Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Team of Rivals

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.

42 comments:

  1. Plan to start this thread in about three weeks time but don't be afraid to post initial thoughts.

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  2. You can click on the heading for the James McPherson review of the book from the New York Times.

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  3. Beautiful site, Gintaras. Thanks!

    I'll get started reading since it's a huge book and I will have other things on my plate.

    I'll see if RMDIG is interested in also joining us, since he was the one who initially raved about the book at the Times. And Bo might get Parsons interested too....

    Thanks again.

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  4. The photos linked as part of the review are on the back of the dust jacket. How would you like to get up in the morning and meet with them everyday?

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  5. Thanks, av, but I must confess this is the template that Google provided. Yea, the Lincoln administration was definitely not one of the more photogenic administrations.

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  6. I notified RMD, so he may join us at some point. He has already read the book so he's ahead of us.

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  7. Hi Av and Gintaras. I read the book a few years ago and have it handy to look things up. Thanks for the invite, Gintaras. I was glad to see Robert's comment and that he will be joining us.

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  8. Marti, thrilled to see you here. Should be a great discussion! I'm reading as fast as I can to catch up with the rest of you.

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  9. Also, thanks Gintaras for the "this day in history" link. Great idea!

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  10. Lots of fun links you can add to the blog.

    Welcome aboard, Marti.

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  11. Until we get to the actual discussion of the book, I'm very interested in the way Goodwin introduces the intimate relationships formed by men in that period. She says our interest in them says more about us than them, but it does seem pertinent to understanding the times (theirs and ours too I suppose).

    At one point she says something to the effect, referencing Anthony Rotundo, that these relationships provided the emotional bonds of the period between boyhood and manhood as young men left stable families and communities for new, more fluid social conditions.

    In the case of most of the men she's introducing, it may have also helped recreate a family-like relationship since so many of these men were on their own at a relatively young age.

    I'm curious about these relationships because they do seem to represent more than just the convenience of sharing beds -- they seem to be filling a much deeper emotional need in some way (and the language does suggest some sort of intimacy that goes beyond mere convenience). Clarence King had a similar kind of relationship in his early life, leading one biographer to believe he was homosexual, which doesn't seem to be the case with any of these men.

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  12. Here's part of what Rotundo says in his book on American Manhood:

    "... many young men thought of their intimate friendships as the functional equivalent of marriage, and they expected that wedlock would threaten those male bonds. Their fears proved accurate: of all the intimate friendships described here, not a single one maintained its former intensity after marriage. Some of them did not survive at all.

    A dramatic instance of such a transformation occurred in Abraham Lincoln's friendship with Joshua Speed. The two were ardently close friends as well as bedmates for more than three years. Lincoln and Speed -- who both turned thirty during their time together -- were living through a period of tentative beginnings in courtship and career. They became so close that when Speed shut down his store and moved away, Lincoln was plunged into the worst depression of his life. As he followed the subsequent triumph of his friend's courtship, though, Lincoln emerged slowly from his depression. Then, once Speed was married, their relationship suddenly lost its significance for Lincoln. His letters to Speed grew distant in tone, and soon they were corresponding only on business matters. There was little anger or bitterness at the demise of the friendship, and once or twice in later years the two men reminisced warmly. Without doubt, however, their intimacy had come to a sharp and sudden halt when Joshua Speed married..... "

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  13. For those of you who know the Lincoln literature, Rotundo draws on Strozier's _Lincoln's Quest_ for that.

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  14. Miller gets into Lincoln's strategy in picking his cabinet at the end of Lincoln's Virtues, noting that he drew from across the board to defuse tensions following the Republican convention in Chicago. Many thought Seward wouldn't accept the SoS nomination but Lincoln managed to convince him to do so.

    Seems like history repeated itself in the way Obama adopted a similar strategy in selecting his cabinet and gave Hillary the plum cabinet position.

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  15. At the time it was reported that he was either reading or had recently read Team of Rivals. At least we have a president willing to learn from history rather than disregard it.

    Gintaras, is there anyway we can keep our current book discussion at the top? I fear we are slipping from view, even though I know people are probably waiting for June 1.

    (If Lincoln's sexuality can't even provoke a side conversation I'm not sure I have anything else to try....!)

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  16. I'm waiting to go to the library for AMERICAN MANHOOD---I have Strozier at home (I'm at work now) The proposition (in American Manhood) is what I've followed for years, but never knew it was in print. I'll pick the book up ASAP.

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  17. I can keep the Team of Rivals post on the main page by adding more posts per page, but it doesn't seem like I can reverse the order of posts. I will start a new post for the book discussion when the time comes so that it will be at the top of the page.

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  18. Don't be afraid to make your own posts on other books on Lincoln and different subjects for the time being.

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  19. Robert: I can't remember the name of the "Ted Head" who interacted with us once about her book on Roosevelt, but as I recall it is her husband who wrote the book. She mentioned it in one of our discussions and I picked it up then.

    It's an interesting survey of manhood over time. The discussion about the 19th century is particularly interesting which is the chapter I quoted the above from.

    I was particularly interested in the fact that Goodwin raised the question at least twice in the opening, not only in relation to Lincoln but one of the rivals as well (don't have the book handy and can't remember the person -- Seward maybe?)

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  20. Thanks, Gintaras.

    I've been looking at some of my other Lincoln books -- I've recently just read four -- but it's hard to find a subject that might be general enough to keep people interested in lieu of a specific book discussion.

    Alas, we've already fought and re-fought the origins of the Civil War.

    Hopefully Robert can find the Manhood book in the library. It's full of great ideas to discuss.

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  21. David Herbert Donald has died. The obit is on the Books page of the NYTimes.

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  22. Thanks, Chartres. I had totally missed that.

    Fredrickson, in the little book on Lincoln I recently read (BIG ENOUGH TO BE INCONSISTENT) calls Donald and Cardwardine's biographies the two most notable recent biographies that manage to avoid "judging him from the standpoint of contemporary liberal or conservative ideologies" (this was published in 2008 so it was probably written before Burlingame's massive work).

    He writes that "the balance and relative objectivity that characterize these works have been rare in the scholarship about a president who has become a national icon."

    [Fredrickson provides an interesting historiographical overview of Lincoln studies/biographies, showing how, generally, we get the Lincoln we want and/or need.]

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  23. Haven't been here for a while, but just saw the David Herbert Donald obit in the NYT. Gintaras, love how the main page has expanded with commentary about other books. Thanks Av for your contributions to that. I will create new bookmark, since I've changed over to Mozilla Firefox from IE7.

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  24. Marti, hope you'll stop in regularly, let us know what you're reading, and comment often about Lincoln. People will quickly tire of my mindless chatter in an attempt to keep this going. I think we can easily keep one or more discussions going on the side.

    I alerted Strether too -- hopefully she'll join us and divert us once in awhile to Henry James et al.

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  25. Excuse the late arrival here, I was looking in on the other thread on the same subject (why are there two, BTW?), but will bookmark this one for the ToR discussion.

    Is there a way of showing the most recent posts at the top? Please excuse if there's some simple click/trick I'm missing.

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  26. I haven't figured out a way to do that NYT. It is a bit annoying. I will start a new thread for the discussion.

    My copy got returned to sender, so I am waiting on another copy to arrive.

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  27. Yikes, don't start a new thread 'cause of what I said. I'll just go straight to the end each time then back up to what I read before. Really, I'm sorry I mentioned it, but I thought maybe everyone else knew some trick I don't, am reassured to know that's not the case.

    Once I got the book I found out why the series of CDs I was listening was so unsatisfactory--it's an abridgement. Only 8 CDs--the full book version is 34 CDs!

    Am settling in for my main summer read. I think after 3+ decades away from the South, I'm safely over my allergy to Civil War (I won't say War of Northern Aggression) subjects, though my eyes may glaze over during descriptions of battles, strategy, etc.

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  28. I was planning to anyway, NYT, so that the thread would be at the top of the forum.

    If it takes 34 CDs to do Team of Rivals, I wonder how many CDs it would take to do War and Peace.

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  29. avrds: Re " I'm very interested in the way Goodwin introduces the intimate relationships formed by men in that period. She says our interest in them says more about us than them, but it does seem pertinent to understanding the times"

    As I posted in another thread here, I'm so staggered by the number/rate of female deaths in the early sections of ToR that it doesn't surprise me at all that men turned to each other for intimate relationships. I wish there were some way to compare the death rates for males vs. females. I suppose the only way to account for population growth was the multiplicity of progeny of the likes of Julia Coalter Bates -- ye Gods!

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  30. My great-great-grandmother, Susan Malone, was one of the twenty children in her family living on a farm in Kentucky back in the 1840s. I don't know how many wives it took for Mr. Malone to produce such a vast number of progeny.

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  31. The test was to see if I can post comments from another account -- didn't like being a shadow follower. Now, if it had been a fellow traveler...

    Having suffered along with too many, there's no turning back from ToR now. BTW, the start of that sentence is in the form of a quirky usage of Goodwin's. That and the "leave no word unmodified" feature of her writing are very small nits to pick indeed. The work itself is monumental.

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  32. New York, I have had the book since it came out but was put off by its size. You have to be committed to get into this one, but I'm so glad Gintaras suggested it. It is so good, and helps put so many of the other books I've read into a better perspective.

    I've got Lincoln and Mary moved into the White House, through the riots and attack in Baltimore, and the rout at Bull Run (I had no idea there were picnickers on the hill fleeing with the troops back to DC).

    And I love that the young John Hay is there taking notes already.

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  33. I finished the book the other day and found it as stimulating the second time around as it was on the first reading. Is June 1 still the start date?

    ARDS: I read both Donald and Cardwardine and still prefer Donald, although Cardwardine is excellent. I think Donald is the single best one volume study of Lincoln. I am yet to read the new volume of White.I'll have to get the Frederickson book. I'll look for it tomorrow. I'm "Lincolned out" having read three or four already this year, along with the new book, MRS. DRED SCOTT, which is alright, but covers more than Mrs Scott and is one of those books which I consider mis-titled (Like Wills's THE NEGRO PRESIDENT--which is more about Timothy Pickering than TJ or the election of 1800)

    Anyhow....for diversion from the "heavy stuff" I reading FINDING OZ, a biography of L Frank Baum. It has a Map of the Land of OZ. I haven't seen one of those in 50 years. I read inane little books between tomes.

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  34. Robert, you are fast! I thought I was also Lincolned out until I got into this book. Seems like she wanted to write a biography of Lincoln but realized she was entering a crowded field so really added a new dimension be introducing all these other characters. And it helps to see Lincoln and his beliefs compared with men like Chase and Seward.

    It was slow going for me to begin with, but I'm now more than 400 pages in so can start anytime. But I don't think Gintaras has received his book yet.

    I think you will like the Fredrickson book. You can probably read it in one sitting -- it's one of those undersized books. Be interested in your thoughts.

    Maybe if Gintaras isn't ready to go, you could initiate a Lincolnesque or Civil War discussion to get us started?

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  35. "Maybe if Gintaras isn't ready to go, you could initiate a Lincolnesque or Civil War discussion to get us started?"

    Lets see what Gintaras wants to do--maybe just a later starting date. Maybe just some background might help--ala the Frederickson historigraphic view.

    I remember reading another such backgrounder going over the history of the various biographies and where they fit in the scheme of things. I re-organized my collection to put all the biographies in chronological order, from Raymond through Donald. Certainly the Goodwin bio would come next, but followed by whom---William Lee Miller perhaps or Carwardine? And what about the split new White biography (which I'm yet to open)-- how does that fit in? As to Burlingame--it really ought to have been four volumes to make it more manageable to read and have been set as a 9x6 standard format. Its difficult to hold because of its size and weight. I'll flip through it a bit tomorrow--tonight I'll spend some time on Frederickson.

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  36. I will fill in with Miller until Goodwin arrives.

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  37. Good Morning Gintaras:
    Miller's views on Lincoln are fascinating...for instance (so we can coordinate the two books)in the section having to do with the 1860 Republican nomination, he states that Seward was the frontrunner and that Lincoln did not get the nomination because of any "distinctive personal qualities" he may have had--but rather the delegates did not believe their front runner could not win enough electoral votes from the key swing states needed to win. Lincoln emerged as the best alternative to Seward and "the best candidate to win those states." (Miller, Virtues, 394)

    Today might be a good day to move on a bit by reviewing Seward's background and maybe compare Miller's views of him with Goodwin's.

    I'm off to my Saturday sojourn to Barnes and Noble. I'll post later on Goodwin's Seward as seen in the opening chapter, beginning on page 11.

    Gintaras: Are you using LINCOLN'S VIRTUES or PRESIDENT LINCOLN(so I can follow along with you)?

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  38. Robert, you are ahead of me as usual! I look forward to your ideas about Seward. I am so curious about him.

    I've also read both of the Miller's books on Lincoln, so it will be fun to compare notes on this one, too.

    Happy book browsing.

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  39. Am I going crazy, or are our posts sort of out of whack. I couldn't find my early morning post until I pressed on "recent comments" and they came up, but now I lost all the rest of the posts from June 2 until now, except Avrds June 6, 6:00AM

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  40. Article in health section of today's NY Times about FDR, speculating about cause of death:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/05/health/05docs.html?nl=health&emc=healthupdateema1

    It doesn't dispute his death by cerebral hemorrhage. There is a new book, FDR's Deadly Secret by Dr. Steven Lomazow that revives theory of FDR having melanoma.

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  41. Oh my goodness, I just saw Robert's post above and thought he was back!

    But yes, I saw that about FDR, Marti. The series of photos were very interesting.

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