Readers' Guide: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals

by: Doris Kearns Goodwin

book cover for Team of RivalsCategory: NONFICTION
Guide Created By: Ella and PatH
Discussion Leader(s): Ella and PatH
Read our archived discussion of this book


To Consider in Chapters 1-3

1. Putting Lincoln to one side, which of the men (the rivals) would you most like to meet and why? Which (if you were a woman) would you most likely marry and why? Start a business with?

2. What one quality do each of these men have in common, including Lincoln? Is that quality necessary for any person who enters politics?

3. Seward said he discovered "politics was the important and engrossing business of the country." Does it still seem that way to you? How important is it to have a two-party system in our government?

4. Lincoln had a very strong desire to "engrave his name in history" and believed that ideas of a person's worth are tied to the way others perceive him. Do you believe this? Is this contradictory to the belief in yourself and your own worth? Your religious faith?

5. Lincoln had a strained relationship with his father. Is there a possibility that Lincoln was inspired to become a better man, a more educated man, one with a future because of his father?

6. At an early age, Lincoln lost two of the women he most needed and loved - his mother and sister. What affect did this have on the boy, if any?

7. Can ambition ruin a marriage? Does a wife influence her husband? Is it necessary to be married to have a political future?

8. Were you surprised at the passion in the letters quoted in the book?

To Consider in Chapters 4-7

1. What compromises did each of the four men make with his beliefs in order to further his political career?

2. Was the Civil War inevitable? Can you imagine any way the disagreement over slavery could have been resolved peacefully?

3. What were the strengths and weaknesses of each man as a potential presidential candidate?

4. President Obama is very conscious of the heritage of Lincoln. Do you see any parallels between the issues described in the book and those facing Obama now?

5. Some of the anti-slavery faction believed that if slavery were confined to its existing boundaries, economic and historic forces would eventually cause it to disappear in the South. Could this have happened? How?

6. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787; The Missouri Compromise (1820); The Wilmot Proviso; The Compromise of 1850; The Kansas-Nebraska Act; The Dred Scott Decision; The Lecompton Constitution. These were milestones in the tug-of-war between slavery and anti-slavery factions. What did each of them do?

7. What were the political attitudes of the candidates' wives? Did they play any part in the campaign?

8. How was Lincoln's campaign for the presidential nomination more clever than those of his rivals?

9. What effect did Lincoln's Cooper Union speech have?

To Consider in Chapters 8-11

1. Why Chicago for the Republican convention of 1860?

2. The Republicans gathered to nominate their candidate for the presidency of the United States. What actions did Lincoln take to win the nomination? Was it his leadership, publicity, friends, managers, committees, what plans were used?

3. Do you see indications that Obama used some of the same strategies that Lincoln used for the nomination?

4. Consider the reaction of the Southern politicians. Why did the Democratic Convention in Charleston, S. Carolina end in chaos?

5. What effect did the Democrats' nomination of Douglas have upon the eventual election of the president, if any?

6. Newspapers played a major role in the opinion of the people and the election of politicians in the 18th and 19th centuries and beyond. Do newspapers, or the printed word, have any future today?

7. Seven states unanimously decided to secede from the union upon Lincoln's election. Consider their grievances against the Union and consider why the North was taken by surprise!.

8.What was Lincoln's own view of a slave? Had he had any personal experience with slavery?

9. Was there any possible way that the war could have been avoided in your opinion?

To Consider in Chapters 12-15

1. Could Lincoln have avoided war by giving in to the South's demands?

2. Do you think Lincoln was deliberately aiming for war by reinforcing Forts Sumter and Pickens?

3. How did Seward's attitude toward Lincoln change? Why?

4. At the start of hostilities, Lincoln authorized the suspension of Habeas Corpus under limited conditions. Were you surprised?

5. What would have happened if Lee had accepted the Union Command?

6. What do you think of Mary's redecorating and entertaining?

7. In this section we start to see the results of Lincoln's policy of surrounding himself with rivals and men of different factions. How is it working out?

8. At the start of the war, Lincoln was plagued with a series of ineffective generals. Was this inevitable?

9. What happened in the battles so far?

10. So far, Lincoln is still insisting that the war is about preserving the Union, and not about slavery. What do you think of this?

11. Lincoln and Mary coped with their grief for Willie in very different ways. Was either preferable?

To Consider in Chapters 16-20

1. Lincoln has been criticized for firing General McClellan. Was he right to do so? Would you have waited longer for results

2. Can a President have political friends while in office? Can he have friends in the community?

3. Congress, or the Republican majority in Congress, passed the Homestead Act, the Morrill Act, the Pacific Railroad Act, and the Legal Tender bill. Were all these bills helpful to the country? What did they accomplish?

4. What were the circumstances that forced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation? Why did he do it at this time and what did it accomplish?

5. How did Chase, Seward and Bates react to the proclamation?

6. Lincoln_s proposal that the freed slaves form a colony in another country was outrageous. How could a man with such acuity be so wrong in his view on African Americans?

7. Newspapers were paramount in communication in the 19th and 20th centuries. Will they survive in the 21st?

8. As Lincoln said "In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time." What are your thoughts on the subject?

9. Seward said "What is the use of growing old. You learn something of men and things but never until too late to use it." (pg.480) What are your thoughts?

10. Seward was the scapegoat for the defeat at Fredericksburg. Why?

11. What was the purpose of the Committee of Nine?

12. What is the meaning of the phrase "fire in the rear."

13. Of all the men Lincoln associated with, whom would you most like to get to know or read his autobiography?

14. What did Chase, Seward and Bates contribute to the war effort?

Related Links:

NPR Review
Wilmot Proviso
Dred Scott Decision
Kansas-Nebraska Act
Fugitive Slave Law