Two brief excerpts from Team of Rivals: Turtles and Ambition


After reading about the upcoming film Lincoln, which is being directed by Spielberg and is slated for release on November 9, 2012, I noticed that it is being based on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. specifically, it will be based on the last few chapters of her book detailing the final weeks of Lincoln’s life. Deciding to go back and read the last 50-some pages of her book that the movie is based on, I came across the following that I want to post here:

During an 18-day trip to visit General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln and his entourage are Traveling through the countryside, visiting cities. At one point his staff explain to him that he shouldn’t place himself in danger since the last throes of the Civil War would likely put a target on his back – Of course, they weren’t wrong. Visiting Petersburg the day after it’s fall (4/2/1865), Lincoln gave orders for the carriage he was on to be stopped.

[According to the marquis] On a previous visit, Lincoln had noticed a “very tall and beautiful” oak tree that he wanted to examine more closely. “He admired the strength of it’s trunk, the vigorous development od branches,” which reminded him of “the great oaks” in the Western forests. He halted the carriage again when they passed “an old country graveyard” where trees shaded a carpet of spring flowers. Turning to his wife, Lincoln said, “Mary, you are younger than I. You will survive me. When I am gone, lay my remains in some quiet place like this.” On the train rise back to City Point, Lincoln observed a turtle “basking in the warm sunshine on the wayside.” He then asked that the train be stopped so that the turtle could be brought into the car. “The movements of the ungainly little animal seemed to delight him,” Elizabeth Keckley recalled. He and Tad shared “a happy laugh” all the way back to the wharf. (Kearns 722).

The concluding section of the book I found particularly powerful (and was something I could relate to):

“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition,” the twenty-three-year-old Abraham Lincoln had written in his open letter tk the people of Sangamon County during his first bid for public office in the Illinois state legislature. “Whether it is true or not, I can say for one that I have no other [ambition] so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy if their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.”
The ambition to establish a reputation worthy of the esteem of his fellows so that his story could be told after his death had carried Lincoln through his bleak childhood, his laborious efforts to educate himself, his string of political failures, and a depression so profound that he declares himself more than willing to die, except that “he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.” (Kearns 748).

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