Well-practiced historian Goodwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time (1994), examines Abraham Lincoln as a practical politician, focusing on his conversion of rivals to allies.
Was Lincoln gay? It doesn’t matter, though the question has exercised plenty of biographers recently. Goodwin, an old-fashioned pop historian of the Ambrose-McCullough vein, quotes from his law partner, William Herndon: “Lincoln had terribly strong passions for women—could scarcely keep his hands off them.” End of discussion. Lincoln was, if anything, melancholic—possibly as the result of abuse on the part of his father—and sometimes incapacitated by depression. Thus it was smart politicking to recruit erstwhile opponents Salmon Chase and William Seward, who had very different ideas on most things but who nonetheless served Lincoln loyally to the point of propping him up at times during the fraught Civil War years. Goodwin indicates that Lincoln knew that war was coming, and he knew why: He’d been vigorously opposed to slavery for his entire public career, and even if “many Northerners . . . were relatively indifferent to the issue” of slavery and the westward expansion of the slave states, Lincoln was determined to settle it, even at catastrophic cost. Chase, Seward and his other lieutenants did not always fall immediately into step with Lincoln, and some pressed for compromise; when he declared the Emancipation Proclamation, writes Goodwin, he assembled the Cabinet and said that while he recognized their differences, he “had not called them together to ask their advice.” They acceded, though by the end of the first term, enough divisions obtained within and without the White House that it looked as if Lincoln would not be reelected—whereupon he demanded that his secretaries sign a resolution “committing the administration to devote all its powers and energies to help bring the war to a successful conclusion,” the idea being that only a Democrat would accept a negotiated peace.
Illuminating and well-written, as are all of Goodwin’s presidential studies; a welcome addition to Lincolniana.