The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
The name Abraham Lincoln conjures images of a patriotic figure more icon than man. History views the 16th President of the United States as a giant among our political pioneers, helping to define the office and the nation over which it holds sway. However, as the brief excerpt by Goodwin (2005) shows, Lincoln’s emerging genius would actually disprove a host of naysayers even before the president would change the world.
Perhaps the most compelling detail of Goodwin’s analysis concerns Lincoln’s initial rise from local legal and political star to holder of the highest office in the land. Because he was such a sharp contrast to his political rivals in the party’s campaign for a nomination, the author notes that Lincoln’s emergence was something of a shock to the nation. Moreover, and most remarkably, this shock was one endured with ‘sadness,’ owing to the low expectations meeting this relatively unknown political figure in a time of especially high political stakes. It was perceived by some, Goodwin indicates, that Lincoln was ill-suited for the job but had gained it by his relative centrism within the party and by his affiliation with the battleground state of Illinois.
Goodwin indicates that this were the misimpressions that often come with the distortion of political difference. Upon closer inspection and subsequent reflection, Lincoln’s victory is demonstrably the result of his distinctive political skills and oratorical charisma. And these, the article notes, would not just cast him apart from the political rivals that occupy a significant part of the excerpt’s discussion. In fact, they would also come to distinguish Abraham Lincoln among past and future presidents as one of the most aptly suited men to ever hold the office.
One of the qualities which made him so genuinely suitable was his distinct ability to reach out to his political rivals in the interests of the nation’s business. The Goodwin article indicates that one of the keys to Lincoln’s political self-empowerment was his willingness to achieve compromise with the same figures that had previously obstructed his path to the presidency. As Goodwin notes, upon his victory, the new president “made the unprecedented decision to incorporate his eminent rivals into his political family [making] the cabinetevidence of a profound self-confidence and a first indication of what would prove to others a most unexpected greatness.” (p. 49)
Without question, it would be this unification of divergent political interests that would allow Lincoln to command such critical change on the national landscape. The support and collaborative input of the assembled cabinet of rivals would prove one of Lincoln’s masterstrokes, providing his office with the ability to make complex and politically nuanced decisions with a full understanding of their implications to a wide cross-section of Americans.
More than that, the rivals who would at earlier points view Lincoln with a combination of doubt, derision and hostility would become his greatest supporters, and not strictly out of the sense of duty implied by their respective offices. Instead, as Goodwin describes it, the former rivals turned cabinet members would in their own respective measures come to recognize the sheer political talent and wherewithal of the man they came to support.
The fear that Lincoln would be poorly suited to the role of guiding a nation very much attempting to define its own identity would soon be supplanted by the recognition that Lincoln would be directly shaping this identity for the better. This garnered him the unwavering support of his former rivals in addition to the support of a dramatically changing nation.
Goodwin, D.K. (2005). The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Exc. From Team Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.