Over the weekend I started reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. I know it has been out for years, but I’ve been saving it on my nightstand to read at the right time. That time is now.
Team of Rivals is Goodwin’s treatment of Abraham Lincoln and his relationship with the men who were competitors for the Republican nomination for President in 1860 and then became members of Lincoln’s cabinet. I’ve been looking forward to it because I love reading about Lincoln and revisiting, again, the distant world of our 16th President, with its scourge of slavery and awesome challenge of secession, with huge armies marching across the land and the blood of brothers spilled, with telegraphs and smoking locomotives and political figures on horseback.
I’ve written before about Lincoln and his unshakable grip on the American imagination. Part of that fascination stems from Lincoln’s compelling life story and part stems from his genius at expressing the deep themes of America with a few well-chosen words. But part of the continuing interest in Lincoln is that his story is aspirational. No matter how bad things may seem right now — or at any time since Lincoln’s assassination — we know that the challenges and political divisions we face pale in comparison to those that Lincoln and his administration overcame.
Lincoln was a deft politician, but his success in steering the country through the dark days of the Civil War was mostly due to his willingness to take on the hard questions and make the tough, but necessary, decisions. Those same leadership qualities are what are sorely needed today.