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Tom Chaney. R763 review: An honest politician is . . .

Of Writers and Their Books No. R763: First appeared 20 May 2007 in the Hart County Herald. A review of the book: Team of Rivals by author Doris Kearns Goodwin. .
The next earlier Tom Chaney column :Tom Chaney. R762 review: The Queen's Gambit, by Walter Tevis

By Tom Chaney

An honest politician is . . .

...one who, when he is bought, stays bought." Thus spoke Simon Cameron, powerful political boss of Pennsylvania, on the run-up to the Republican convention in 1860.


Historian Doris Kearns Goodman attributes this remark to Cameron in her intriguing book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln [Simon and Schuster, 2005]. Cameron was shrewd -- as were the other political handlers who managed the rise of four popular candidates in 1859 and 1860. William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edwin M. Stanton, and Edward Bates -- each was sure he had a lock on the Republican nomination on the eve of the Civil War.

Each of these men were blindsided by the candidate from Springfield, Illinois, whose friend Norman Judd maneuvered the party to meet in Chicago. Judd, a railroad lawyer, persuaded the Illinois railroads to give discount excursion rates in order to pack the town in support of favorite son Abraham Lincoln.

I am just beginning Goodman's massive account of the administration of Lincoln. I don't usually talk about a book before I have finished it. However, since we are in the silly season of politics with the Kentucky primary upon us and presidential politics heating up with all eyes on the White House in two years, it seemed a good time to talk a bit about the political tactics of Lincoln.

It is also the Lincoln season.

The nation is gearing up for the bicentennial celebration of his birth in 2009. Those festivities will begin in 2008.Of course, here in the wiles of Green River country we are not immune. We shall celebrate his birth in Hodgenville. Kentucky Repertory Theatre is celebrating 2008 with at least two, maybe three Lincoln plays. Since there are stories about Thomas Lincoln being in Hart County, perhaps we can argue that both he and Nancy Hanks came to these parts along about May 1808 and got things going.

But I digress.

I am really concerned here with Lincoln's political technique which Ms Goodman treats splendidly. His four rivals for the nomination in 1860 were all men who had their eyes on the prize, held major national offices, gathered shrewd advisors to chart their courses.

All four, along with Lincoln, had been instrumental some six years before in crafting the Republican party together from the remnants of the dying Whigs, the disaffected northern Democrats, and the Know-Nothing party in all of its anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant wonder.

Two years before the election Lincoln had achieved national attention in the debates with Stephen Douglas. The campaign was waged over control of the Illinois legislature which would choose a senator.

Following those debates Lincoln published them. He arranged nearly two dozen speaking engagements in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kansas in the fall of 1859. In all of these speeches, he spoke not as a candidate, rather as an advocate for the Republican cause.

He always occupied the center -- between those who wanted complete abolition of slavery and those who favored the right of states to decide whether to be slave or free.

In February of 1860 he gave his famous Cooper Union speech followed by a speaking tour of New England.

The campaign was gearing up. Lincoln was calm and extremely logical. James Russell Lowell said that he had the ability to speak "as if the people were listening to their own thinking out loud."

The convention came. Lincoln was nominated. His timing and his ability to bridge great differences took him into the White House.

Early in her book, Goodman outlines Lincoln's election strategy from his early campaigns. That strategy, it seems, would serve us well in the current campaigns which rely so heavily on television.

Lincoln's campaign plan for the state legislature in 1840 divided party organization into three levels. The county captain was "to procure from the poll-books a separate list for each Precinct" of everyone who had voted the Whig slate. Each precinct captain would then divide that list "into Sections of ten who reside most convenient to each other." The captain of each section would then be responsible to "see each man on his Section face to face, and procure his pledge . . . [to] vote as early on the day as possible."

All current candidates need to do is remove the masculine noun, thereby including all voters, to create a network of party workers. Would that not be a fine way to reduce the exploding cost of running for office? Neighbors talking to neighbors! What a way to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of a fine campaigner!

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270-786-3084
Email: Tom Chaney
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This story was posted on 2012-05-20 06:23:43
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