MORE books about Abraham Lincoln line the shelves of libraries than about any other American. Can there be anything new to say about our 16th president? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Having previously offered fresh insights into Lyndon Johnson the Kennedys and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Doris Kearns Goodwin has written an elegant, incisive study of Lincoln and leading members of his cabinet that will appeal to experts as well as to those whose knowledge of Lincoln is an amalgam of high school history and popular mythology.
"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.