a telegram from Fred instructing her and Jenny to “come as soon as possible” to Washington. Chase, meanwhile, had far more difficulty in determining how to respond. ”

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“All his life, Lincoln had exhibited an exceptionally sensitive grasp of the limits set by public opinion. As a politician, he had an intuitive sense of when to hold fast, when to wait, and when to lead. “It is my conviction,” Lincoln later said, “that, had the proclamation been issued even six months earlier than it was, public sentiment would not have sustained it.” If the question of “slavery and quiet” as opposed to war and abolition had been placed before the American people in a vote at the time of Fort Sumter, Walt Whitman wrote, the former “would have triumphantly carried the day in a majority of the Northern States—in the large cities, leading off with New York and Philadelphia, by tremendous majorities.” In other words, the North would not fight to end slavery, but it would and did fight to preserve the Union. Lincoln had known this and realized that any assault on slavery would have to await a change in public attitudes.”


“As reports filtered into the White House, John Nicolay feared that “under the subterfuge of opposing the Emancipation Proclamation,” a portion of the Democratic Party was “really organizing to oppose the War.” The “fire in the rear,” in Lincoln’s phrase, was fed by the lack of military progress. Heavy rains in January followed by a succession of snowstorms in February and March forced the demoralized Army of the Potomac into winter quarters on the north side of the Rappahannock. Nature conspired against Grant’s Army of the Tennessee as well. Between February and March, four different attempts to capture Vicksburg failed, preventing the Union from gaining control of the Mississippi River. “This winter is, indeed, the Valley Forge of the war,” one officer wrote.”


“This was precisely what Lincoln had anticipated in the dark days of January when he told Browning that “the people” would never sustain the Copperheads’ call for peace on any terms. He had let the reaction against the defeatist propositions grow, then worked to mobilize the renewed Union spirit.”


“nlike Seward, who had promptly brought Fred into the State Department and relished the professional and personal support of his own son, Stanton had no family member or intimate friend to rely upon for daily counsel. Except for the initial appointment of his brother-in-law Christopher Wolcott as assistant secretary of war, Stanton refused to bring any of his relatives into his department. When Senator Ben Wade recommended an appointment for Stanton’s capable cousin William, the secretary angrily declared that no relative would have any “office in his gift” so long as he remained at his post. John Hay went so far as to remark that he “would rather make the tour of a small-pox hospital” than be forced to ask Stanton for a favor. Even when Stanton’s own son, Edwin Junior, wanted to serve as his private secretary after graduating from Kenyon, Stanton refused to bend. Only after months of unpaid labor for an assistant secretary did the boy receive his father’s consent to an official appointment.”


“Lincoln liked and respected Hooker. When he had tendered him command of the Army of the Potomac ten weeks earlier, he had sent along a remarkable letter of advice. “I believe you to be a brave and a skillful soldier,” the letter began. “You have confidence in yourself, which is valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during Gen. Burnside’s command of the Army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.” Lincoln continued with an admonition about Hooker’s recent comments suggesting the need for a dictator to assume command of “both the Army and the Government.” He informed Hooker that “it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.” The president closed with shrewd words of guidance: “Beware of rashness, but with energy, and and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.” Aside from the wisdom of the advice, the letter clearly manifests Lincoln’s growing confidence in his own powers.”


“Lincoln so enjoyed mingling with the men—who appeared amazingly healthy and lavishly outfitted with new uniforms, arms, and equipment—that he extended his visit until Friday. After one review, someone remarked that the regulars could be easily distinguished from the volunteers, for “the former stood rigidly in their places without moving their heads an inch as he rode by, while the latter almost invariably turned their heads to get a glimpse of him.” Quick to defend the volunteers, Lincoln replied, “I don’t care how much my soldiers turn their heads, if they don’t turn their backs.”


“I would be very glad of another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of the enemies communications being broken, but neither for this reason or any other, do I wish anything done in desperation or rashness.” Lincoln made it clear that he stood ready to assist Hooker in the development of a new plan of action. As he had done so many times before, Lincoln withstood the storm of defeat by replacing anguish over an unchangeable past with hope in an uncharted future.”


“Certainly, Lincoln was not oblivious to the infighting of his colleagues. He remained firmly convinced, however, that so long as each continued to do his own job well, no changes need be made. Moreover, he had no desire for contentious cabinet discussions on tactical matters, preferring to rely on the trusted counsel of Seward and Stanton. Still, he understood the resentment this provoked in neglected members of his administration; and through many small acts of generosity, he managed to keep the respect and affection of his disgruntled colleagues. Recognizing Blair’s desire for more personal influence, Lincoln kept his door open to both Monty and his father. Monty Blair, despite his frustrations, was ultimately loyal and had accomplished marvels as postmaster general, utterly transforming a primitive postal system without letter carriers, mailboxes on streets, or free delivery. Modernizing the postal service was particularly important for the soldiers, who relied on letters, newspapers, and magazines from home to sustain morale. To this end, Blair created a special system of army post offices, complete with army postmasters and stamp agents. His innovations provided the means for soldiers to send mail without postage so long as the recipient paid three cents on delivery “ of each letter. Even when foul weather and muddy roads made the delivery of mails to the army camps nearly impossible, inordinate efforts allowed the mail to get through.”

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“Later that afternoon, Lincoln wrote a frank letter to General Meade. While expressing his profound gratitude for “the magnificent success” at Gettysburg, he acknowledged that he was “distressed immeasurably” by “the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely.” Before sending the letter, which he knew would leave Meade disconsolate, Lincoln held back, as he often did when he was upset or angry, waiting for his emotions to settle. In the end, he placed the letter in an envelope inscribed: “To Gen. Meade, never sent, or signed.”

“Lincoln later told Connecticut congressman Henry C. Deming that Meade’s failure to attack Lee after Gettysburg was one of three occasions when “better management upon the part of the commanding general might have terminated the war.” The other two command failures he attributed to McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign and Hooker at Chancellorsville. Still, he acknowledged, “I do not know that I could have given any different orders had I been with them myself. I have not fully made up my mind how I should behave when minie-balls were whistling, and those great oblong shells shrieking in my ear. I might run away.”


“The White House,” Stoddard noted, “is deserted, save by our faithful and untiring Chief Magistrate, who, alone of all our public men, is always at his post.” Notwithstanding, Stoddard observed, “he looks less careworn and emaciated than in the spring, as if, living only for his country, he found his own vigor keeping pace with the returning health of the nation.”


“Whereas Lincoln’s loyal young secretary was disturbed by “Chase’s mad hunt after the Presidency,” Lincoln was amused. Chase’s incessant presidential ambitions reminded him of the time when he was “plowing corn on a Kentucky farm” with a lazy horse that suddenly sped forward energetically to “the end of the furrow.” Upon reaching the horse, he discovered “an enormous chin-fly fastened upon him, and knocked him off,” not wanting “the old horse bitten in that way.” His companion said that it was a mistake to knock it off, for “that’s all that made him go.” “Now,” Lincoln concluded, “if Mr. [Chase] has a presidential chin-fly biting him, I’m not going to knock him off, if it will only make his department go.” Lincoln agreed that his secretary’s tactics were in “very bad taste,” and “was sorry the thing had begun, for though the matter did not annoy him his friends insisted that it ought to.” Lincoln’s friends could not understand why the president continued to approve appointments for avid Chase supporters who were known to be “hostile to the President’s interests.” Lincoln merely asserted that he would rather let “Chase have his own way in these sneaking tricks than getting into a snarl with him by refusing him what he asks.” Moreover, he had no thought of dismissing Chase while he was hard at work raising the resources needed to support the immense Union Army. Lincoln’s response to Chase was neither artless nor naive. His old friend Leonard Swett maintained that there never was a greater mistake than the impression that Lincoln was a “frank, guileless, unsophisticated man.” In fact, “he handled and moved man remotely as we do pieces upon a chessboard.” Nor did Lincoln’s posture toward Chase imply a tepid desire for a second term. Swett was correct in supposing that Lincoln “was much more eager for it, than he was for the first one.” The Union, emancipation, his reputation, his honor, and his legacy—all depended on the outcome of the ongoing war. But he recognized it was safer to keep Chase as a dubious ally within the administration rather than to cut him loose to mount a full-blown campaign. Meanwhile, so long as Chase remained in the cabinet, Lincoln insisted on treating him with respect and dignity”


“On September 30, a delegation of radicals led by Charles Drake journeyed to Washington to demand Schofield’s removal. The night before the scheduled meeting, Lincoln talked with Hay about the tense situation. He acknowledged Hay’s argument that “the Radicals would carry the State and it would be well not to alienate them.” Moreover, he believed that “these Radical men have in them the stuff which must save the state and on which we must mainly rely.” They would never abandon the cause of emancipation, “while the Conservatives, in casting about for votes to carry through their plans, are tempted to affiliate with those whose record is not clear.” If he had to choose, Lincoln told his aide, “if one side must be crushed out & the other cherished,” he would “side with the Radicals.” On another occasion, he had expressed this affinity more strongly, stating that “they are nearer to me than the other side, in thought and sentiment, though bitterly hostile personally.” While they might be “the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with . . . their faces are set Zionwards.” “Nevertheless, Lincoln refused to be coerced into choosing one faction or the other, and resented the radicals’ demand that he treat Gamble, Frank Blair, and the conservatives “as copperheads and enemies to the Govt.” rather than as mere political opponents. “This is simply monstrous,” Lincoln declared, to denounce men who had courageously upheld the Union in the early days, when that affiliation threatened not only their political futures but their very lives. By contrast, the delegation’s vociferous leader, Charles Drake, was originally a Southern-leaning Democrat who had delighted in railing against Black Republicans. “Not that he objected to penitent rebels being radical: he was glad of it: but fair play: let not the pot make injurious reference to the black base of the kettle: he was in favor of short statutes of limitations.” Welles understood Lincoln’s dilemma. “So intense and fierce” were these radicals, he wrote in his diary, that they might well “inflict greater injury—on those Republicans . . . who do not conform to their extreme radical and fanatical views than on the Rebels in the field.” Such vindictiveness, he lamented, was “among the saddest features of the times.”


Lincoln’s counsel to Frank was echoed in a gentle letter of reprimand to another young man whose intemperate words had made him vulnerable. Captain James Cutts, Jr., had been court-martialed for using “unbecoming language” in addressing a superior officer and for publicly derogating his superior’s accomplishments to the point where a duel almost took place. Young Cutts was the brother of Adele Cutts, Stephen Douglas’s second wife. In remitting the sentence, Lincoln wrote, “You have too much of life yet before you, and have shown too much of promise as an officer, for your future to be lightly surrendered.” He tried to impart some of the measured outlook that had served him so well: “No man resolved to make the most of himself, can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper, and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog, than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.


Worried that Lincoln’s adversaries were successfully eclipsing him by appealing to the “radical element,” Leonard Swett recommended that the president call for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. “I told him if he took that stand, it was an outside position and no one could maintain himself upon any measure more radical,” Swett recalled, “and if he failed to take the position, his rivals would.” Lincoln, too, could see the “time coming” for a constitutional amendment, and then whoever “stands in its way, will be run over by it”; but the country was not yet ready. The “discordant elements” of the great coalition still had to be held together to ensure victory in the war. Moreover, he objected, “I have never done an official act with a view to promote my own personal aggrandizement, and I don’t like to begin now.” Herein, Swett concluded, lay the secret to Lincoln’s gifted leadership. “It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and the great forces which were producing logical results.” John Forney of the Washington Daily Chronicle observed the same intuitive judgment and timing, arguing that Lincoln was “the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them.”


“For many months, Lowell observed, the untried president seemed too hesitant—on military engagements, on emancipation, on recruiting black troops. Increasingly, it was becoming evident that this Abraham Lincoln was “a character of marked individuality and capacity for affairs.” In a democratic nation, Lowell added, “where the rough and ready understanding of the people is sure at last to be the controlling power, a profound common-sense is the best genius for statesmanship.” Lincoln had demonstrated a perfectly calibrated touch for public sentiment and impeccable timing in his introduction of new measures. While some thought he had delayed his decision on emancipation too long, he undoubtedly had a “sure-footed understanding” of the American people. Similarly, when the first black regiments were formed, many feared that “something terrible” would happen, “but the earth stood firm.” “Mr. Lincoln’s perilous task has been to carry a rather shackly raft through the rapids, making fast the unrulier logs as he could snatch opportunity,” concluded Lowell, “and the country is to be congratulated that he did not think it his duty to run straight at all hazards, but cautiously to assure himself with his setting-pole where the main current was, and keep steadily to that.” Despite the remarkable transformations of the previous three years, Lowell understood that the raft was “still in wild water.” So, of course, did Lincoln. The president recommended the Lowell piece to Gideon Welles, telling him it presented a “very excellent” discussion of the administration’s policy, but that it “gave him over-much credit.”


“Lincoln’s gift for managing men was never more apparent than during the presidential boomlet for Chase that peaked in the winter months of 1864. While Chase’s supporters prematurely showed their hand, Lincoln, according to the Pennsylvania politician Alexander McClure, “carefully veiled his keen and sometimes bitter resentment against Chase, and waited the fullness of time when he could by some fortuitous circumstance remove Chase as a competitor, or by some shrewd manipulation of politics make him a hopeless one.”


“It is unlikely that Lincoln believed Chase’s protestations of innocence. Indeed, a decade later, the circular’s author, James Winchell, testified that Chase had been fully informed about everything and had personally affirmed “that the arraignment of the Administration made in the circular was one which he thoroughly indorsed, and would sustain.” Still, Lincoln restrained his anger and carefully gauged his response, taking a dispassionate view of the situation. He understood the political landscape, he assured Bates. There was a number of malcontents within his own party who “would strike him at once, if they durst; but they fear that the blow would be ineffectual, and so, they would fall under his power, as beaten enemies.” So long as he remained confident that he had the public’s support, he could afford to let the game play out a little longer. Keeping Chase in suspense, Lincoln simply acknowledged receipt of the letter and promised to “answer a little more fully when I can find time to do so.” Then he sat back to measure the reaction of the people to the circular.”


“Discipline and keen insight had once again served Lincoln most effectively. By regulating his emotions and resisting the impulse to strike back at Chase when the circular first became known, he gained time for his friends to mobilize the massive latent support for his candidacy. Chase’s aspirations were crushed without Lincoln’s direct intrusion. He had known all along that his treasury secretary was no innocent, but by seeming to accept Chase’s word, he allowed the secretary to retain some measure of his dignity while the country retained his services in the cabinet. Lincoln himself would determine the appropriate time for Chase’s departure.”


“LINCOLN’S ABILITY TO RETAIN his emotional balance in such difficult situations was rooted in an acute self-awareness and an enormous capacity to dispel anxiety in constructive ways. In the most difficult moments of his presidency, nothing provided Lincoln greater respite and renewal than to immerse himself in a play at either Grover’s or Ford’s. Leonard Grover estimated that Lincoln had visited his theater “more than a hundred times” during his four years as president. He was most frequently accompanied by Seward, who shared Lincoln’s passion for drama and was an old friend of Mr. Grover’s. But his three young assistants, Nicolay, Hay, and Stoddard, also joined him on occasion, as did Noah Brooks, Mary, and Tad. On many nights, Lincoln came by himself, delighted at the chance to sink into his seat as the gaslights dimmed and the action on the stage began.”


“While the bill to establish the new rank of lieutenant general was being debated in Washington, Washburne recounted spending six days on the road with Grant, who “took with him neither a horse nor an orderly nor a servant nor a camp-chest nor an overcoat nor a blanket nor even a clean shirt.” Carrying only a toothbrush, “he fared like the commonest soldier in his command, partaking of his rations and sleeping upon the ground with no covering except the canopy of heaven.” Noting his preference for pork and beans, the New York Times speculated that caterers who had previously served “the delicate palates” of officers were “in spasms.” Everything Grant did during his four-day stay in Washington, from his unheralded entrance to his early departure, “was done exactly right,” the historian William McFeely concludes. “He was consummately modest and quietly confident; the image held for the rest of his political career—and beyond, into history.”


“Lincoln never lost faith in Grant. He realized that whereas “any other General” would have retreated after sustaining such terrible losses, Grant somehow retained “the dogged pertinacity . . . that wins.” Lincoln hugged and kissed a young reporter on the forehead who arrived at the White House with a verbal message from the general that said, “there is to be no turning back.” His spirits rose further when he read the words in Grant’s famous dispatch on May 11: “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” When a visitor asked one day about the prospects of the army under Grant, Lincoln’s face lit up “with that peculiar smile which he always puts on when about to tell a good story.” The question, he said, “reminds me of a little anecdote about the automaton chessplayer, which many years ago astonished the world by its skill in that game. After a while the automaton was challenged by a celebrated player, who, to his great chagrin, was beaten twice by the machine. At the end of the second game, the player, significantly pointing his finger at the automaton, exclaimed in a very decided tone. ‘There’s a man in it!’” That, he explained, referring to Grant, was “the secret” to the army’s fortune.


“Lincoln had prepared well for the encounter. The last thing he wanted was for Chase to resign on a point of honor. The rift between the radicals and conservatives in the Republican Party might then become irreparable. He gave the visitors his usual undivided attention. When they finished, Riddle recalled, “he arose, came round, and with great cordiality took each of us by the hand and evinced the greatest satisfaction at our presence.” Then, taking up a stack of papers on his desk, he inquired if either of them had seen his letter to Chase two months earlier when the secretary had offered to resign over his implication in the humiliating Pomeroy circular. Determining that Riddle had not, Lincoln read aloud the lines where he concurred with Chase that neither of them should be “held responsible for what our respective friends may do without our instigation or countenance.”


“Acutely aware of his own emotional needs, Lincoln had chosen exactly the right time to review the troops, for his conversations with Grant and his interactions with the soldiers sustained and inspired him during the troubling days ahead. “Having hope,” writes Daniel Goleman in his study of emotional intelligence, “means that one will not give in to overwhelming anxiety, a defeatist attitude, or depression in the face of difficult challenges or setbacks.” Hope is “more than the sunny view that everything will turn out all right”; it is “believing you have the will and the way to accomplish your goals.” More clearly than his colleagues, Lincoln understood that numerous setbacks were inevitable before the war could be brought to a close. Yet in the end, he firmly believed the North would prevail. “We are today further ahead than I thought one year and a half ago we should be,” he told Noah Brooks that June, “and yet there are plenty of people who believe that the war is about to be substantially closed. As God is my judge I shall be satisfied if we are over with the fight in Virginia within a year.”


“ “I will tell you,” Lincoln said, “how it is with Chase. It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to fall into a bad habit. Chase has fallen into two bad habits. . . . He thinks he has become indispensable to the country. . . . He also thinks he ought to be President; he has no doubt whatever about that.” These two unfortunate tendencies, Lincoln explained, had made Chase “irritable, uncomfortable, so that he is never perfectly happy unless he is thoroughly miserable.” At this point, according to Chittenden, Lincoln paused. “And yet there is not a man in the Union who would make as good a chief justice as Chase,” he continued, “and, if I have the opportunity, I will make him Chief Justice of the United States.” Chittenden concluded that this extraordinary want of vindictiveness toward someone who had caused him such grief proved that Lincoln “must move upon a higher plane and be influenced by loftier motives than any man” he had ever known. ” Yet while Lincoln did indeed possess unusual magnanimity, he was also a shrewd politician. He mentioned the chief justiceship to Chittenden knowing that when Chase learned of it, the prospect might dampen his public opposition. Lincoln made a similar remark to Congressman Hooper. In a relaxed conversation, he expressed his “esteem” for the secretary and his sincere “regret” that the two of them had become so “awkward” and “constrained” when they got together. When Hooper relayed these comments to his friend, Chase was moved, suggesting that “had any such expressions of good will” been tendered before his resignation, he might have acted differently. Unfortunately, it was too late.”


“Lincoln’s response to these extraordinary pressures reveals much about his character. “I confess that I desire to be re-elected,” he told Thaddeus Stevens and Simon Cameron that August. “I have the common pride of humanity to wish my past four years administration endorsed; and besides I honestly believe that I can better serve the nation in its need and peril than any new man could possibly do. I want to finish this job of putting down the rebellion, and restoring peace and prosperity to the country.” Yet he forthrightly faced the likelihood of defeat and resolved to do his utmost in the remaining months both to win the war on the North’s terms and to bring as many slaves as possible into Union lines before newly elected Democratic leaders could shut the door forever. In the third week of August, Lincoln asked all cabinet members to sign—without having read—a memorandum committing the administration to devote all its powers and energies to help bring the war to a successful conclusion.” “The presumption was that no Democrat would be able to resist the immense pressure for an immediate compromise peace. Slavery would thus be allowed to remain in the South, and even independence might be sanctioned.”


“Though Bates initially viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator, he eventually concluded that the president was an unmatched leader, “very near being a perfect man.” Edwin Stanton, who had treated Lincoln with contempt at their initial acquaintance, developed a great respect for the commander in chief and was unable to control his tears for weeks after the president’s death. Even Chase, whose restless ambition for the presidency was never realized, at last acknowledged that Lincoln had outmaneuvered him. This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing. His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that “ in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with decency and morality—kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy—can also be impressive political resources.”

Excerpt From: Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Team of Rivals.” Apple Books. ”


“The editors of the Mercury would have been even more astonished if they had an inkling of the truth recognized by those closer to Lincoln: his 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.”


“Lamon also described what he claimed was the president’s attempt to evade the dire portent of the dream. “Don’t you see how it will turn out?” Lincoln comforted Lamon. “In this dream, it was not me but some other fellow that was killed. . . . Well, let it go. I think the Lord in His own good time and way will work this out all right. God knows what is best.” Historian Don Fehrenbacher is persuasive that Lamon’s chronology is confused, which casts doubt on the veracity of the entire story. Yet Lincoln’s penchant for portentous dreams and his tendency to relate them to others were remarked on by many of his intimate acquaintances.”

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