Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin [Book Summary]


Have you watched that film that featured Daniel Day-Lewis as Martin Van Buren? What of the movie that starred Henry Fonda as a young Rutherford B. Hayes? Definitely, you haven’t watched them! 

When we talk about American presidents deserving of screen time, no one comes to mind faster than Abraham Lincoln. Even now, more than 150 years after his death, Lincoln carries on to lead American general culture. However, what is the thing that makes his legacy really strong?

These book chapters, drawn from the eponymous bestselling biography, take a closer glimpse at Lincoln’s life and career. They reveal how his political brilliance, skill to motivate and strength of vision transformed the United States for life.


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Chapter 1 – The childhood of Abraham Lincoln’s made him an exceptionally determined man.


You might be conversant with the history of Abraham Lincoln born in a log cabin and learning how to read with candlelight. However, during his early lives were occupied with a lot of significant sufferings.

On the 12th of February 1809 was when Lincoln was born, and, immediately he was capable, he was made to work on the farm by Thomas Lincoln his father. Young Abraham would assist his father cut down and divide trees, dig wells and cultivate fields.

Abraham’s father was illiterate and usually in opposition to Abraham’s wish to teach himself. Thomas was even notorious for burning down Abraham’s books in order to make young Abraham not being distracted from completing his work. If there was a worthy characteristic Thomas transferred on to Abraham, it was his love of storytelling and making his friends entertained with a good story.

Although he didn’t really have a friendly relationship with his father, there was a loving relationship with Abraham and Nancy Hanks Lincoln his mother. Although just a bit is known about Nancy Hanks, according to all various accounts, she was a smart, determined woman who assisted teach Abraham to read and write.



Unfortunately, disaster first happened in the Lincoln family when Abraham was only nine years of age and his mother died as a result of “milk sickness,” a poisoning gotten from contaminated dairy. The death strained the relationship between Abraham and his father more.

After his mother died, more disaster happened, in less than ten years after, Sarah, Abraham’s sister, Sarah died while giving birth. Also, to make the situations even worse, Abraham’s first love, Ann Rutledge, died in the year1835, probably as a result of typhoid fever.

However, these difficulties didn’t break young Lincoln’s spirit. Rather, they strengthened his determination and strengthened his goals.

Sarah Bush Lincoln, the stepmother of Abraham assisted foster his self-confidence and inspired his education in spite of his father’s behavior. It was obvious to his stepmother as well as the whole of Lincoln’s friends, that he had a spark of greatness that surpassed the poverty and hardship of his environments.

Therefore, in April of 1837, Lincoln relocated to Springfield, Illinois, to begin a career in law.


Chapter 2 – The Republican Party worked together due to a stormy political landscape.


While Lincoln was doing his law career, in 1834, he was chosen to the Illinois House of Representatives. The next decades (the 1840s and 1850s) happened to be combative ones for the United States. However, a lot of politicians were building a name for themselves by debating the problems.

The majority of the crucial political problem was slavery.

The United States kept on growing as western territories were formed. As a result, there was a strong national division between the northern “free states” and southern “slave states” as to if new areas like California or New Mexico should permit slavery.

The controversial Fugitive Slave Law was another huge topic of controversy, which needed slaves that escaped to be sent back to their masters, even though they solicited protection in a free state.

In an attempt to calm escalating tensions, The Compromise of 1850 was enacted, keeping slavery out of California; however, establishing the Fugitive Slave Law. Any soothing effect the compromise had was just short-lived, as the debates began again in 1854 in the regions of Kansas and Nebraska.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act permitted these regions to choose for themselves if slavery should be permitted. This choice successfully annulled a former statute that indicated slavery would not be permitted north of the state of Missouri.

This change of situations put a fire under Abraham Lincoln’s political career and he was more active in his campaign against the growth of slavery.



The reignited debates eventually became the cause for the establishment of the Republican Party in 1854. The Whigs and Democrats were the leading political parties as at then, were really divided on the problem that the anti-slavery supporters chose to gang together as Republicans.

Salmon Chase the Ohio statesman was part of the party’s prominent members. He was in headlines as one of the most honest anti-slavery advocates and he was made the country’s first Republican governor.

After Lincoln’s Whig Party divided, he became part of the Republicans together with William Henry Seward the New York Senator and notable St. Louis statesman Edward Bates.

As leaders of the Republican Party, these men turned into competing contenders leading up to the presidential election of the year 1860.


Chapter 3 – It would have been an understatement referring to Lincoln as an underdog.


It may be surprising; however, Lincoln wasn’t firstly the top decision when it came to selecting a Republican candidate for the election of 1860. Lincoln had had a relatively modest and short career in politics compared to the other contenders.

Firstly, there was William Henry Seward, who was viewed as an experienced politician.

His enthusiastic character made him really appropriate for his career as a lawyer. His fascinating senate speeches – thought about the “rallying cries” for the Republican movement –was in headlines across the nation. Furthermore, it didn’t hurt that Thurlow Tweed was his long-time advisor, the perfect political boss, and the campaign manager.

Also, there was Salmon Chase as well, a pioneer for the anti-slavery root.

Chase had built a name for himself in a lot of prominent cases by protecting escaped slaves and fighting against the Fugitive Slave Law. Although he wouldn’t win these cases, the language he utilized to assert that the law was illegal would function as a part of the Republican Party’s basis.

Lastly, there was Edward Bates who was one of the most respected nominees up for nomination.



At the age of 66 years, Bates definitely possessed seniority over the other nominees. During the year 1860, he’d already gotten a long and deserved law career in St. Louis and was an expert in the War of 1812. Aside from that, he was part of the people that prepared the state constitution of Missouri and was seen as a national advocate for fixing the separation between North and South.

Whereas, the only thing Lincoln had to give was a humble law career and two unsuccessful attempts at the Illinois state senate in 1854 and 1858. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he wasn’t at first a front-runner for the Republican nomination.


Chapter 4 – The nomination of Lincoln’s at the Republican Convention came as a huge surprise.


As a matter of fact, none of Lincoln’s contenders for the nomination saw him a threat. However, although the other people were depending on their achievements, Lincoln was gaining up momentum.

During the year 1858, Lincoln had his first experience of national exposure in the currently legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates. Although he eventually lost the senate contest to Douglas, he actually won the popular vote. Also, the words he delivered in those debates would continue to be reported and studied in debate classes for future years.

In the year 1860, before the Republican Convention, Lincoln campaigned in the whole of the north, as well as the vital New England states, delivering fascinating and fluent speeches that flawlessly talked about the Republican agenda.

Lincoln stayed clear and reliable with his anti-slavery stand and displayed a readiness to work together with the south and border states to fix the problem. Maybe most significantly, all through his career, he made friends, and not foes, anywhere he visited.



Conversely, Seward and Chase were extremely confident and see the reason for campaigning.

In 1859, Seward chose to go on a tour in Europe instead of campaigning for votes. Chase could have taken advantage of Seward’s absence; however, Chase felt that he merited the nomination for the job he did already.

Both of these contenders had usually been determined in their careers and this entails that they had offended few people on their path up the political ladder. Meaning, both nominees had rivals in prominent positions in the Republican Party.

This may have perhaps been a critical last-minute mistake for Bates that took away his opportunities.

Different from Lincoln, Bates was unreliable when he was told to explain his stand on slavery. Bates answered by being unconcerned about the matter, choosing to discuss more of unifying problems such as the economy. Bates felt the matter of slavery was bring about a lot of worries and even said that politicians were involving with it for their own political advantage.

There’s slight uncertainty the Republican party wasn’t pleased with his words.

These entire things caused Lincoln to shock his opponents and winning the nomination at the convention.


Chapter 5 – In spite of putting together a healthy cabinet, President Lincoln underrated the emotions of the South.


Lincoln’s win during the 1860 presidential election was the biggest testimony to his cleverness as a politician up till now. Also, when it was time to select the members of his presidential cabinet, Lincoln continued thinking sensibly.

Lincoln’s plan was obvious when choosing the department leaders of his administration: to select the men who were most skilled for the work, irrespective of if they had been Democrats or Whigs. This entailed choosing his entails: Chase, Seward, and Bates.

Seward was given the important position of Secretary of State by Lincoln; also, Lincoln chose respected Edward Bates as his Attorney General and he gave Salmon Chase the leader of the Treasury Department.

For the remaining posts, he kept on picking a strong combination of significant politicians.

To exemplify the powerful state of Pennsylvania, he chose the previous Democrat Simon Cameron as the Secretary of War and Montgomery Blair a Kentucky-born as Postmaster General. The family of Blair had been a strong force in the Democratic party.

With these shocking selections, Lincoln formed a team of rivals.

Instead of taking the usual way of selecting close friends and partners who would blindly back him in his choices, Lincoln picked a team of clever and determined people who could say out their various views on problems to assist him to make the best decisions.



Lincoln thought that this combination of people could assist him in bringing together the North and South; however, he wasn’t aware of how terrible the event would immediately turn into.

The Great Secession Winter started soon after Lincoln’s election. South Carolina voted to separate from the Union, mentioning the election of a “Black Republican” as the tipping point. More aggravating Southern objections were political attempts to hinder slavery from growing to new regions and efforts to abolish the Fugitive Slave Law.

Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas immediately followed this move.


Chapter 6 – Lincoln’s difficulties came fast with the beginning of the Civil War.


4th of March, 1861 was Lincoln’s presidential inauguration. The relationships between the North and South were really bad already that newspapers were referring to Lincoln “the first president of the Northern Confederacy.” That wasn’t the best manner to begin; however, but Lincoln was ready for any difficulty that came to him.

And the first challenge came on his desk the next day.

Lincoln got a crucial letter telling him that South Carolina’s Fort Sumter had been taken off from supplies and was at risk of being controlled by Southern Confederates. Lincoln had to make a choice: send reinforcements and risk more tension or surrender the fort which could be viewed as an indication of weakness.

Lincoln didn’t act fast. He knew the importance of this first war and asked his cabinet members for their ideas. Initially, just Seward contradicted reinforcing Fort Sumter, thinking it would be best to take the hit and concentrate on saving other Southern outposts.

Eventually, Lincoln tried to send reinforcements; however, the idea went really bad when contradictory orders were mistakenly dispatched. Though the error was identified and updated strategies were sent out, Confederate authorities interrupted the updated message and issued a strike on Sumter before the reinforcements could happen.

On the 13th of April, Fort Sumter was surrendered and Lincoln took the total blame for the consequence of the unsuccessful mission. All through Lincoln’s presidency, his associates were amazed at his generous nature, his readiness to take the blame, and his capability to forgive other people for their mistakes.



Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee separated from the Union and the United States was close to civil war after the fall of Fort Sumter.

On the 19th of April 1861, that was when the first blood was shed in Baltimore after a Massachusetts regiment was struck while passing through. The northern Union was attempting to rally troops as they immediately got to know that they were quite not ready for battle. The Union possessed just small weapons, uniforms or horses.

Lincoln strongly advised Chase and Cameron to immediately and efficiently prepare the Union military for war.


Chapter 7 – Lincoln needed to make the North united after saddening conquests.


A bloody war between the North and South now seemed unavoidable. However, Lincoln got a chance to unite the hearts and minds of the North by talking to Congress on the 4th of July, 1861. He made it clear to everybody that this fight was not only about slavery; however, much about fighting to maintain the actual idea of democracy.

Unluckily for Lincoln, it would need some time before he would get the appropriate general to direct his army and match his spirit.

The First Battle of Bull Run happened on the 21st of July 1861 in Virginia. The fight was really near to Washington D.C. that it could be overheard by the people in the city. However, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. Jackson proved intolerable for the Union soldiers, sending them running in withdrawal and getting himself the nickname “Stonewall Jackson.”



To attempt and assemble the troops, Lincoln put General George McClellan to oversee them. He did really good to bring together the army; however, he made the severe error of always overestimating the magnitude of the Confederate army, frequently asserting that there were twice as many troops as there really were.

Due to that, he rejected instructions from Lincoln and the Secretary of War to bring forward his troops, rather than delaying and requesting more troops. This caused more conquests outside of Richmond, VA and in the Second Battle of Bull Run where his delay in offering reinforcements led to 10,000 losses.

Lincoln was aware that an amendment needed to be done and first of all, he looked to his own cabinet.

Cameron proved to be untrustworthy, and his Department of War was prevalent with corruption. Cameron was not aware that associates had been stealing contract money and squandering public funds. He was swapped with Edwin Stanton, an ex-Democrat and US Attorney General, who would stay in the post for the following six years.


Chapter 8 – Timing is everything: the Emancipation Proclamation changed the direction of the battle.


Lincoln was aware that it was high time to take extreme action. He’d overheard that the Confederate armies were making use of slaves to assist their attempts and, for months, the issue of if to recruit black soldiers in the Union army was being discussed among his cabinet.

Therefore, in July of 1862, Lincoln showed the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet.

It would let Lincoln avoid Congress, as an executive mandate during a time of war. With a blow, he could take down the Fugitive Slave Law and make about 3 to 4 million slaves free in the United States, and being able to work in the army.

Seward cleverly warned Lincoln against declaring the proclamation right away, indicating that, amidst their whole losses, the suggestion would seem like a last-ditch attempt and increase the Union’s low confidence. Lincoln accepted his caution and patiently waited for a Union win.

Lastly, after the win at the Battle of Antietam, the chance had appeared.



On the 17th of September, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee proceeded into Union territory and obliged General McClellan to do something. A terrible fight happened, with more than 20,000 losses. Lee finally withdrew; however, once more McClellan delayed, failing to advance on Lee’s troops, letting them regroup.

As Union general, that was McClellan’s final action. Stanton viewed him as a traitor and Lincoln eventually had him removed from his work.

However, the win that happened at Antietam was what the Union required after a lot of crushing conquests. At the start of 1863, Lincoln declared that he would pass the Emancipation Proclamation.

Further success immediately followed and Lincoln saw a general he believed could direct the Union to win.

General Ulysses S. Grant was showing to be the Union’s best resource in a western campaign where he laid claim to the Mississippi River and separated the Confederate army. All thanks to his wins, and a hard-fought victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle was eventually changing in favor of the Union.


Chapter 9 – Before Lincoln’s reelection, the cabinet of Lincoln gave a significant win; however, disappointment as well.


As expected, at the start of 1863, Lincoln stayed real to his word and announced the Emancipation Proclamation. A team of 180,000 black soldiers created to assist fight a war that was still costing the nation a lot of lives.

The current terrors of the war, as well as the 50,000 losses at Gettysburg, signified that Lincoln’s reelection was anything but a certain thing. However, Lincoln, as well as his administration, would make a vital choice that would assist end the war.

The Battle of Chicamauga was an extreme two-day fight that happened during September of 1863. More than 18,000 troops of the Confederates were lost and the Union only about 16,000. However, even though the Union didn’t win, they succeeded to persevere to the vital city of Chattanooga.

Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War instantly grabbed the opportunity to make the most of this.

Calling an emergency meeting with Lincoln as well as the remaining of the cabinet, he offered a strategy to immediately send 20,000 troops to support Chattanooga and initiate a new attack before the Confederacy could regroup. With the collaboration of the railroad department, Stanton made sure that his strategy could be done within seven days. Lincoln accepted, and he put General Grant to oversee the new offensive.

Stanton’s strategy – which was viewed as one of the fastest mobilizations in the history of military up till that moment– was a success. Union forces pushed confederate troops away from Tennessee.



However, not detecting that Lincoln’s administration was moving the Union towards a win over the Confederates, the Democrats were initiating a wrong campaign against Lincoln. With the ex-General McClellan as their nominee, they offered to make peace with the South at any price.

However, only three days later the Democrats broadcasted this platform, Union General William T. Sherman got a vital win for the North, capturing the city of Atlanta. After this, there was an immediate navy’s capture of the Confederate port of Mobile Bay.

These wins ruined the Democrats’ policy of compromise and ensured Lincoln’s reelection.


Chapter 10 – Lincoln still showed his resolve and goodwill at the completion of the war.


With Lincoln’s second tenure in progress, Lincoln exhibited his extraordinary goodwill and faithfulness to his colleagues once more.

Lincoln knew that Salmon Chase, his determined Secretary of Treasury had been campaigning for his own attempt at the presidency during the present elections. However, Chase eventually passed his boundaries when he rejected to admit the errors done while choosing friends within his own department.

Lincoln accepted the resignation of Chase’s, however, as usual; he was clever not to destroy what had been a productive relationship. Lincoln use the chance to select Chase as a Chief Justice in the US Supreme Court.

His goodwill to the people who would even scheme at his back never went undetected. One time Seward stated that “his magnanimity is nearly superhuman.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln could perceive the completion of the war forthcoming. Also, Lincoln was aware that, for him to make his Emancipation Proclamation active during peacetime, he would need to push for a constitutional adjustment through Congress.

On the 6th of January 1865, he passed the Thirteenth Amendment to put an end to slavery permanently.

Lincoln met up one on one with significant members of Congress to highlight the positive impact the adjustment would have on finishing the war and destroying the spirit of the Confederacy. Also, with the assistance of assistants campaigning on the adjustment’s behalf, he got the five Democratic votes required to push it through Congress.



In these first few months of 1865, representatives from both parts of the war, as well as Lincoln, were meeting to talk about a stop to the war. Unluckily, none of the sides was ready to compromise and the last battles of the war carried on.

General Sherman accomplished the seizing the cities of Columbia, South Carolina, and Charleston, North Carolina. Also, lastly, on the 2nd of  April 1865, Union troops conquered General Lee in the Battle for Petersburg, making Confederacy leaders escape from their capital, Richmond, Virginia.

To mark this event, Lincoln victoriously walked in the streets of Richmond, Virginia, surrounded by joyful ex-slaves.

The war was coming to an end, and on the 9th of April, Lee eventually gave up his 28,000 troops to Grant.


Chapter 11 – The death of Lincoln was a loss for the south as well.


After the submission of Lee’s troops, Lincoln delivered an inspiring speech from the White House, stating his hope to immediately go back the southern states to the Union and restore the damages of the country.

That day, John Wilkes Booth, as well as two of his fellow conspirators Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt, were part of the people in the crowd. The three men had devised a strategy to kidnap Lincoln and swap him for Confederate prisoners of war.

However, after listening to Lincoln’s speech, and being really angry by the notion of ex-slaves having citizenship, Booth changed the strategy to murder Lincoln, Andrew Johnson the Vice President and William H. Seward the Secretary of State.

The plot was ready on the 14th of April, 1865, while Lincoln was watching the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater. Booth, a professional actor conversant with the theater, displayed his card and got entry to Lincoln’s seating box.

Booth shut a shot into the back of Lincoln’s head. Major William Rathbone, who was seated in the box, attempted to take him; however, Booth brought a knife, cut Rathbone from the chest and jumped from the box to the stage underneath.

Then Lewis Powell got entry into Steward’s house, cutting and stabbing his way through the home, extremely injuring a lot of other people before he discovered the bedridden Seward. Then Seward was stabbed in the face by Powell; however, fortunately, Seward had recently gone through surgery as a result of a near-fatal carriage accident. The metal utilized to repair his jaw probably saved his life.



George Atzerodt withdrew from his own part in the plot to murder Andrew Johnson. The kidnapping was a thing; however, he wasn’t a killer.

The following morning, Abraham Lincoln died and the whole country, as well as the south, lost a dear friend.

Both Ulysses S. Grant and Blair, the southern-born Montgomery heard about the news and felt that it was a sad punch to the reconstruction of the United States.

Blair mentioned that “Those of southern sympathies are aware that they have lost a friend eager and more strong to defend and work for them than they can now ever wish to see again.”


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin Book Review


An aspect of the political brilliance of Abraham Lincoln was the manner he selected the members of his cabinet. He was aware that he could make the best choices for the nation by surrounding himself with his political contenders, meaning, people who didn’t agree with him and each other; however, who constituted the best thinkers to explore the entire parts of a problem.


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