Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Lincoln, "Longing to Rise"

Only now finishing the second chapter of Team of Rivals.  Wrote about the first chapter before.  At this rate, I'll finish the book in 2015.

The second chapter talks about the backgrounds of the four key players in the book, Seward, Chase, Bates, and Lincoln. Seward grew up in New York to privilege. He left Union College to work in Georgia his senior year because his father cut off the purse strings. He came back to be valedictorian.

It was clear from this chapter that the 1800s were a century of intimate male attachments that weren't sexual.  I remember the late Michael Vasey of Cranmer Hall at St. John's College saying that one of the costs of the sexualization of intimacy in the late twentieth century was the loss of intimate male relationships.  Such things are inevitably interpreted sexually today.

Seward was used to coming first.  He went into law.  He didn't, however, have the knack at intonation in speaking. Of all the rivals, his was the picture perfect life, even though he wouldn't attain the presidency.  His life had the least death. The most comfort. The most leisure.

Chase was such a tortured soul.  His father made a risky business venture in the War of 1812, lost the family fortune.  Then he died when Chase was only nine.  He was parceled to a bishop uncle in Ohio who had little of nurture to him and plenty of harsh rigor.

Chase seemed to walk a tortured balance between not being good enough and being better than everyone else. He was far too serious.  He didn't read novels. Went into law, nurtured by a man above his station (he would have gone for the Wirt's daughter but he wasn't socially worthy).

His first wife died after childbirth (they were still stupidly practicing blood letting back then, so frustrating). He feared she did not make it to heaven and he became legalistically religious thereafter, apparently. His second wife died of tuberculosis. His third died also and he stopped remarrying.  He lost two daughters.  The omnipresence of death in the 1800s really came through in this chapter.

Bates was born in Virginia. His father died when he was 11. Eventually, he ended up going west following his older brother Frederick, whom Jefferson appointed secretary of the new Missouri territory. Like the others, he became a lawyer. He moved his family to Missouri. This line was fun: "To cross the wilds of Illinois and Indiana, a guide was necessary" (46). :-)

Lincoln came from nothing. His father was illiterate and resented his interest in reading and telling stories he'd heard. His mother died of "milk sickness" when Lincoln was 9. His beloved older sister died in childbirth. She had taken care of him for months in Indiana when he was 12 while his father went back to Kentucky to bring back a new wife.  At that time Indiana was "a wild region where the panther's scream, filled the night with fear and bears preyed on the swine" (48).

He was raised to be a man of melancholic temperament yet with a good sense of humor.  I like him.  He was completely self-taught.  He read anything he could get his hands on.

He moved to New Salem, Illinois.  An early love died possibly of typhoid.  He went into a major funk. Although Lincoln believed in an omnipotent God, it's not clear he believed in heaven. The same is true of Seward.

Then Lincoln moved to Springfield. He became close friends with Joshua Speed, perhaps his closest friend for the rest of his life.

No comments: