Doris Kearns Goodwin’s in-depth and riveting book about President Lincoln and his cabinet is titled, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln[. While the name accurately describes the book and pulls the attention of the potential reader to the “genius of Abraham Lincoln,” the first half of it is the most crucial to the applicable lessons we gain from reading it.
Goodwin writes in compelling detail about the lives of the members of Lincoln’s cabinet—which included three of his rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860. When Lincoln beats them, conventional political tactics would lead one to believe that he would take the opportunity to gloat and let their political careers deteriorate. He could have seen them only as people with whom he disagreed on certain policy points. However, he chose instead to include them in his cabinet and learn from their example.
When Lincoln defeated his opponents, this could have been the end of their connection in their careers. Instead, he chose a different path and saw the value in their insight. He propelled many of them to great achievements in their careers and relied on them through the tumultuous time of division in the Civil War.
Our political culture today tends to divide people more than it does unite them. Across the aisle and within party lines, it is easier to look for the ways in which we cannot work with one another rather than the areas where we can learn from each other.
It is important to have open debate and disagreements—in the public sphere or with friends. We should remember to take advantage of the viewpoints of those who have lived a different life than us.
We may not always find common ground, but we can find common humanity and respect.
When we seek out advice and gain insight from many different areas, we are able to make an informed decision about what exactly it is we should do.
We can learn from Lincoln’s habits in this manner when making decisions in our own lives. The book demonstrates extremely well his ability to work with people who had different opinions than he did.
Not only is his
“political genius” clear, but his desire to work with others is evident. This desire
is essential, too. With an attitude of openness and a willingness to reach
across the aisle and out of our comfort zones, we can learn a lot.