Many debate whether Lincoln or Washington was the greatest President of the United States. One created the Union; the other preserved it. Though that distinction leaves them incomparable, it makes one thing clear: Apart from Washington, Lincoln stands alone.
At the beginning of last year I read Washington’s Crossing, a history of the pivotal crossing of the Delaware during the Revolutionary War and how it turned the tide of the war. At the end of the year, spurred on by the theatrical release of Lincoln, I took on the book on which the movie was based – Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The book focuses on the Cabinet of President Lincoln and his selection of men who were considered his political foes. Goodwin details their intersecting paths leading up to the formation of the Cabinet and through the first term, subsequent election and the assassination. It highlights Lincoln proving himself a master of politics and men:
“Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him.” In order to “win a man to your cause,” Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, “the great high road to his reason.”
With the release of Lincoln on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, I certainly recommend reading Team of Rivals to accompany the movie. It provides rich background on each of the main players and builds a framework of relationships that the movie cannot capture. I can’t guarantee you’ll settle the “Who’s the greatest?” dispute, but I promise you’ll appreciate President’s Day as more than just another holiday.