Cloaked in Immense Power

Library visitors will find Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” filed with the Abraham Lincoln biographies. Patrick Furlong, professor emeritus of history at IUSB, said that the book is more a study of personality and leadership.  Goodwin focuses as much on five members of Lincoln’s war cabinet as she does on the 16th president. Goodwin’s book is a leadership manual because the  historian examines how the 16th President managed the strong-willed men who helped him successfully prosecute the Civil War.

Furlong’s lecture at the Centre Township Library Branch was among the St. Joseph County Public Library’s One Book, One Michiana events.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates and Secretary of State William H. Seward all ran in 1860. Furlong said that the three were all somebody’s first choice. Lincoln was everybody’s second choice. The compromise choice is often the winning choice, and Lincoln prevailed.

War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton and Postmaster Montgomery Blair rounded out the war cabinet.

Lincoln’s decision to include his three rivals in his cabinet could have been a disaster.  Chase  believed that he could manipulate Lincoln. Chase was wrong because Lincoln understood the duties of a commander-in-chief in war time – functions Lincoln created as he prosecuted the war.

Lincoln was also a deliberative and decisive leader who never evaded his responsibilities or tried to shift blame, Furlong said. Lincoln’s deliberate decisiveness connects Furlong’s lecture with one given by Yale law professor Steve Smith at Notre Dame in February.

Smith’s lecture detailed how Lincoln based decisions such as his response after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on the constitution. He showed the wisdom of Lincoln’s decision to move deliberately during the  Fort Sumter crisis.The Confederate military’s decision to attack the fort cast the south as the aggressors and swayed public opinion in the north.

The Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the War. The battle occurred seven months after the Emancipation Proclamation “freed” slaves in the rebel states. Critics say that the proclamation freed no slaves. A Mississippi slave owner would not free his slaves because of an order signed by LIncoln.  Smith believed that the proclamation had real consequences on the battlefield because slaves living in or near areas conquered by the Union Army dropped their plows and escaped. The Union victory at Gettysburg gave Lincoln an opportunity to fully embrace the freedom agenda. As I state in another post, LIncoln did so in the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln refused to micromanage the war even as he created the modern model for a war president.  He allowed his generals to carry out battle field plans. However, Lincoln did expect his generals to fight battles and win. Those who didn’t measure up, such as the popular but ineffective Gen. George McClellan, got fired.

The passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is the best example of Lincoln’s combination of deliberative decisiveness. The amendment’s passage is the subject of “Lincoln,” the film adaptation of Goodwin’s book. Lincoln embraced the freedom agenda at Gettysburg. However, he didn’t move on the 13th Amendment until 1865.

That turned out to be the right time. The north would emerge victorious in a few months. Attention would turn to post war matters. Lincoln realized the amendment needed to be ratified before the Confederate states rejoined the union. Lincoln used everything from moral suasion to the raw use of political power to ensure its passage.

Lincoln created the template for the modern wartime commander-in-chief, and both Smith and Furlong believe he did so by displaying an deliberate, decisive and accountable style leadership rarely witnessed in politics or other fields before or since. Those qualities explain why Lincoln managed to earn the loyalty of his former rivals, as well the other members of his cabinet.

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