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Obama could have learned from Lincoln

For The Madera Tribune

William H. Seward; Lincoln’s chief rival.


Tension filled the air in the Wigwam, Chicago’s huge, newly constructed meeting hall, as delegates to the 1860 Republican Convention stood ready to choose their standard bearer. Four men were making vigorous stabs at the presidential platter of national politics, but of course only one of them could win. The victor turned out to be Abraham Lincoln, and while he surprised everyone with his win, the action he took after he gained the nomination shocked people to their toes.

The favored candidate coming into the convention was New York senator William H. Seward; however, he had serious competition. Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase, Missouri’s elder statesman, Edward Bates, and former one-term congressman Abraham Lincoln all had organizations working the delegates at the convention.

The political maneuvering was incredible as campaign managers for each man worked tirelessly in an attempt to line up votes before the first ballot on May 16, 1860. As the day dawned, the Seward team displayed their confidence with a celebratory march that was a thousand strong. It didn’t take long, however, for their optimism to dissipate.

It took 233 votes to win the nomination, and the results of the first ballot caused Seward some concern. Although he led with 173 1/2 votes, Lincoln, who had been largely dismissed as a serious candidate, came in second with 102. Chase nailed down a disappointing 49 and Bates was right behind with 48. The situation had all of the makings of an upset.

On the second ballot, Lincoln moved even closer to Seward while Chase and Bates fell further behind. The Springfield lawyer garnered 181 votes, just 3 1/2 tallies behind Seward.

The tension among the delegates mounted, and everyone was on the edge of their seats as the third ballot began. When the total was announced, Lincoln had pulled ahead and was just 1 1/2 votes shy of victory. Suddenly silence pervaded the hall for about 10 seconds, then David Carter of Ohio announced a switch of 4 votes from Chase to Lincoln. This sent the anti-Seward partisans of the crowd into a rapturous applause. Chase and Bates’ supporters erupted in a wild frenzy. If their candidates couldn’t have the nomination, at least Seward wouldn’t get it.

After the convention Senator Seward went back to New York, and Governor Chase returned to Ohio, while Edward Bates headed for his Missouri home. Disappointed, they prepared to get their political revenge on the Illinois upstart who had robbed them of their glory. They weren’t destined; however, to become gadflies of the loyal opposition for long. Lincoln had a plan for defanging his enemies. He would keep them closer to him that he did his friends, for you see, he asked each one of his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination to join his cabinet!

In a courageous twist in time, Lincoln named Seward, Secretary of State; Chase, Secretary of the Treasury; and Bates, Attorney General. The least expected victor among the rivals in May 1860, had produced a team, which could have provided an example for another Illinois politician almost a century and a half later. How would things have turned out if Barack Obama had borrowed a page from Lincoln’s plan book.

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