Team Of Rivals Book Summary, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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1-Page Summary of Team Of Rivals

Overall Summary

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is about Abraham Lincoln and his nomination to the Republican Party. It also details his presidency, from 1861-1865. The book was published in 2005, won the Lincoln Prize, and was made into a movie by Steven Spielberg in 2012.

The author describes the scene in Lincoln’s presidential campaign. She then introduces Abraham Lincoln, as well as his rivals for the Republican nomination. Although William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates were more famous than Abraham Lincoln was at that time, she points out their shortcomings that kept them from getting the nomination.

The book begins by outlining the forces that shaped America in the 19th century. The most important of these was slavery, which became a divisive issue as new states were being formed. It played a crucial role in Lincoln’s election and the South’s secession from the Union.

The second part of the book details Lincoln’s time in office from his first cabinet meeting to his death. Goodwin emphasizes that he was able to handle men and politics well, which led him to be a great president during this tumultuous period. He understood what people were thinking at the time and how best to position himself so that policies would have the least resistance while having the greatest positive effect on people.


Kearns Goodwin begins the book with a brief overview of Lincoln’s political genius and personal qualities. She presents him as a man of great decency and morality who handled stress well, despite his sadness.

Abraham Lincoln was a good man, but he became a great man because of the historical events that occurred in his lifetime. Without those events, he would have been just another good person who never achieved greatness. The Civil War gave him an opportunity to become one of our greatest presidents by reshaping the United States.

Kearns Goodwin discusses her methodology, noting that she was able to use a broader set of primary sources than have previously been used in biographies of Lincoln.

Chapter 1: “Four Men Waiting”

Chapter 1 begins at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The party is about to choose its presidential candidate. There’s tension because a civil war is raging over slavery and other issues.

The four people who are running for the presidential nomination in 1860 are Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer from Illinois; William Henry Seward, governor of New York; Salmon P. Chase, the favorite son of Ohio; and Edward Bates, an older statesman.

The nomination is believed to be Seward’s, but Lincoln is seen as a compromise candidate who can unify the party and take on the strong Democratic machine. Lincoln’s disadvantage is also his greatest advantage: he is relatively unknown. Thus, he is more palatable to the moderate wings of the party that view both Seward and Chase as too radical to win in a nationwide election.

Chapter 2: “The ‘Longing to Rise’”

Kearns Goodwin discusses the political climate during Lincoln’s time, and how he was a part of that. He also talks about other candidates for the nomination. The expansion of slavery was an important issue during this period, as well as many others.

Chapter 2 also provides background information about the four candidates. Seward was born into a wealthy family, and he had a successful career as well. Chase also came from a wealthy family, but his success in politics led him to become involved with high society. Bates grew up in the South and moved westward because of his desire to grow up with America.

Kearns Goodwin argues that Lincoln’s childhood was a difficult one. He was born in Kentucky and moved around the country growing up, which enabled him to be empathetic with others. Moreover, he had great concentration and reasoning skills, which compensated for his lack of preparation.

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Team Of Rivals Book Summary, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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