Another Side of Abe Lincoln

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” — A.Lincoln

He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. Photo by David Gylland on Unsplash

I wrote this when I was on disc 32 of 36 discs of the audio version of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the unique biography of our 16th president, a book that also enlightens us with biographical detail on the lives of the men who surrounded Lincoln on his cabinet.

Abraham Lincoln by Hesler, 1857. Public Domain. Library of Congress.

Kearns spent ten years researching and writing this massive book, and it has only taken me two months to digest the audio rendition, a task usually engaging but occasionally droll, not because of the writing but because of the lifelessness of the narrator. I have no regrets in having plowed through. The book is rich with details you may not have been familiar with, even if an avid Lincoln buff.

One detail that really stuck out for me is the realization that Lincoln was not the somber guy we see staring off into the distance on five dollar bills or the grim fellow we see in all those old photographs. Rather, he was an affable chap with a great sense of humor. In short, he was liked everywhere he went because he was the life of the party and, ultimately, the Republican party.

It makes sense, too, this comic Lincoln with the funny bone antics. I saw it clearly when I listened last year to the Lincoln-Douglas debates audio CD. He knew how to play the crowd. He must have been a handful in school. I remember being a little jealous of kids like that who were so quick witted and popular and always the center of attention. My melancholy streak always got in the way of being that guy.

Illustration by the author.

So I decided to do something different. I thought I’d put a smile on Abe’s face so we all remember that there was more to this great man than has often met our eye. Back then, photography required absolute stillness because the exposure times were longer. This explains why all our family portraits of kin from the olden days have such serious expressions. It was a technology issue. Today, faster film and rapid-fire shutter speeds have produced more photos of smiling faces than we know what to do with.

What follows here is a review from on Kearns’ Team of Rivals. It’s more than just a Lincoln bio. If you’re a reader, and you enjoy history, check it out.

The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can’t help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln’s leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation.

Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln’s political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, all accomplished, nationally known, and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer.

Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration — Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general — he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin’s fine book is about. Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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