135 Lincoln’s Cabinet of Rivals

Introduction: Can you imagine?

Abraham Lincoln is often regarded as the greatest American president for his guidance in preserving the union. What makes him so intriguing is that he violated one of the oldest leadership practices by bringing his political opponents into his cabinet. Why would a leader do that? Wouldn’t that set him up for internal sabotage? In this episode we explore the man and his thinking. This episode is a good example of how doing what others consider impossible often requires violating convention.

Holy Crap Accomplishment: Lincoln including adversaries in his administrative cabinet.

President Lincoln’s cabinet included all of his major rivals for the Republican nomination for President in 1860—William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Simon Cameron and Edward Bates. Some of these men had been effectively promised positions as part of the negotiations that led to Mr. Lincoln’s nomination at the Republican national convention in May 1860. Many of them objected to the inclusion of each other in the cabinet. There were worries about both geographic distribution and balance between former members of the Whig and Democratic Parties. There were also differences over ideology, ethics and personality. Simon Cameron came under particular attack because of his reputation for political and financial shenanigans.


“No President ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so independent, had so large individual followings, and were so inharmonious,” noted New York politician Chancey Depew.1 “One reason Lincoln appointed so many rivals to cabinet posts is that he intended to rely on his own judgment rather than that of his advisers,” noted historian William E. Gienapp. “Confident in his ability to decide on the correct policy, Lincoln never felt bound by the prevailing opinion in the cabinet, and he rarely revealed his thoughts until he had made up his mind.”A Although President-elect Lincoln had basically decided on his cabinet by the time he arrived in Washington in late February 1861, the appointments had not been formalized. Seward, for example, balked at accepting his nomination up to Inauguration Day.

Holy Crap Thinking:

1. Know what you want.

2. Trust yourself by preparing diligently.

3. Be willing to defy convention

4. Work above and Around Pettiness

Holy Crap Quote:

"Seven nays, one aye; the ayes have it", what was the proposal?”

Abraham Lincoln

The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

-Abraham Lincoln

Holy Crap Challenge:

Think Bigger: Defy Convention by

Reach Higher: Play above the pettiness

Do the Impossible: We wise but not arrogant

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