View Full Version : Team of Rivals--part way review

Emmanuel Dabney
12-23-2007, 12:00 PM
Doris Goodwin rightfully deserves any praise of this multi-biographical and multi-dimensional single volume on the men and women who were so intertwined with one another as the country tried to save itself from "irrepressible conflict."

The lives of William Henry Seward, Edward Bates, Abraham Lincoln, and Salmon Chase occupy much of the work up to where I am in the book now (page 194). However, other people critical in these people's lives are properly and inexplicably interwoven such as Frances Seward, Seward's wife who was more anti-slavery than her husband; Mary Lincoln, whom readers will find a different light shed on the often maligned wife of our sixteenth president; Kate Chase, who was the only beacon of light to her stoic father and of course who during the war would shake up Washington City. Key players in Lincoln's life such as Lymann Trumbull and the at first very antagonist Edwin Stanton leap from the pages as though they were next to you.

People thus not contacted so early in this work are Simon Cameron, Gideon Welles, Hannibal Hamlin, Andrew Johnson, and Caleb Smith just to name a few. The lack of their stories in this early section of the book is an asset.

Mrs. Goodwin has correctly interwoven these men's lives into the splintering political parties (Democrats and Whigs) and the rise of new political parties (Know-Nothing/American and Republican). The rise of immigrants, the push for Manifest Destiny and the Mexican War, the Compromise of 1820 and 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and its revised brother in 1850 all give immense insight into why these men (and in many cases their often forgotten wives who pushed them) acted the way in which they did.

This work is critically necessary to understanding these men but also just how the country moved towards war. Readers who hold on to the "moonlight and magnolia" mythology about the Upper South not being so tied with slavery as to fight a war about it will be surprised to find the governor of North Carolina is also quoted in 1854 as having said that the South (which would include North Carolina) was ready to fight a war over the issue of slavery. Excerpts from Richmond and Petersburg antebellum newspapers which praised Senator Preston Brooks for beating Senator Charles Sumner in 1856 are featured as well. Of course the Deep South is not neglected either as she relies upon Robert Toombs of Georgia and John Calhoun of South Carolina, both of whom noted the South's committment to slavery and that denial of slaves into the new territories may very well mean the start of a new nation in which the South would be free of the abolitionists.

A limited preview is available on Google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=ONhhui9SRsMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Team+of+Rivals&sig=EURAxNoDdwE8tBxG6aMYY-wihqM

12-23-2007, 05:12 PM
I currently reading the same work. I'm a bit ahead of Mr. Dabney. It is in interesting read and worth the time to read it. You may not agree with all of the interpretations the authour makes, but it is worth the read.

12-24-2007, 11:00 AM
I read the book about a year ago and enjoyed it. The book is being used to make Steven Spielberg's Lincoln movie which come out in 2009.


12-24-2007, 10:42 PM
I also read this book a year ago, but I would say the critical point Goodwin was attempting to impart was the political genius of Lincoln. Whether you appreciate him or not, after reading this book, you can't help but admire Lincoln as a man who could get political opponents to agree and work together. It also deals with the very human ethos of a man who has been greatly exalted and maligned through the years in the press and otherwise. It is a rather good read, despite the tendency towards sentimentality. Regards, lisa matthews

12-27-2007, 12:23 AM
It is a very good book, giving insights I didn't know about before.

If I have any criticism at all, it would be her bent to sometimes place Lincoln up on a pedestal rather than keeping him a human among humans. It is a slight flaw, but comes across at various points, enough to be noticeable.

12-27-2007, 09:25 AM
If you're in Lincoln, Neb., (largest town named after the President) in February 2009, you can hear this Pulitzer winner during our annual Abraham Lincoln Birthday Celebration. She's the keynote speaker. I'll post more news as we get closer to Abe's 200th birthday anniversary.
Paul Hadley

12-27-2007, 10:01 AM

A very informative book. It does tend to make Lincoln seem super-intuitive on how people think and come to decisions, and his ability to manipulate them. I'm not always sure if that was the case...sometimes it was just fortuitous timing. I really enjoyed the parts about Seward and Thurlow Weed.

Neil Randolph
1st WV

Emmanuel Dabney
01-06-2008, 03:29 PM
After a little hiatus of a few days I completed Team of Rivals today.

I must say having read (granted a very dated) biography of Mary Lincoln I was not impressed with the epilogue's conclusion regarding Mrs. Lincoln. Goodwin writes that after Robert committed her to the mental institution in 1875 that Mrs. L. and her son remained "permanently estranged." Implying, perhaps not meaning to that the two never spoke to one another or that there was til the end of their lives contempt between the two. Mrs. L. was infuriated with her son but they did make some repairs in their relationship.

Ruth Randall in her 1953 biography Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage notes that Dr. Evans doubted whether Mrs. L. ever fully forgave her eldest son, Robert for putting her in the mental institution. However she does go on to note that in the spring of 1881 Robert begged to be forgiven by his mother and Mrs. L. reestablished a connection with her son and his family (page 440).

Randall goes on to cite that later that same year Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lincoln visited his mother frequently in her New York City apartment. (page 441)

The two did suffer a great break in their relationship 1875 until 1881 a year before her 1882 death but it wasn't "permanent."

Otherwise, I think Goodwin has done a prime justice to Lincoln's wartime cabinet, their attitudes and his; and how they managed to all work through some serious issues at times to bring the war to an end. At times I think I agree with a previous comment that Goodwin places Lincoln on a pedestal and we get a lot of understanding about his work load as well as Stanton's but we don't get the level of understanding as to what issues were facing Seward, Chase and later Fessenden and McCulloch; Bates, etc. She gives us a brief look at their wartime work loads only as some of these people left office like Bates.

Still, it would be very wise for someone to write a comparable book on Jefferson Davis and his wartime cabinet. Perhaps Goodwin can take it on or leave it to Davis scholars but Team of Rivals should be joined by a book on that subject.

01-06-2008, 06:12 PM
Discovered a copy in my closet today. Reading will soon commence.

01-07-2008, 03:40 PM

I agree it is a very good book with wonderful insight.

Anyone wanting a copy can benefit from ordering one from Edward R. Hamilton, currently $6.95 (plus $3.50 S&H) for the $35 hardback version.



Tom Ezell
01-09-2008, 03:06 PM
Still, it would be very wise for someone to write a comparable book on Jefferson Davis and his wartime cabinet. Perhaps Goodwin can take it on or leave it to Davis scholars but Team of Rivals should be joined by a book on that subject.

William C. Davis has done something like this; the trouble is, you have to read four or five books to get the story. Jefferson Davis: The Man and his Hour, and Jefferson Davis: American is one of the better studies I've seen on the man himself, and then you get into his documentaries on the Confederate government itself: A Government of Our Own, Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America, and An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

The first title may not be by W.C. Davis, but it's very close to his style...

Emmanuel Dabney
01-09-2008, 03:21 PM
Having met Mr. Davis on a couple of occasions (he came to my school and gave a lecture on him which was very well organized) I feared that it may be the case that there is no single volume like Goodwin's in comparison for the CS government. But just means more books to add to the list.

03-01-2008, 12:50 PM
I read this book last fall and enjoyed it thoroughly. The research seemed first rate and that narrative was very entertaining, as any good history should be. While at times it may seem that Lincoln is in too good a light, I would point out that at least in some cases, great men are considered such for the very reason that they are great. Given that the common perception of Lincoln is that he was naive and bumbling - no doubt a legacy of Little Mac's scathing opinions - it was refreshing to see Lincoln in the light as someone who could plan and masterfully calculate his way to political success. At the same time, I was very enthralled by her arguments of the Lincoln Administration's success being tied to the idea of a strong, diverse cabinet of independent thinkers and strong political operators, rather than the usual "yes men" nobodies we see in most positions today.

03-21-2008, 01:15 PM
The book also I think helps to peel away some of the myth that surrounds him. This book, as well as a book by Carl Sandburg, show that he was master of back room/channel diplomacy. He also had an excellent sence of timing, and as Mr. Randolph points out, was often just plain lucky in that department as well. I enjoy seeing the human side of the man, and not just hero worship. "Team of rivals" seems to have a good balance of both. Just my 2 cents.

Sean Collicott