‘Team of Rivals’: Friends of Abe

From The New York Times:

Lincoln_1 “Team of Rivals” (an apt but uninspiring title) opens in May 1860 with four men awaiting news from the national convention of the Republican Party in Chicago. Thousands of supporters were gathered in Auburn, N.Y., where a cannon was primed to fire a salute to the expected nomination of Senator William Henry Seward for president. In Columbus, Ohio, Gov. Salmon P. Chase hoped that if Seward faltered, the mantle would fall on his shoulders. In St. Louis, 66-year-old Edward Bates, a judge who still called himself a Whig, hoped the convention might turn to him as the only candidate who could carry the conservative free states, whose electoral votes were necessary for a Republican victory. In Springfield, Ill., a former one-term congressman who had been twice defeated for election to the Senate waited with resigned expectation that his long-shot candidacy would be flattened by the Seward steamroller.

Having set the stage for the nominating convention, Goodwin recounts the drama of Lincoln’s surprising first-ballot strength (102 votes to Seward’s 173½, Chase’s 49, and Bates’s 48). On the second ballot Lincoln pulled almost even with Seward, and amid rising excitement in a convention hall packed with a leather-lunged home-state cheering section, he won a stunning victory on the third ballot. All three of his shocked rivals believed the better man had lost. Lincoln’s subsequent election as president did not change their minds.

The Republican victory without a single electoral vote (and scarcely any popular votes) from the 15 slave states provoked seven of them to secede and form the Confederate States of America. In this crisis, Lincoln took the unparalleled step of appointing to his cabinet all three of his rivals plus a fourth, Simon Cameron, Pennsylvania’s favorite son. Seward got the top spot as secretary of state; Chase became secretary of the Treasury, Bates attorney general and Cameron secretary of war. Could this “team of rivals,” each of them initially convinced of his superiority to the inexperienced president, work together in harmony? Joseph Medill, the editor of The Chicago Tribune and one of Lincoln’s most loyal supporters, later asked the president why he had made these appointments. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet,” Lincoln replied. “These were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.” They were indeed strong men, Goodwin notes. “But in the end, it was the prairie lawyer from Springfield who would emerge as the strongest of them all.”

More here.