It took me months to read all 790 pages (in part because I read very little during GUPY), but I finally finished Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This was an amazing biography that focused on Lincoln’s relationships with his cabinet, a group composed of men that he had defeated for the presidency.
As a leader, Lincoln was one of the best because of his ability to listen to people and understand the heart behind their words. He was slow to speak, even when angry, and had tremendous discernment about when to act and when to lay back. Often he would simply allow his enemies enough time and leeway to shoot themselves in the foot, and when they did, he was always gracious and forgiving to them on the other side of conflict. It was fascinating to watch his conviction about abolition of slavery grow and change over time; at first he was a bit ambivalent about it, but by his second term, he was convinced that this was an evil that had to go. Frederick Douglas was one of Lincoln’s early critics, but Lincoln developed a real friendship and relationship with him and welcomed Douglas freely to the White House and counted him a friend. This was very unusual at that time.
I learned from Lincoln how to make your point plain enough for everyone to understand – one of the marks of a good preacher is that everyone can see the truths of Scripture clearly, from the youngest to the oldest. Lincoln was intentional about putting political concepts and his heart’s passions into images and analogies that his audience could readily understand, and he practiced doing this even as a young boy. I also learned that forgiveness and openhandedness with enemies is essential in conflict. Lincoln never burned bridges, and he kept the good of the American people as his highest priority, over and above his reputation and his rights to be right. He won people’s hearts with humor and kindness, and he was beloved by the Union soldiers because he did not stand off from them. He would visit them in the front lines and in the hospitals, shaking hands and giving encouragement. A leader who led from the front.
It was also interesting to watch his faith evolve and deepen during the course of the Civil War, a war that wore him down physically and emotionally. He clung more and more to the truths of the Bible, and while Kearns painted Lincoln as more of an agnostic than a Christian, the evidence I see from his letters and speeches tells me differently.
I grew to love Lincoln over the course of the book, and as it drew to a close and I knew what was coming, I began to feel very sad, and when he died, I wept.