Team of Rivals
Each of these four men had a claim upon the 1860 Republican nomination for President, with Chase and Seward representing the more liberal elements of the fledgling party, and Bates the conservative counterpart. Lincoln positioned himself firmly at the center of a party bent on halting the expansion of slavery in new territories and states, and lucked into having the convention in his home state (the Wigwam in Chicago). As the multiple ballot process proceeded, the nomination turned into a two-man tug-of-war between Seward and Lincoln, with Honest Abe ultimately prevailing.
Lincoln wasted little time reuniting the party as it entered perhaps the most polarized election in history, calling upon his former rivals to campaign on his behalf. Upon victory, he quickly brought these very capable men into his administration, appointing Seward Secretary of State, Chase to Secretary of Treasury, and Bates as Attorney General. Over time, Seward and Lincoln would grow incredibly close, as the railsplitting prarie lawyer won the respect and admiration of the distinguished New York statesman. Bates and Lincoln enjoyed an amicable, if distant relationship, while Chase remained a conniving rival until Lincoln finally called his fourth bluff by accepting his resignation letter. The former Ohio Senator and Governor thought he rightfully deserved the 1860 nomination and continually plotted his course to steal it back four years later.
Throughout, Lincoln understand each man's strategic importance in his governing coalition and immense political talents they brought to the table. More than anything, Goodwin's portrait is one of remarkable leadership where the president placed his ego aside and massaged those of his inferiors. He refused to react rashly to adversity, assumed responsibility for all of his administration's actions, and patiently poked these men to lead the nation through its most trying chapter.
It should be said that Bates is little more than a bit player in Goodwin's narrative, and that Edwin Stanton, a Democrat, assumes the Secretary of War position in Lincoln's cabinet after Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania proved inadequate, and plays a central role in the plot from this point forward. Seward and Chase serve as perfect foils for the positives and pitfalls of Lincoln's approach to leadership. While Seward served ably and honorably, Chase sought to undermine his Commander-in-Chief at seemingly every juncture.
Paralllels to the Obama Administration proliferated last winter as he assembled his own leadership team. By absorbing former presidential rivals Joe Biden (VP), Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), and Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture) into his adminitration, Obama, like Lincoln, tended to the wounds of the nomination process and unified his Democratic Party. The contingent would have been larger had Bill Richardson survived the pay-to-play allegations that surfaced in New Mexico. Obama also extended a hand to his rival Republicans, retaining Bush's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and appointing retiring Congressman Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation.
Obama's verdict is years forthcoming, but early returns point to mixed success. His first 100 days were enormously productive, but he ran into a rough patch this summer. Biden has taken the administration off message at many junctures, yet Clinton came on board and vigorously pursued Obama's foreign policy goals. It remains to be seen if she and others still harbor presidential ambitions, particularly if things continue to go south for the rookie president. Moreover, Obama's outreach to Republicans has failed to deliver the bipartisanship he vigorously touted throughout last year's campaign. Floor votes in Congress have been intensely polarized, and compromise remains elusive as they tackle health care reform, climate change, and before long, deficit reduction.
Goodwin showed us the benefits of presidents who surround themselves with talented rivals who question authority and enable coalition building. Lincoln's ultimate success was as much a tribute to his own leadership ability as it is to his cabinet's collective wisdom and experience. As his once express-driven agenda is crippled by congressional opponents, organized interests, and declining public opinion, Obama would be wise to heed both variables in this complicated equation.