Home  >  125 Books  >  125.014 Books - Abraham Lincoln - Team of Rivals

Abraham Lincoln - Team of Rivals

My highlights in the book Team of Rivals


Once a decision has been made after appropriate consideration, you must keep that promise to yourself always. This is called integrity and trust.

Try not to take a position on a topic until you’ve learned about it, thought about it, and come to your own conclusion. Jumping to conclusions is bad decision making, taking a position early makes it hard to change later, alters to course of the conversation being had with others, and limits the amount of information available to make a good choice.

Lincoln did not drink or gamble. He took his leisure time in learning and telling stories. Anecdotes were his stress release, his get-away, his entertainment.

Lincoln used stories to be happy, to avoid sadness, to communicate a lesson, to put somebody at ease. He was always using stories for entertainment and fun for everybody around him.

Lincoln possessed extraordinary empathy which allowed him to understand what they wanted and why.

Abraham Lincoln often said that a leader’s job is to transform, yet heed, public opinion. During the Civil War, he would often come to a decision before anybody else, then begin influencing public opinion in various ways toward his desired outcome, listening to opinions, gathering as much data as he could, and never trying to force the outcome. Invariably, without rushing, and often despite great pressure to move faster, his decision would prove to be exactly what public opinion wanted and needed, at the right time to make the difference. Even when others said he was slow as molasses, he never moved faster than he was comfortable with. Never bowing to pressure, never compromising his values.

He told stories to teach a lesson. His stories were to-the-point and relevant for the situation. He could convey practical wisdom while telling a funny story that people remembered and repeated.

Lincoln was truly “Honest Abe”. He had a natural way that bound men in devotion and admiration, because he always did the right thing for what he believed in, whether it benefitted him or not. When it benefitted other people, they were eternally in his debt - and it’s those kind of people who helped him become the President, years after he conceded defeat to them in smaller contests.

Lincoln won the presidential nomination despite facing 3 men with much better reputations than him. At the end of the day it was because Lincoln was always doing the right thing, lifting people up for the cause (not himself), while other people like Chase betrayed people to play the political game and gain victory. When faced with a choice of 3 prestigious and intelligent and capable people, each of whom had fought and alienated others, they chose Lincoln who was unknown and untested, but had lifted and supported (and entertained) people instead.

Although Lincoln desired success as fiercely as anybody, he never allowed it to get in the way of being a decent moral person. He was openhearted, empathetic, and kind to both his supporters and his rivals, especially with regards to the antislavery cause.

People, especially children, died often and quickly in the 1860’s, even without war as the reason. The parents and friends and family were just as devastated as we would be today, but it happened far often. Abraham and Mary Lincoln lost 3 out of 4 children senselessly, and it broke them.

Lincoln never argued directly with his wife. He would lose himself in thought, find himself busy with something, go to the library (occasionally staying the whole night) until the storm had passed.

“Render yourself worthy” Lincoln was intelligent and ambitious beyond normal limits. His driving motivation was to “render himself worthy” of his fellow man’s esteem, and he would not allow a lesser outcome, even when so severely depressed that he wanted to commit suicide. He started life uneducated in the backwoods. His ambition pulled him up, despite poverty, death, depression, defeat. He read books every moment possible, studied law at night after working all day, memorized stories, ran for office (usually losing), took difficult legal cases. Once he began to form a name, he didn’t stop. Once he became president he didn’t stop. Only death could stop him from trying to render himself worthy.

Lincoln gravitated toward difficult subjects of study: “Life to him was a school and he was always studying and mastering every subject which came before him.” - Leonard Swett, fellow circuit lawyer “he read hard works - was philosophical, logical, mathematical - never read generally” - John Stuart, his first law partner

“What should be done, not what can be done” Fanny Seward was the wife of William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State. She was a positive disruptive force in his life, and by conduit, the history of our country. She constantly pushed him to consider what should be done and not simply what could be done. Via her constant drumbeat of abolition, she helped her husband to feel the same way.

“I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch any thing on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.” - Lincoln would not have claimed to be an intelligent person, but he did acknowledge that his capability for retention was terrific

Lincoln held his tongue on every topic until he knew the subject inside-and-out, and had come to his own righteous conclusion. He was determined to “make up his mind calmly and deliberately, to adhere firmly to his own opinions, and neither to be bullied or cajoled out of them.” He listened to the opinions of many, but took pride in arriving at his own decisions, in his own time and way.

Lincoln was the master at communicating complex topics in simple, entertaining language. He used metaphors and stories to educate. For example, when the topic was about the South desiring the ability to extend slavery into new western states, while the North opposed the expansion but was willing to allow the South to keep slavery where it already existed, the South was willing to secede from the Union on this point, and Lincoln used a simple metaphor which anybody could understand to illustrate the ridiculousness of it: “because I may have refused to build an addition to my house, I thereby have decided to destroy the existing house!”

Lincoln possessed the ability to look past his own ego to the underlying talent, ambition, and morality of a person. Although it wasn’t at all necessary, he appointed a cabinet made up of people who had slighted him, competed against him, resented him. He did this only because he knew that they were the best people for the job and he wasn’t interested in people who would cater to his ego, he was interested in people who could save the Union, so he chose the best he knew of, despite what they “did to him” in the past, despite the fact that they all felt the wrong man had been nominated.

William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was the object of much anger, derision, and abuse. Partially for the political views he held strongly, and partly because it was useless to assail Lincoln for he stood too tall above it. No personality was better suited for the hatred, it rolled off him like rain because he knew his own morals and standards and never acted otherwise. A story often told was the time a Southern senator stood up in congress and delivered an abusive speech calling Seward “an infidel and a traitor”. After the speech, the senator took his seat shaking and red, disturbed by his own intensity, when Seward came over and sympathetically offered him a pinch of snuff. This is akin to Cato telling the man who hit him at the baths that he remembered nothing of the incident.

Lincoln did not harbor grudges. He only ever showed respect and empathy to others. “You have more of that feeling of personal resentment than I. A man has not time to spend half his life in quarrels. If any man ceases to attack me, I never remember the past against him.” - Lincoln “Probably no other man than Lincoln would have had … the degree of magnanimity to thus forgive and exalt a rival who had so deeply and so unjustifiably intrigued against him. It is however only another most marked illustration of the greatness of the President” - Nicolay

Lincoln: “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.” ~~To me this says that it is important to be an influential public figure on the topics that are important to you.~~ This goes deeper than just molding public opinion, it is all opinions that matter - my own family, my own company, my own self.

John Brown was an abolitionist who, among other things, attempted to incite a slave revolt at Harpers Ferry. He was caught and executed for it. After his trial and death sentence, but before it was carried out, his letters are pure Socrates. And like Socrates, he became a martyr for his cause: “I am waiting the hour of my public murder with great composure of mind, & cheerfulness, feeling the strongest assurance that in no other possible way could I be used to so much advance the cause of God; & of humanity.”

Lincoln was an effective and persuasive speaker. His simple funny stories were what everybody noticed but underneath them was crystal clear logic. The stories were simply used to drive home a point that he had meticulously built from nothing using logic.

^^^ still need to do the references for this one 119.070 Communication - Persuasive stories are simple and logical

Like DaVinci returning to his Mona Lisa, Lincoln would use the process of “cumulative thought” to hone his points, arguments, decisions. He would write something down and return to it over time to refine it.

Lincoln would often take the blame on behalf of his cabinet for things that were certainly not his fault. He would apologize for his carelessness, heedlessness - he never threw his cabinet to the wolves. He wrote a letter to Congress on behalf of a friend who was convicted that he and his entire cabinet “were at least equally responsible for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed.”

Don’t rely on a body of others to make decisions for you when you have the opportunity to do it yourself. William H. Seward says “history tells us that kings who call extra parliaments lose their heads.” Which is to say, don’t delay, don’t allow “many men of many minds” to shape decisions.

It was important for Lincoln to build a coalition of many different mindsets and different skillsets. He didn’t want people who thought the same as him, who would tell him he was right, who would demur to his word. He wanted people of of great skill with varied thought.

Eddie used to tell me that a master influencer would allow somebody else to believe that a thing was their own idea. Lincoln chose Stanton for the Department of War position, and convinced 3 important (and not dumb) people that it was their idea instead. This made it easy for the idea to be accepted by them and their followers.


Stanton was a hard driving and passionate person. Upon taking the job for the War Department, he fired many of his predecessor’s men, and hired people like him, full of devotion, passion, and drive.

Lincoln was able to change his mind when fairly convinced that he was wrong. At the start of the war he deferred to General McClellen because he thought the General was the expert, knew what he was doing, and deserved unquestioned trust. He was convinced by Bates that he was, in fact, supposed to “command the commanders” and that he should “assume to be in fact, what he is in law.” Sufficiently motivated, he began to learn the art of war, and began to take a more active role in directing the movements of the war.

The only way is through. What’s in the path becomes the path. While this is a very stoic thought, it was also Lincoln’s. He endured great hardships and defeats and pushed straight through. He wrote a young cadet who was having a hard time “I am older than you, have felt badly myself, and know, what I tell you is true. Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.”

Lincoln’s cabinet was made up of individual superstars who differed in opinions. There was much infighting and disagreement, and Lincoln was not oblivious to this, but he also didn’t acknowledge it, instead gave many small acts of kindness, generosity, and humor for everybody and kept the respect, affection, and (for the most part) loyalty of them all.

“It is faith, and not despondency, that overcomes mountains and scales the heavens.”

Lincoln was guided by his principles. “I cannot do anything contrary to my convictions to please these men, earnest and powerful as they may be.” “I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right: I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.”

Despite surrounding himself with the best and brightest (and most egocentric), Lincoln was the master, guided by his own logic and decisions. It was clear that he was the boss and they were subordinate. “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.” - Charles Dana

Upon knowing his absolute victory, at long last, there wasn’t a trace of pride or smugness or vanity in the President. He seemed as if a great sadness had been released, but he did not gloat, did not punish. In fact, quite the opposite: “With malice toward none; with charity for all”. Amazing.


His success 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.

passionate commitment “to the ideal that all men should receive a full, good, and ever increasing reward for their labors so they might have the opportunity to rise in life.”

To Lincoln’s mind, the fundamental test of a democracy was its capacity to “elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all.” A real democracy would be a meritocracy where those born in the lower ranks could rise as far as their natural talents and discipline might take them.

Lincoln drafted a letter to Mary ending the engagement. He asked Speed to deliver it, but Speed refused, warning that he should talk to her instead, for “once put your words in writing and they Stand as a living & eternal Monument against you.”

he had long held his “ability to keep [his] resolves when they are made . . . as the only, or at least the chief, gem of [his] character.”

He understood, he told Speed later, that in times of anxiety it is critical to “avoid being idle,” that “business and conversation of friends” were necessary to give the mind “rest from that intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea threadbare and turn it to the bitterness of death.”

The problem, he told Speed, was simply an unrealistic expectation of what love was supposed to be like. Speaking of himself as well, Lincoln rhapsodized: “It is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me, to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that any thing earthly can realize.”

Conscious of his superior powers and the extraordinary reach of his mind and sensibilities, Lincoln had feared from his earliest days that these qualities would never find fulfillment or bring him recognition among his fellows. Periodically, when the distance between his lofty ambition and the reality of his circumstances seemed unbridgeable, he was engulfed by tremendous sadness.

Only when he had resolved the problems and issues in his own mind did he display the results of his private meditations.

Most men who have been great students such as he was in their hours of idleness have taken to the bottle, to cards or dice—He had no fondness for any of these—Hence he sought relaxation in anecdotes.”

He laughed, he explained, so he did not weep. He saw laughter as the “joyous, universal evergreen of life.” His stories were intended “to whistle off sadness.”

He possessed extraordinary empathy—the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

While the marriage was tumultuous at times, it provided Lincoln with a protected harbor from which he could come and go as he pleased while he continued his lifelong quest to become an educated person.

“It is my pleasure that my children are free—happy and unrestrained by paternal tyrrany,” Mary recalled his saying. “Love is the chain whereby to lock a child to its parent.”

“How much I regret that your voice is not to be heard,” a disappointed Chase wrote. “We have but a short life to live here my dear friend. But let us make it long by noble deeds. You have great gifts of God, energy, enthusiasm, talent, utterance. And now a great cause demands you.”

When word spread “that he was in the alley there would assemble numbers of people to witness the fun which was anticipated by those who knew of his fund of anecdotes and jokes.” As ever, his quick wit and droll geniality provided a source of “merriment” for everyone around him.

his oft-expressed belief that a leader should endeavor to transform, yet heed, public opinion.

To accept Polk’s position without question, he claimed, was to “allow the President to invade a neighboring nation . . . whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary.”

“If I have one vice,” he later quipped, “and I can call it nothing else,—it is not to be able to say no!” He then smiled and added: “Thank God for not making me a woman, but if He had, I suppose He would have made me just as ugly as He did, and no one would ever have tempted me.”

his manner of speech as well as thought was original . . . his anecdotes were always exceedingly apt and pointed, and socially he always kept his company in a roar of laughter.”

Lincoln’s ability to win the respect of others, to earn their trust and even devotion, would prove essential in his rise to power.

There was something mysterious in his persona that led countless men, even old adversaries, to feel bound to him in admiration.

Mary’s father died during a cholera epidemic. He was only fifty-eight at the time, still vigorous and actively involved in politics; in fact, he was running for a seat in the Kentucky Senate when he succumbed to the epidemic.

Instead of engaging Mary directly, he would lose himself in thought, quietly leave the room, or take the children for a walk. If the discord continued, he would head to the state library or his office, where he would occasionally remain through the night until the emotional storm had ceased.

Though a tranquil domestic union might have made Lincoln a happier man, the supposition that he would have been a contented homebody, like Edward Bates, belies everything we know of Lincoln’s fierce ambition and extraordinary drive—an ambition that drove him to devour books in every spare moment, memorize his father’s stories in order to captivate his friends, study law late into the night after a full day’s work, and run for office at the age of twenty-three. Indeed, long before his political career even took shape, he had been determined to win the veneration of his fellow men by “rendering [himself] worthy” of their esteem.

Chase failed to appreciate that with each party shift, he betrayed old associates and made lifelong enemies.

“It is a great mistake,” warned John Calhoun in 1850, “to suppose that disunion can be effected by a single blow. The cords which bind these States together in one common Union are far too numerous and powerful for that. Disunion must be the work of time. It is only through a long process . . . that the cords can be snapped until the whole fabric falls asunder. Already the agitation of the slavery question has snapped some of the most important.” If these common cords continue to rupture, he predicted, “nothing will be left to hold the States together except force.”

Possibly, but all we can know for certain is that they felt what they felt, believed as they believed, and did as they would do. And so they moved the country inexorably toward Civil War.

Though Lincoln did not drink, smoke tobacco, use profane language, or engage in games of chance, he never condescended to those who did.

But Lincoln’s stories provided more than mere amusement. Drawn from his own experiences and the curiosities reported by others, they frequently provided maxims or proverbs that usefully connected to the lives of his listeners. Lincoln possessed an extraordinary ability to convey practical wisdom in the form of humorous tales his listeners could remember and repeat.

His first law partner, John Stuart, recalled that “he read hard works—was philosophical—logical—mathematical—never read generally.”

“Life was to him a school,” fellow circuit rider Leonard Swett observed, “and he was always studying and mastering every subject which came before him.”

She encouraged his idealism, pressing him repeatedly to consider what should be done rather than what could be done.

He would express no opinion on anything, Herndon observed, until he knew his subject “inside and outside, upside and downside.” Lincoln told Joshua Speed, “I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch any thing on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.”

“Then the inspiration that possessed him took possession of his hearers also. His speaking went to the heart because it came from the heart. I have heard celebrated orators who could start thunders of applause without changing any man’s opinion. Mr. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself.”

“because I may have refused to build an addition to my house, I thereby have decided to destroy the existing house!” Such flashes of figurative language were always available to Lincoln to drive home a point, gracefully educating while entertaining—in a word, communicating an enormously complicated issue with wit, simplicity, and a massive power of moral persuasion.

“No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism.”

Unimaginable as it might seem, after Stanton’s bearish behavior, at their next encounter six years later, Lincoln would offer Stanton “the most powerful civilian post within his gift”—the post of secretary of war. Lincoln’s choice of Stanton would reveal, as would his subsequent dealings with Trumbull and Judd, a singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation, or bitterness. As for Stanton, despite his initial contempt for the “long armed Ape,” he would not only accept the offer but come to respect and love Lincoln more than any person outside of his immediate family.

Although she undoubtedly fortified his will at difficult moments, however, Lincoln’s quest for public recognition and influence was so consuming, it is unlikely he would have abandoned his dreams, whatever the circumstances.

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.”

“Davis and I were greatly excited,” Whitney recalled. Lincoln did not take it seriously at first, remarking only that “there’s another great man in Massachusetts named Lincoln, and I reckon it’s him.”

“Those who assailed him with a view to personal controversy were disturbed by continual failures to provoke his anger,” a contemporary recalled. The story was told and retold of a Southern senator who delivered an abusive speech against Seward, labeling him “an infidel and a traitor.” When the senator resumed his seat, “heated and shaken with the fierce frenzy” of his own ire, Seward walked over to his chair and “sympathetically offered him a pinch of snuff.”

“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.”

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.

NOT HINDERED by the hubris, delusions, and inconsistencies that plagued his three chief rivals, Abraham Lincoln gained steady ground through a combination of hard work, skill, and luck.

Brown was tried and sentenced to death. “I am waiting the hour of my public murder with great composure of mind, & cheerfulness,” Brown wrote his family, “feeling the strongest assurance that in no other possible way could I be used to so much advance the cause of God; & of humanity.” In the month between the sentence and his hanging, the dignity and courage of his conduct and the eloquence of his statements and letters made John Brown a martyr/hero to many in the antislavery North. His death, when it came, was mourned

This homely vision of the territories as beds for American children exemplified what James Russell Lowell described as Lincoln’s ability to speak “as if the people were listening to their own thinking out loud.”

He is an effective speaker, because he is earnest, strong, honest, simple in style, and clear as crystal in his logic.”

Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his rivals, he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and openheartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.

As the committee members left, Mr. Kelley of Pennsylvania remarked to Schurz: “Well, we might have done a more brilliant thing, but we could hardly have done a better thing.”

As for Lincoln, “he has all the marks of a mind that scans closely, canvasses thoroughly, concludes deliberately, and holds to such conclusions unflinchingly.”

While several months would pass before the cabinet was assembled, subjecting Lincoln to intense pressures from all sides, he resolved that day to surround himself with the strongest men from every faction of the new Republican Party—former Whigs, Free-Soilers, and antislavery Democrats.

What most impressed Villard was Lincoln’s remarkable ability to tell a humorous story or deliver an appropriate anecdote “to explain a meaning or enforce a point, the aptness of which was always perfect.”

Everyone Lincoln dealt with, Villard concluded, agreed that “he is the very embodiment of good temper and affability. They will all concede that he has a kind word, an encouraging smile, a humorous remark for nearly everyone that seeks his presence, and that but few, if any, emerge from his reception room without being strongly and favorably impressed with his general disposition.”

“You seem to forget,” Lincoln replied, “that I expect to be there; and counting me as one, you see how nicely the cabinet would be balanced and ballasted.”

“his mind is at once philosophical and practical. He sees all who go there, hears all they have to say, talks freely with everybody, reads whatever is written to him; but thinks and acts by himself and for himself.”

Besieged with requests to say something conciliatory, Lincoln refused to take “a position towards the South which might be considered a sort of an apology for his election.” He was determined to stand behind the Republican platform, believing that any attempt to soften his position would dishearten his supporters in the North without producing any beneficial impact on the South.

“The President is determined that he will have a compound Cabinet; and that it shall be peaceful, and even permanent.

Lincoln’s “first decision was one of great courage and self-reliance.” Each of his rivals was “sure to feel that the wrong man had been nominated.” A less confident man might have surrounded himself with personal supporters who would never question his authority.

While it was possible that his team of rivals would devour one another, Lincoln determined that “he must risk the dangers of faction to overcome the dangers of rebellion.”

Lincoln’s answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”

According to Nicolay, “Lincoln often resorted to the process of cumulative thought.” He would reduce complex ideas to paragraphs and sentences, and then days or weeks later return to the same passage and polish it further “to elaborate or to conclude his point or argument.”

Blair Senior had long believed that Lincoln should have announced the reinforcement of Sumter at the time of his inauguration and he blamed Seward for Lincoln’s “timid temporizing policy.” It was Andrew Jackson’s motto, he reminded, that “if you temporize, you are lost.”

To the astonishment of Welles, Lincoln “took upon himself the whole blame—said it was carelessness, heedlessness on his part—he ought to have been more careful and attentive.” In fact, Welles continued, Lincoln “often declared that he, and not his Cabinet, was in fault for errors imputed to them.”

While the executive branch needed Congress to raise armies and authorize spending, Lincoln was advised that “to wait for ‘many men of many minds’ to shape a war policy would be to invite disaster.” Seward was particularly adamant on this point, believing that “history tells us that kings who call extra parliaments lose their heads.”

His revisions of the dispatch, however, exhibit the sophisticated prowess of a veteran statesman: he had analyzed a complex situation and sought the least provocative way to neutralize a potential enemy while making crystal-clear his country’s position.

“I will accept the commission,” Butler gratefully told Lincoln, but “there is one thing I must say to you, as we don’t know each other: That as a Democrat I opposed your election, and did all I could for your opponent; but I shall do no political act, and loyally support your administration as long as I hold your commission; and when I find any act that I cannot support I shall bring the commission back at once, and return it to you.” Lincoln replied, “That is frank, that is fair. But I want to add one thing: When you see me doing anything that for the good of the country ought not to be done, come and tell me so, and why you think so, and then perhaps you won’t have any chance to resign your commission.” Had Butler known Lincoln, he would have been less astonished. The president commissioned officers with the same eye toward coalition building that he displayed in constructing his cabinet.

recounting what he considered an inexcusable “insolence of epaulettes,” the first indicator “of the threatened supremacy of the military authorities.” To Hay’s surprise, Lincoln “seemed not to have noticed it specially, saying it was better at this time not to be making points of etiquette & personal dignity.” He would hold McClellan’s horse, he once said, if a victory could be achieved.

Frustrated by repeated calls from every general for reinforcements, he told Seward he would refuse Sherman’s request and would telegraph him to say he didn’t have “much hope of his expedition anyway.” Now it was Seward’s turn to moderate the president’s reply, much as Lincoln had softened Seward’s language in the famous May 21 dispatch. “No,” Seward replied, “you wont say discouraging things to a man going off with his life in his hand.” Lincoln rejected Sherman’s request for more troops but expressed no pessimism about the mission.

Had Lincoln acted earlier, people might have concluded that Frémont was sacrificed to the Blairs or, worse still, cashiered because of his proclamation emancipating the slaves. By leaking the facts in the report, Lincoln had adroitly prepared public opinion to support his decision.

“Presidents and Kings are not apt to see flaws in their own arguments,” he wrote, “but fortunately for the Union, it had a President, at this critical juncture, who combined a logical intellect with an unselfish heart.”

Republican newspapers began to call for his resignation, lest the entire administration become tainted by the scandal. “It is better to lose a mortified finger of the right hand at once,” the New York Times declared, “than to cherish it till the arm is full of disease, and the whole system threatened with dissolution.”

reflecting upon the vicissitudes of his own experience, Lincoln added: “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.”

the Tribune observed, the address of the Confederate chief was “boastful, defiant, and savage,” whereas Lincoln “breathes not an unkind impulse” and “deals in no railing accusations.”

“He puts his whole soul into any cause he espouses,” one observer noted. “If you ever saw Stanton before a jury,” you would see that “he toils for his client with as much industry as if his case was his own . . . as if his own life depended upon the issue.” Energy and force were desperately needed to galvanize the War Department, and Stanton had both in abundance.

Cameron expressed his fervent opinion that his fellow Pennsylvanian Stanton was the best man for the job. In fact, Lincoln had already made his decision, but Cameron left believing he was responsible for Stanton’s selection. In the end, each of the three men—Seward, Chase, and Cameron—assumed he was instrumental in Lincoln’s appointment of the new secretary of war.

Cameron was devastated, knowing that he would never recover from the scandal. Lincoln, however, made a great personal effort to assuage his pain and humiliation. He wrote a long public letter to Congress, explaining that the unfortunate contracts were spawned by the emergency situation facing the government in the immediate aftermath of Fort Sumter. Lincoln declared that he and his entire cabinet “were at least equally responsible with [Cameron] for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed.” Cameron would never forget this generous act. Filled with gratitude and admiration, he would become, Nicolay and Hay observed, “one of the most intimate and devoted of Lincoln’s personal friends.” He appreciated the courage it took for Lincoln to share the blame at a time when everyone else had deserted him. Most other men in Lincoln’s situation, Cameron wrote, “would have permitted an innocent man to suffer rather than incur responsibility.”

Stanton announced that the War Department would be closed to all business unrelated to military matters from Tuesdays through Fridays. Congressmen and senators would be received on Saturdays; the general public on Mondays.

Stanton quickly removed many of Cameron’s people and surrounded himself with men much like himself, full of passion, devotion, and drive. He made it clear from the beginning that he would not tolerate unmerited requests for even the smallest job.

Stanton kept his meetings brief and pointed. He was “fluent without wordiness,” George Templeton Strong wrote, “and above all, earnest, warm-hearted, and large-hearted.” His tireless work style invigorated his colleagues.

Maintaining vivid consciousness of his dead child was essential for a man who believed that the dead live on only in the minds of the living.

More astonishing, according to Julian, “Lincoln himself did not think he had any right to know, but that, as he was not a military man, it was his duty to defer to General McClellan.” Bates strenuously objected to Lincoln’s deferential stance, urging him repeatedly to “organize a Staff of his own, and assume to be in fact, what he is in law,” the commander in chief, with a duty to “command the commanders.” This opinion, voiced by the conservative, trustworthy Bates, struck Lincoln forcefully.

Finally, Lincoln lost his vaunted patience. On January 27, 1862, he issued his famous General War Order No. 1, setting February 22 as “the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces.”

While acknowledging that the general was a great “engineer,” Lincoln noted drolly that “he seems to have a special talent for developing a ‘stationary’ engine.” The more he studied the general, he confided to Browning, the more he realized that when “the hour for action approached he became nervous and oppressed with the responsibility and hesitated to meet the crisis.” For this reason, Lincoln had “given him peremptory orders to move.”

“It is indispensable to you that you strike a blow,” Lincoln advised his commander on April 9. “The country will not fail to note—is now noting—that the present hesitation to move upon an intrenched enemy, is but the story of Manassas repeated. I beg to assure you that I have never written you, or spoken to you, in greater kindness of feeling than now. . . . But you must act.”

General Viele marveled how Lincoln was always the center of the circle gathered on the quarterdeck, keeping everyone engrossed for hours as he recited passages from Shakespeare, “page after page of Browning and whole cantos of Byron.” Talking much of the day, he interspersed stories and anecdotes from his “inexhaustible stock.” Many, as usual, were directly applicable to a point made in conversation, but some were simply jokes that set Lincoln laughing louder than all the combined listeners.

Lincoln had found time to write a letter to a young cadet at West Point, the son of Mary’s cousin Ann Todd Campbell. The boy was miserable at the academy and his mother was worried. “Allow me to assure you it is a perfect certainty that you will, very soon, feel better—quite happy—if you only stick to the resolution you have taken to procure a military education. I am older than you, have felt badly myself, and know, what I tell you is true. Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.” The boy stayed at West Point, graduating in 1866.

Lincoln was determined, as Browning advised, to “make up his mind calmly [and] deliberately,” to “adhere firmly to his own opinions, and neither to be bullied or cajoled out of them.”

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.”

Seward was steadfast in his loyalty to him. He demurred only on the issue of timing. “Mr. President,” he said, “I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent upon our repeated reverses, is so great that I fear . . . it may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help . . . our last shriek, on the retreat.” Better to wait, he grandiloquently suggested, “until the eagle of victory takes his flight,” and buoyed by military success, “hang your proclamation about his neck.”

Having resolved to present it for publication upon the first military success, he set out to educate public opinion, to prepare the ground for its acceptance. Lincoln had long believed, as we have seen, that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”

Bates complained, “so poorly commanded.” To his mind, McClellan had “but one of the three Roman requisites for a general, he is young. I fear not brave, and surely not fortunate.”

While he might be “environed with difficulties” as president, these were “scarcely so great as the difficulties of those who, upon the battle field, are endeavoring to purchase with their blood and their lives the future happiness and prosperity of this country. Let us never forget them.”

His brief period of relaxation interrupted, Lincoln listened to the colonel’s tale but offered no help. “Am I to have no rest? Is there no hour or spot when or where I may escape this constant call? Why do you follow me out here with such business as this?” The disheartened colonel returned to his hotel in Washington. The following morning, Lincoln appeared at his door. “I was a brute last night,” Lincoln said, offering to help the colonel in any way possible.

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.

Pointing out that “long experience has shown that armies can not be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death,” Lincoln posed a question that was soon echoed by supporters everywhere: “Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wiley agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend, into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy, that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptable government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert.”

Bates, also discontented, agreed. “There is now no mutual confidence among the members of the Govt.—and really no such thing as a C.[abinet] C.[ouncil],” he grumbled. “The more ambitious members, who seek to control—Seward—Chase—Stanton—never start their projects in C. C. but try first to commit the Prest., and then, if possible, secure the apparent consent of the members.”

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.

So, in the end, the feuding cabinet members, with the exception of Chase, remained loyal to their president, who met rivalry and irritability with kindness and defused their tensions with humor.

Rather than fearing that he had overused his pardoning power, Lincoln feared he had made too little use of it. He could not bear the sound of gunshot on the days when deserters were executed. Only “where meanness or cruelty were shown” did he exhibit no clemency.

The following day, he returned a check for $4,200 that he had received from Cooke as profit on the sale of a stock that he had not paid for. “In order to be able to render most efficient service to our country it is essential for me to be right as well as seem right & to seem right as well as be right.”

the Confederates regrouped and “unexpectedly appeared in force, on the south bank of [the] Chicamauga.” A furious battle commenced on Saturday, September 19. Within thirty-six hours, the telegrams from the field indicated a stunning Confederate victory. “Chicamauga is as fatal a name in our history as Bull Run,” Dana wired Stanton. Union casualties totaled sixteen thousand men. “We have met with a serious disaster,” Rosecrans acknowledged. “Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our center and scattered troops there.”

John Giggy was wounded in the hip at this battle.

“The country does not know how much it owes Edwin M. Stanton for that nights work.” It was this indomitable drive that Lincoln had sought when he put aside any resentment at the humiliation Stanton had inflicted years earlier in Cincinnati. The bluntness and single-minded intensity behind Stanton’s brusque dismissal of Lincoln at that first acquaintance were the qualities the president valued in his secretary of war—whom

The antithetical styles are typified in the story of a congressman who had received Lincoln’s authorization for the War Department’s aid in a project. When Stanton refused to honor the order, the disappointed petitioner returned to Lincoln, telling him that Stanton had not only countermanded the order but had called the president a damned fool for issuing it. “Did Stanton say I was a d——d fool?” Lincoln asked. “He did, sir,” the congressman replied, “and repeated it.” Smiling, the president remarked: “If Stanton said I was a d——d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.”

Lincoln assured Hay that if the radicals could “show that Schofield has done anything wrong & has interfered to their disadvantage with State politics,” he would consider their case. But if Schofield had “incurred their ill will by refusing to take sides with them,” then it would be an entirely different matter. Indeed: “I cannot do anything contrary to my convictions to please these men, earnest and powerful as they may be.”

While his optimism might provoke criticism in some quarters, he explained, “as in religion, so in politics, it is faith, and not despondency, that overcomes mountains and scales the heavens.”

Although the president listened to the opinions of many, he took pride in arriving at his own decisions in his own way.

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 explained that while “procrastination on the part of commanders” had led him in the past to issue military orders from the White House, “all he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the responsibility and act,” leaving to him the task of mobilizing “all the power of the government” to provide whatever assistance was needed.

Introduced to the members of Grant’s staff, the president “had for each one a cordial greeting and a pleasant word. There was a kindliness in his tone and a hearty manner of expression which went far to captivate all who met him.”

The young aide-de-camp observed what so many others had seen before, that Lincoln “did not tell a story merely for the sake of the anecdote, but to point a moral or clench a fact.”

It was both the most rewarding and “the most miserable” day of his life, for he still feared that the duties of the post would be his death. “Very well,” the always blunt Stanton told him, “you cannot die better than in trying to save your country.”

Lincoln understood that he would be politically damaged if the radicals “choose to make a point upon this.” Nevertheless, he told John Hay, “I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right: I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.”

When friends offered to raise funds for him to rebuild, he graciously declined their help. “The loss is a very great one to me it is true,” but it did not compare “to the losses suffered by the unknown millions in this great struggle for the life of the nation. Could I consent to have my house rebuilt by friends, whilst my neighbor a poor old blacksmith is unrelieved[?]”

Mills, who had been initially skeptical of Lincoln, was overwhelmed by “his transparent honesty” and the depth of his convictions. “As I heard a vindication of his policy from his own lips, I could not but feel that his mind grew in stature like his body, & that I stood in the presence of the great guiding intellect of the age.” His confidence in the justice of the Union cause “could not but inspire me with confidence.” The visitors stood to leave, but Lincoln entreated them to stay so that he might entertain them with a mix of stories, jokes, and “reminiscences of the past.”

After the Vermont election, Nicolay wrote a cheery letter to Therena: “Three weeks ago, our friends everywhere were despondent, almost to the point of giving up the contest in despair. Now they are hopeful, jubilant, hard at work and confident of success.”

He assured Lincoln that to heal the party, Monty “would very willingly be a martyr to the Radical phrenzy or jealousy, that would feed on the Blairs, if that would help.” At the time, Lincoln had declined to take action, saying that “he did not think it good policy to sacrifice a true friend to a false one or an avowed enemy.”

Fox was thrilled to hear that Winter Davis had been defeated in Maryland. “You have more of that feeling of personal resentment than I,” Lincoln said. “A man has not time to spend half his life in quarrels. If any man ceases to attack me, I never remember the past against him.”

The two congressmen walked back to the White House, assuming the president would override his secretary, but Lincoln refused: “Gentlemen, it is my duty to submit. I cannot add to Mr. Stanton’s troubles. His position is one of the most difficult in the world. Thousands in the army blame him because they are not promoted and other thousands out of the army blame him because they are not appointed. The pressure upon him is immeasurable and unending. He is the rock on the beach of our national ocean against which the breakers dash and roar, dash and roar without ceasing. He fights back the angry waters and prevents them from undermining and overwhelming the land. Gentlemen, I do not see how he survives, why he is not crushed and torn to pieces. Without him I should be destroyed. He performs his task superhumanly. Now do not mind this matter, for Mr. Stanton is right and I cannot wrongly interfere with him.”

“The character of the President’s mind is such,” Bates remarked, “that his thought habitually takes on this form of illustration, by which the point he wishes to enforce is invariably brought home with a strength and clearness impossible in hours of abstract argument.

After what he has said against your administration, which has undoubtedly been reported to you, it was hardly to be expected that you would bestow the most important office within your gift on such a man.” “To have done otherwise I should have been recreant to my convictions of duty to the Republican party and to the country,” Lincoln answered.

“Probably no other man than Lincoln,” Nicolay wrote to Therena, “would have had, in this age of the world, the degree of magnanimity to thus forgive and exalt a rival who had so deeply and so unjustifiably intrigued against him. It is however only another most marked illustration of the greatness of the President.”

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.”

“To remove a man is very easy,” he commented to another visitor, “but when I go to fill his place, there are twenty applicants, and of these I must make nineteen enemies.”

To discuss the meals and amenities Lincoln might require, Fox brought Barnes to the White House. Lincoln told Barnes “he wanted no luxuries but only plain, simple food and ordinary comfort—that what was good for me would be good enough for him.”

“Here we were in a solitary boat,” Admiral Porter remembered, “after having set out with a number of vessels flying flags at every mast-head, hoping to enter the conquered capital in a manner befitting the rank of the President of the United States.” Lincoln was not disturbed in the slightest. The situation reminded him, he cheerfully noted, of a man who had approached him seeking a high position as a consulate minister: “Finding he could not get that, he came down to some more modest position. Finally he asked to be made a tide-waiter. When he saw he could not get that, he asked me for an old pair of trousers. But it is well to be humble.”

“He was, in fact, transfigured. That indescribable sadness which had previously seemed to be an adamantine element of his very being had been suddenly changed for an equally indescribable expression of serene joy, as if conscious that the great purpose of his life had been attained.” Nonetheless, the marquis marveled, “it was impossible to detect in him the slightest feeling of pride, much less of vanity.”

Lincoln’s bodyguard, William Crook, believed he understood something of the shifting moods that mystified the French aristocrat. He had observed that Lincoln seemed to absorb the horrors of the war into himself. In the course of the two-week trip, Crook had witnessed Lincoln’s “agony when the thunder of the cannon told him that men were being cut down like grass.” He had seen the anguish on the president’s face when he came within “sight of the poor, torn bodies of the dead and dying on the field of Petersburg.” He discerned his “painful sympathy with the forlorn rebel prisoners,” and his profound distress at “the revelation of the devastation of a noble people in ruined Richmond.” In each instance, Lincoln had internalized the pain of those around him—the wounded soldiers, the captured prisoners, the defeated Southerners. Little wonder that he was overwhelmed at times by a profound sadness that even his own resilient temperament could not dispel.

Nonetheless, Welles said, “as we had all taken a different view he had perhaps made a mistake, and was ready to correct it if he had.”

Later in the afternoon, she and Ellen Stanton joined their husbands at the War Department. There, Julia recalled, “Stanton was in his happiest mood, showing me many stands of arms, flags, and, among other things, a stump of a large tree perforated on all sides by bullets, taken from the field of Shiloh.”

John Giggy was wounded, for the second time in this war, at the battle of Shiloh.

“None need expect he would take any part in hanging or killing those men, even the worst of them.” While their continued presence on American soil might prove troublesome, he preferred to “frighten them out of the country, open the gates, let down the bars, scare them off.” To illustrate his point, he shook “his hands as if scaring sheep,” and said, “Enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union.”

Throughout the discussion, Stanton recalled, Lincoln “spoke very kindly of General Lee and others of the Confederacy,” exhibiting “in marked degree the kindness and humanity of his disposition, and the tender and forgiving spirit that so eminently distinguished him.”

EVERY MAN IS SAID to have his peculiar ambition,” the twenty-three-year-old Abraham Lincoln had written in his open letter to the people of Sangamon County during his first bid for public office in the Illinois state legislature. “Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other [ambition] so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.”

The ambition to establish a reputation worthy of the esteem of his fellows so that his story could be told after his death had carried Lincoln through his bleak childhood, his laborious efforts to educate himself, his string of political failures, and a depression so profound that he declared himself more than willing to die, except that “he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.”

With his death, Abraham Lincoln had come to seem the embodiment of his own words—“With malice toward none; with charity for all”—voiced in his second inaugural to lay out the visionary pathway to a reconstructed union.