How to win friends

omorrow’s New York Times Book Review carries James McPherson’s long review of the new book by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln and his cabinet. McPherson’s review is “Friends of Abe.”

One of the striking features of Lincoln’s life is that those who came to know him best liked him most. It’s a unifying thread that runs through his life, connecting his stepmother, his first acquaintances in New Salem, and even a few of the political rivals who detested him upon first meeting. Foremost among the latter was Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War. McPherson writes:

In 1855 Lincoln had been retained as one of the attorneys for the defense in a patent-infringement suit brought by the McCormick reaper company. Because the case was initially scheduled to be tried in Chicago, the defense team needed an Illinois lawyer. But when the trial was moved to Cincinnati, the defense retained Stanton, one of the country’s foremost attorneys, without bothering to inform Lincoln. When he arrived in Cincinnati after careful preparation, Stanton and his colleagues ignored him; Stanton was even heard to speak contemptuously of Lincoln as a backwoods bumpkin. Lincoln was hurt by the snub but stayed to watch the trial and was impressed by Stanton’s courtroom brilliance. Six years later Stanton, a Democrat, was practicing in Washington during the war’s first year and referred disdainfully to Lincoln in conversations with friends. Lincoln was aware of Stanton’s opinions, but when he decided to get rid of the incompetent Cameron, who had made a hash of military mobilization, he appointed none other than Stanton as secretary of war.

Stanton soon justified the appointment. He worked 15-hour days at his stand-up desk and proved to be one of the best war secretaries the country has ever had. And like Seward, he soon changed his opinion of Lincoln, forging a close relationship with the president second only to Seward’s. “No men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati,” Stanton confessed to his former associate on the reaper case. No one was more grief-stricken by Lincoln’s assassination than Stanton, who spoke the imperishable words as the president breathed his last: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

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