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Team of Rivals

The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

By Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Read in 19 minutes
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  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals (2005) charts the tumultuous events that took place during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. These blinks show how Lincoln was able to successfully keep the North united while putting an end to slavery and, eventually, the Civil War, by making his political rivals his closest advisors.

Key idea 1 of 12

Abraham Lincoln’s childhood made him a uniquely ambitious man.

You might be familiar with the story of Abraham Lincoln being born in a log cabin and learning to read by candlelight. But his early years were filled with many more significant hardships.

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, and, as soon as he was able, he was put to work on the farm by his father, Thomas Lincoln. Young Abraham would help his father chop down and split trees, dig wells and plow fields.

His father was illiterate and often at odds with Abraham’s desire to educate himself. Thomas was even known to burn Abraham’s books so as to keep young Abraham from being distracted from getting his work done. If there was one admirable trait Thomas passed on to Abraham, it was his love of storytelling and keeping friends entertained with a good anecdote.

While he didn’t get along with his father, Abraham had a loving relationship with his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Though little is known about Nancy Hanks, she was by all accounts a smart, strong-willed woman who helped teach Abraham to read and write.

Sadly, tragedy first struck the Lincoln family when Abraham was nine years old and his mother died of “milk sickness,” a poisoning contracted from contaminated dairy. The death further strained the relationship between Abraham and his father.

More tragedy followed when, less than ten years later, Abraham’s sister, Sarah, died during childbirth. And to make matters worse, his first love, Ann Rutledge, died in 1835, likely of typhoid fever.

But these hardships didn’t break young Lincoln’s spirit. Instead, they toughened his resolve and strengthened his ambitions.

His stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, helped nurture his self-confidence and encouraged his education despite his father’s attitude. To his stepmother and all of Lincoln’s friends, it was clear that he had a spark of greatness that transcended the poverty and misfortune of his surroundings.

And so, in April of 1837, Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois, to start a career in law.

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