Software for the finest computer – The Mind


Posted by Tim Bryce on July 24, 2017


– What we can learn from Lincoln’s bid for election.

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“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln can offer some valuable lessons of importance regarding politics from well beyond the grave. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals – The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” published by Simon & Schuster (October 2005), provides some rare insight into his thinking. It is an excellent book which I heartily recommend to those interested in history and politics. There have been numerous books written on Lincoln and the Civil War, but what makes this book interesting is the political maneuvering to make Lincoln president.

It would be incorrect to assume Lincoln was highly successful in his early political career. In reality, he suffered several setbacks; he lost an incumbent election for Congress and two runs for the Senate. Each stung Lincoln sorely, but to his credit, he learned from his mistakes. As the election of 1860 approached, he got his political house in order and devised a successful campaign.

Going into the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago, Lincoln knew he would have to contend with others that were better known and respected than himself; including:

William Edward Seward – former Governor and Senator from New York.
Salmon Chase – former Governor of Ohio.
Edward Bates – former judge from Missouri.

The front-runner going into the campaign was Seward who was well known, had impeccable credentials (as did the others) and a successful track record in politics. Although Lincoln’s intellect and integrity were beyond question, he was considered a political loser. Knowing this, Lincoln carefully crafted a “Dark Horse” campaign. He knew he wouldn’t garner the votes to receive the nomination on the first ballot, but felt he could position himself ahead of the others and capture the nomination should Seward stumble. To do so, Lincoln carefully assembled his own political machine. Not only were all of the Illinois delegates behind Lincoln, but he recruited political handlers who had run against him in past campaigns (and won). This is perhaps the key reason why Chicago was selected as the convention site over eastern venues as well as St. Louis (home for Bates). It is this political machine that ultimately won Lincoln the nomination and, of course, the election.

To assemble his machine, Lincoln networked and cultivated relationships. He was well known for his storytelling abilities which endeared him to the public. Beyond this, he was gracious in defeat and magnanimous in victory. After losing his first Senate race, he shocked everyone by appearing at the victory party of his opponent and offered a genuine hand of friendship and support. This did not go unnoticed and was well remembered by his opponent who fought for his candidacy years later.

Lincoln’s ability to turn opponents into proponents is at the heart of the book. During the campaign and knowing he would be a “Dark Horse” candidate, Lincoln did not find it necessary to speak ill of his opponents in his party’s race. Instead, he talked in terms of shaping the ideologue of his young party. Although he was a respected attorney, he orchestrated a speaking campaign to add legitimacy to his candidacy. This took him on a journey through the northern states where he had been a relative unknown. By speaking from the heart, he weaved together some eloquent oratories that captivated his audiences. His arguments were well formed and rehearsed. This, coupled, with his down-home humor, endeared him as a man of the people. More importantly, Lincoln spoke not just about antislavery, but a broader platform that included how to develop the country’s infrastructure and the need for a national bank. In other words, he didn’t focus on a single issue, but presented a broader platform, thus adding to his credibility.

Lincoln’s political machine worked wonders in Chicago and the nomination became his. Although the machine made some clever maneuvers, Lincoln did not have to beg, borrow or steal to win the necessary votes. In fact, he carried into the convention hall a slip of paper reminding him, “Make no contracts that will bind me.”

Following his win at the convention, Lincoln’s attention turned to cultivating his image (“Honest Abe”) and targeting battleground states. He also found it necessary to perform rumor control in order to squelch any misconceptions or misinformation being presented to the public. It was important to him that his policies be carefully articulated and accurately reported to the public.

Lincoln went on to win the election and, knowing the country was approaching a flash point in the country’s unity, went about the process of selecting key people for his cabinet. Here, Lincoln reached out to his recently defeated opponents in the Republican race and appointed Seward as Secretary of State, Chase as Secretary of the Treasury, and Bates as Attorney General. These people, particularly Seward, became his close confidants and trusted advisers. All were somewhat surprised to be asked to serve, but Lincoln’s magnanimity encouraged them to put the interests of the country’s ahead of their own.

During his term in office, on more than one occasion Lincoln accepted responsibility for errors committed by his subordinates, thereby deflecting criticism of his people and allowing them to save face. This endeared him to his former opponents and earned their respect.


Lincoln’s rise in presidential politics could not have been accomplished without the support of the political machine he created. He may have viewed such machines as ugly and unsavory, but he recognized them as a fact of life. The same is true in politics today. Too often political machines subjugate the election of leaders. As Lincoln has shown us, the only way to fight fire is with fire.

As a footnote, “Team of Rivals” was the book used as the basis for Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie, “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. Interestingly, the movie concentrated on the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment used to abolish slavery. This represented a paltry twelve pages from the 944 page book. The real story was about how Lincoln’s ability to forge relationships. Unfortunately, Hollywood decided to overlook it. Sad. Very sad.

First published: August 25, 2006

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2017 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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  2. […] TIME:  FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE  – What we can learn from Lincoln’s bid for […]


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