I was delighted to find Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in my Christmas book stack a few years ago.
The book provides much of the background for Steven Spielberg’s historical drama Lincoln, which I had the pleasure of watching yesterday afternoon with Liam.
It is the incredible story of the rise of the Republican Party at a time of extreme polarization in the fledgling United States. The nexus of the growing sectionalism was the twin issues of slavery and Western expansion.
Goodwin provides a brief overview of the decline of the WHIGs, the rivalries within the fragmented Republican party and the rise of Abraham Lincoln over Ohio, Gov. Salmon P. Chase on the third ballot. Despite Lincoln's subsequent election as president, his rivals felt the better man had not persevered.
He was less radical than his team of rivals and firmly anti-slavery. The torrents of change that made uniting the Republican Party so difficult were also tearing the country apart.
Not long after his election, the 15 slave states withdrew from union creating the Confederate States of America. Lincoln appointed his four major rivals to his cabinet, creating a unique governing coalition reflection the sectionalism that had embraced the country. On April 12, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War.
Spielberg’s movie begins after Lincoln’s second election win. The country is in the fourth year of a bitter civil war, the Confederate’s are on the verge of surrendering and Lincoln is determined to pass a constitutional amendment to free America from slavery. Despite his emancipation proclamation, he fears that without a constitutional amendment, slavery will return. He knows that the average person is still very discriminatory towards colored people. If the war ends, the support to ban slavery might abate.
The movie, and the book, brilliantly depicts how Lincoln forged a team, composed of his bitterest rivals, which preserved a nation and freed his country from the curse of slavery.
It is real politic in tempest. The skill and genius of Lincoln is exposed as never before.
As a bonus to a fantastic story, the actors are simply awesome. Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field, as Mary Todd Lincoln, simply shine.