“… (Lincoln) was bigger than his country — bigger than all the Presidents together …” Leo Tolstoy
“Today, children, we’re learning about President Abraham Lincoln,” said Miss Harder. Our teacher began by telling us about Lincoln as a boy, when he earned the name Honest Abe. One day his parents sent him to the store several miles away to purchase supplies. Arriving home, he found the storekeeper had given him too much change. Immediately, Abe walked back to return the extra money.
Since then, I’ve learned more about Lincoln, but nothing compared to what I learned in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” Goodwin writes of his strengths, virtues and despite his modest credentials, his improbable march to the presidency. These include studying and practicing law in Springfield, Ill., working the legal circuit on horseback and serving a two-year term in Congress.
Although modest achievements made his candidacy unlikely, in l860 Lincoln won the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. He faced formidable opponents in William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates. On nomination night, the men waited in their home towns to hear the committee’s choice telegraphed from Chicago. To their chagrin, the rivals heard the “rail splitter” had defeated them.
Soon Lincoln appointed the three men to top cabinet positions: Seward, secretary of state; Chase, treasury secretary; Bates, attorney general. Asked why he appointed his rivals, Lincoln said, “We needed strong men in the cabinet. These were the strongest …”
Lincoln then practiced a remarkable and unusual leadership style, skillfully handling the trials awaiting him: an obstinate cabinet, an irascible congress, three inept generals (Fremont, McClellan and Burnside). Finally, he appointed the superb General Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union forces to victory over the Confederacy.
Despite obstacles, Lincoln soldiered through until his tragic assassination on April 14, l865. When the train bearing his body moved from Washington to Springfield, mourners lined the route to honor and bid farewell to their fallen leader.
Later Walt Whitman paid tribute to Lincoln in this elegy. “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, and the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourned, and yet shall mourn with the ever-returning spring.”
The Page Turners reading group shared some profound and surprising insights during our discussion. They noted most historians are men and do not often include women in their works. They were pleased Goodwin found the way to weave them into her history.
The Page Turners awarded “Team of Rivals" seven-and-one-half thumbs up, one-half a thumb down.
David Baldacci’s “The Forgotten” will be discussed at the July meeting. For more information about book clubs, call Tina Kaple at the Destin Library, 837-8572.
Marilyn Schroer is a member of the Page Turners at the Destin Library.