Lincoln has something important for Filipino Americans today
By Mariano “Anong” Santos
Steven Spielberg, producer-director of "Lincoln" with Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of "Team of Rivals"—from which the film was based.
"LINCOLN"—led the Oscar-nominated movies about this time last year. The Steven Spielberg film eventually earned a best actor award for Daniel Day-Lewis (his third) who played the title role. It was based on two chapters of "Team of Rivals—The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln."
It focused on the time leading to Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan.1, 1863 up to his historic "Gettysburg Address" delivered during the dedication of the cemetery which was the scene of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War.
"Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin has actually 27 chapters in its 916 pages. Goodwin is one name you should be familiar with this winter when it is great to get warmed up with excellent books. She won the Pulitzer Prize for "No Ordinary Time."
Goodwin is an engaging writer whose biographies of American presidents remove from us the dread of going over the textbooks assigned by some boring school masters. The voluminous pages in her books will initially overwhelm a reader, but her books are a great read, guaranteed.
My prolonged bout with cold early this year was made bearable with the delight brought about by my reading of Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1995 opus "No Ordinary Time—Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II." Though these are well-researched books of the past, they are as exciting as today's best-selling novels.
I got so hooked up with Goodwin's vivid narrative that I went on to read and finish her latest book, "The Bully Pulpit—Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism," (Illustrated, 909 pp. Simon & Schuster. $40, 2013). (This book merits another column.)
I enjoyed the weeks leading to the Presidents Day of 2013 by savoring on every page of Goodwin's account of Lincoln's life beginning from his nomination in Chicago in May of 1860 and culminating to his burial in Springfield in April of 1865. By doing so, I got to understand and appreciate Spielberg's masterpiece.
For this issue I will concentrate on Lincoln. Filipino American leaders can learn a lot from the political acumen of the greatest of the U.S. presidents. Our community will benefit if those who are involved in running its activities get to understand the leadership qualities of this self-educated prairie lawyer.
Book cover of Kindle edition of
TEAM OF RIVALS, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. By Doris Kearns Goodwin. Illustrated. 916 pp. Simon & Schuster. $35.
Convention in Chicago
On May 18, 1860, four major candidates were vying to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party convention in Chicago. Sen. William H. Seward, former governor of New York was the front runner and recognized as the top Republican at that time.
Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase, an outspoken proponent of the anti-slavery platform of the party also believed that the nomination was his for the asking. There was also Missouri's Judge Edward Bates who also thought that he alone can carry the slave-owning southern states that his party had lost to the Democrats in the 1856 election, thus, the nomination should belonged to him.
All nominees were all waiting the convention's decision in their home states. Unlike today, it was customary then that candidates did not attend the conventions where they were contenders. So the fourth nominee, Abraham Lincoln was in Springfield. He knew he was a long-shot. After all, his one term as a congressman from Illinois was even sullied by the fact that he lost three elections.
But Illinois Republicans rallied popular support—packing the convention with hometown supporters. Lyman Trumbull who was a political rival of Lincoln six years earlier fervently campaigned for his former adversary in 1860. In 1855, Lincoln withdrew in favor of Trumbull to preserve party unity. Lincoln had acted like a statesman—putting common good ahead of his personal ambition.
Lincoln also quietly gained a strong following among his party mates when he debated Democrat Stephen Douglas in 1858. The two candidates squared off on the question of slavery. That senatorial election was when Lincoln use his now famous quote—"A house divided by itself cannot stand." Though, Lincoln lost to Douglas, his debating skill was favorably reported in the national press.
After the third balloting, the Republicans delegates delivered a surprise victory to the relatively obscure contender. All his three rivals held on to their conviction that the least qualified candidate won. Lincoln admitted that his three rivals were brilliant and experienced.
Finally in the Fall general election, the Republican Party benefitted from the division in the Democratic Party. In the four-way contest, Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, got 180 electoral votes. John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democratic Party got 72 electoral votes while Stephen Douglas, Democrat, got 12. John Bell of the Constitutional Party got 39.
Republicans did not get any electoral vote from the slave-owning states in the South. Before Lincoln was sworn in, nine southern states seceded from the Union. This would lay the ground for the Civil War which dominated the Lincoln administration.
Admirers for Life
Lincoln announced the names of his would-be cabinet secretaries. All his rivals were selected. Seward was the Secretary of State, Chase—Treasury, Bates—Attorney General, Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron—War, Montgomery Blair—Postmaster General and Gideon Welles—Navy. Blair and Welles as well as the vice president-elect Hamlin were former Democrats.
Cameron was also nominated as a favorite son of the Pennsylvania delegation in the convention but withdrew his name. But Cameron proved himself not fit as Secretary of War. His handling of the early months of the Civil War had caused heavy casualties for the North. Corporate lawyer Edwin Stanton took over and he would be known as one of the best Secretaries of War in U.S. History.
Lincoln initially met Stanton in a patent court case in Ohio for the McCormick Corporation. They were both defense lawyer but Stanton ignored Lincoln and dismissed him as a "bumpkin" prairie lawyer. Though, insulted, Lincoln remembered his famous co-counsel as an outstanding attorney who later during early in his presidency was vocal in his criticism of the handling of the Civil War. But Stanton sacrificed his lucrative legal practice and accepted Lincoln's offer to take over the War Department.
Stanton became an admirer of Lincoln for the rest of his life. His utterance, "He now belongs to the ages," at the death bed of the assassinated president on April 13, 1865 was the most-often tribute cited by historians. Like Stanton, Seward became a loyal friend and admirer of Lincoln--the man that he belittled early on.
Goodwin in her book wrote that Joseph Medill, the editor of The Chicago Tribune and one of Lincoln's most loyal supporters, asked Lincoln why he appointed his rivals. "We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet," Lincoln replied. "These were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services."
The men in Lincoln's cabinet had very high regard of themselves. These ambitious rivals hated each other. They had something in common—all often spoke negatively of the president that picked them. They, as well as Lincoln's generals in the battlefield, often undermined his decisions. But in the end it was Lincoln who proved himself strong and able. They conceded to his wisdom and patience. They learned that he was a leader who had a sense of perfect timing like that of winning over a recalcitrant citizenry.
The epitome of an elected official as a public servant can be found in Lincoln. He subordinated his personal feelings to the interest of the nation. Virtually a Washington outsider, he knew he needed the influence and experience of his rival. He tactfully worked around their individual eccentricities and harnessed their talents to keep the union intact.
Lincoln kept Chase, although he used his position to farther his ambition to replace his president in the 1864 election. Lincoln did not accept the four resignation letters that Chase tendered because Lincoln knew the treasury was ran well under this difficult man. But when Lincoln won a reelection landslide—defeating Chase as well as his former field commander, Gen. George McClellan—he let go of Chase—only to appoint him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The political genius of Lincoln was well established in the compelling narrative that Doris Kearns Goodwin has spun in this outstanding book. The book brings about a crucial understanding for all of us—especially those who venture into positions of leadership—what benefits can servant-leadership to the greater community.
Goodwin pointed out that "he had the capacity to listen to different points of view, the ability to learn on the job and admit his mistakes, and the willingness to share credit for success while shouldering the blame for the failure of subordinates. He was aware of his weaknesses and compensated for them by surrounding himself with people who had the opposite strengths.
"When Lincoln was angry or frustrated, he channeled that in productive ways. He understood the importance of relaxing and replenishing. He emphasized connecting with his soldiers, spending time with them in the field. He believed that leaders had to have the courage and integrity to remain committed to their goals, even when they were not popular. And he had an exceptional ability to communicate all of this effectively to the country."
The U.S. survived the bloodiest war fought on its soil—600,000 lives were lost in 1861-65 Civil War—but the Union was saved. Slavery—the scourge of this nation—ended. The most expansive experiment in liberal democracy flourished because Abraham Lincoln persevered to uphold what is noble to human kind.
There are ten films nominated for Best Picture this year's Oscar Awards. Steve McQueen's outstanding adaptation of book based on the true story of a violinist from Saratoga kidnapped by two White men and sold to slavery in Louisiana in the 1850s should get the nod of the Academy.
"12 Years a Slave" should be viewed on the big screen. Acting is first rate and the production is worth the admission price. Last year was a vintage year for excellent movies, but if you are going to see only one film…make it the "12 Years a Slave."