28 July 2009

ch.3: The Lure of Politics

summary: In chapter 3, we discover how each of the Team of Rival characters climbed the political ladder. The chapter takes us through the mid-1840s. We also learn something about politics and the political system during this time period. Politics was important to many Americans, and as Kearns writes, “for many young men in the nineteenth century, politics proved the chosen arena for advancement." But we must remember some history—politics was reserved for white males. Granted, property qualifications had largely disappeared by the mid-1840s. But women in the United States were not even supposed to be in same room where a political discussion was going on!

What we can also unearth about antebellum politics are the issues—what was important to the voting public in the 1830-1840s? While you are reading, keep an eye out for issues and interests (what groups were for and against certain policies and programs): urban-rural; North-South; etc. These issues will continue to come up in the book. If you remain diligent on this, you can become an antebellum political expert yourself by the time you finish. You will be able to talk to your partner and/or kids about internal improvements, tariffs, panics, and other bygone political topics!

Discussion Questions
1. What are internal improvements and why was that issue so important in the 1830s and 1840s? What part(s) of the country were in favor and what section(s) were opposed? Why?

2. What were some other political issues discussed in this chapter? hint: several were mentioned in Seward’s campaign for governor.

3. What were Lincoln’s three main policy issues: he stressed these three ideas during his early campaigns.

4. What was the protective tariff and why would a politician in 1840 support it?

5. There is a fascinating passage on p.77 (hardback edition) when Seward and his wife traveled to the South. Kearns writes that when “crossing into Virginia, the Seward’s entered a world virtually unchanged since 1800.” Why was the South so economically backward by 1840 while the North was thriving?

6. Why does Kearns spend so much time on Lincoln’s relationships with women? He did appear to have some trouble making up his mind didn’t he? Or was he just a typical young man with the same problems and concerns as young men today? Does the author make too much of Lincoln's relationship woes?

7. Kearns talks about Lincoln’s empathy and what an important trait it was. What does it mean, why might it be important in politics, and why don’t we talk about empathy today? Isn’t it important anymore? Should it be?

8. Toward the end of the chapter, we learn that Chase and Edwin Stanton met and became friends during this period (Stanton will become very important later in the book). It is their correspondence that is fascinating:

-Stanton to Chase: “no living person has been offener in my mind…for, more than once, I have dreamed of being with you."

-Stanton to Chase: your letter “filled my heart with joy; to be loved by you, and to be told that you value my love is a gratification beyond my powers to express.”

There are more of these letters. Why and when do you suppose men stopped writing like this to each other? If these letters were common in the antebellum era (and they were), what might have changed the way men expressed their feelings?

Other Misc. Points
The painting is by George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879). Bingham painted wonderful scenes of everyday life in antebellum America. This 1849 painting is entitled "Country Politician." If you have some time, go online and take a look at some of his other works. There are some very accurate and lively depictions of day-to-day life. I will continue to post some of my Bingham favorites.


  1. Chapter Three, question 1. Internal improvements are the improvements of roads, rivers, harbors, and railways. This was very important because they were designed to foster business in a new market economy. This became especially important after the success of the Erie Canal. The Southern Democrats resisted these measures because they thought that we should be against the politics which were hurting the common man. The Western states were in favor of this because this would help them market their grain to port cities.
    Question 3: Lincoln's three main policy issues were internal improvements, public education, and laws against usury. He wanted to accomplish these things by having a national banking system. His most important policy was internal improvements that he saw firsthand while working on a flatbed boat going down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

    Question 4. They wanted to protect American industries so we could build up our industries and diversify the jobs.

  2. Question 2. I am unsure if I should classify the southern “Code” of dueling a political issue but I did find Bates words interesting when he said, “The present generation will think me barbarous but I believe that some lives lost in protecting the tone of the bar and the press on which the Republic itself so largely depends, are well spent.” Seward was also a proponent of “a national banking system and protective tariffs,”
    Question 5. There is a passage on p.77 (paperback edition) saying, “ . . . three decades of immigration, commercial enterprise, and industrial production had invigorated Northern society, creating thriving cities and towns.” Doris adds a quote from historian Kenneth Stampp finishing the paragraph “ . . . the air was full of excitement of intellectual ferment and with the schemes of entrepreneurs; and the land was honeycombed with societies aiming at nothing less than the total reform of mankind.” That tells us why the North was thriving; the south concentrated its wealth and education around an “aristocracy” of land-owners while the slaves labored in poverty. “The poverty, neglect, and stagnation Seward surveyed seemed to pervade both the landscape and its inhabitants.”
    Questions 6 & 7. I think that Doris spent just enough time on Lincoln’s relationships. It shows that he was gifted with high intelligence and lanky legs. Recognizing ones differences comes naturally to us, the harder thing is to empathize with the inadequacies we all share.
    Question 8. I agree their correspondence is fascinating. The significance of letter writing is fascinating.

    Other Misc. Points: Antebellum is a nice word.