The President and His Cabinet

Donald Trump’s cabinet selection process has repeatedly brought up mention of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet picks, often termed the “Team of Rivals.”

We need the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.

— Abraham Lincoln


Donald Trump’s cabinet selection process has repeatedly brought up mention of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet picks, often termed the “Team of Rivals.” Three of his cabinet members had run against him in the 1860 Presidential election: Secretary of State William H. Seward (famous for “Seward’s Folly,” the not so foolish after all purchase of Alaska from Russia); Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (on the $10,000 bill, and namesake of Chase Manhattan Bank); and Attorney General Edward Bates.

I had begun to read America in Person: 96 first-person accounts of America’s past (by George D. Youstra) and came across an account by Charles A. Dana (assistant Secretary of War for Lincoln). It is interesting reading, and thought-provoking on the subject of cabinet selections and the personal interplay among the President and cabinet members. Trump seems to be pragmatic and willing to work with people that he disagrees with and maybe even people he doesn’t like. I am hopeful that he will include a variety of independent thinkers to advise him. And, I am hopeful that they will consider their job as a service to “We the People” rather than a chance to advance themselves.

LINCOLN AS PRESIDENT: The President and His Cabinet (1861-65) by Charles A. Dana

Mr. Dana was Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of War under Edwin Stanton.

During the first winter I spent in Washington in the War Department I had constant opportunities of seeing Mr. Lincoln, and of conversing with him in the cordial and unofficial manner which he always preferred. Not that there was ever any lack of dignity in the man. Even in his freest moments one always felt the presence of a will and of an intellectual power which maintained the ascendancy of his position. He never posed, or put on airs, or attempted to make any particular impression; but he was always conscious of his ideas and purposes, even in his most unreserved moments.

I knew, too, and saw frequently, all the members of his Cabinet. When Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated as President, his first act was to name his Cabinet; and it was a common remark at the time that he had put into it every man who had competed with him for the nomination. The first in importance was William H. Seward, of New York, Mr. Lincoln’s most prominent competitor. Mr. Seward was made Secretary of State. The second man in importance and ability to be put into the Cabinet was Mr. [Salmon P.] Chase, of Ohio. His administration in the Treasury Department was satisfactory to the public. Mr. Chase authored the national banking law. Mr. [Edwin M.] Stanton was the energetic Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy throughout the war was Gideon Welles, of Connecticut.

The relations between Mr. Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet were always friendly and sincere on his part. He treated every one of them with unvarying candor, respect, and kindness; but, though several of them were men of extraordinary force and self-assertion-this was true especially of Mr. Seward, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Stanton-and though there was nothing of self-hood or domination in his manner toward them, it was always plain that he was the master and they the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will in questions where responsibility fell upon him. If he ever yielded to theirs, it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate. I fancied during the whole time of my intimate intercourse with him and with them, that he was always prepared to receive the resignation of any one of them. At the same time I do not recollect a single occasion when any member of the Cabinet had got his mind ready to quit his post from any feeling of dissatisfaction with the policy of conduct of the President. Not that they were always satisfied with his actions; the members of the Cabinet, like human beings in general, were not pleased with everything. In their judgment much was imperfect in the administration; much, they felt, would have been done better if their views had been adopted and they individually had had charge of it. Not so with the President.

He was calm, equable, uncomplaining. In the discussion of important questions, whatever he said showed the profoundest thought, even when he was joking. He seemed to see every side of every question. He never was impatient, he never was in a hurry, and he never tried to hurry anybody else. To every one he was pleasant and cordial. Yet they all felt it was his word that went at last; that every case was open until he gave his decision.

The above excerpt is from: Charles A. Dana, “Lincoln as President: The President and his Cabinet,” in George D. Youstra, editor (1975), America in Person: 96 first-person accounts of America’s past, Bob Jones University Press, p194-196. ISBN-10: 978-0-8908-4026-9. ISBN-13: 978-0-8908-4026-9.

Header quote by Lincoln from Wikipedia article on:  Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005), Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 978-0-7432-7075-5.

Header image by DSM (full name unknown) a line-drawing distributed in the 1960’s by Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, Los Angeles, California (now defunct) apparently drawn from a well-known photograph of Lincoln (see below). (I obtained the drawing from a local branch and have displayed it in my room, my college dorm room, my office, and my home office since that time.)