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Last Updated on February 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1316

The Innateness of Ambition

In Team of Rivals, author Doris Kearns Goodwin describes the ambition characters of the four men who were contenders for the office of the presidency of the United States in the election of 1860: New York senator William H. Seward, Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase, Missouri elder statesman Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln. Goodwin’s narrative reveals that each of these men possessed an innate quality of ambition that was evident from childhood.

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These men were ambitious and seemed to know that they were destined to achieve high-profile statuses. They reveal their ambitions and desire to earn more than financial wealth early in their lives. Goodwin specifically uses Lincoln as an example of the type of ambition that propelled these men to seek the office of the presidency was ingrained early in life:

As a young man, Lincoln worried that the “field of glory” had been harvested by the founding fathers, that nothing had been left for his generation but modest ambitions.

Ambition drove these men to make sacrifices. When Bates won a seat in congress in 1826, he was still almost a newlywed, having been married for only three years. Goodwin notes that “his pleasure in the victory was dimmed by the necessity of leaving home and hearth. Even short absences from Julia proved painful for him,” Goodwin writes. Nevertheless, he—like the other men in the book—made the sacrifice.

Seward is another example of the youthful drive to achieve goals at personal sacrifice. He realized that his university studies would place him in the company of “all the eminent philosophers, scholars, and statesmen of the country.” Thus, he made a pact with his roommate:

[They rose] at three o’clock in the morning, cooked and spread our own meals, washed our own dishes, and spent the whole time which we could save from prayers and recitations, and the table, in severe study, in which we unreservedly and constantly aided each other.

Goodwin notes that for many, politics was one of the likeliest avenues to get ahead at that time. She writes that “For many ambitious young men in the nineteenth century, politics proved the chosen arena for advancement. Politics attracted Bates in Missouri, Seward in upstate New York, Lincoln in Illinois, and Chase in Ohio.”

Each one had achieved some level of political office well before the presidential election. Seward was elected to the office of governor of New York and also served for almost twelve years as senator. Chase had attained the governorship in Ohio, Bates represented Missouri in the United States House of Representatives and Lincoln had served in congress. Yet, possibly because of sheer ambition or because of how passionate each one was about the cause of anti-slavery, they each decided to try for the highest office in the nation.

The Drive for Self-Betterment

Lincoln demonstrated a strong ability to motivate himself to succeed, and this drive for success entailed a determination to improve himself at every opportunity. In many cases, such opportunities arose in the wake of failure. Goodwin illustrates his powerful ambition to improve himself and to succeed with the story of the Reaper Case. After being invited to assist in the case, the other members of the legal team subsequently shut him out. Nevertheless, Lincoln attended the trial and recognized their skillful legal strategy and oration. He determined to improve himself through self-teaching, and indeed Lincoln remained an autodidact throughout his life.

Lincoln is not the only one who strove for self-improvement. Goodwin describes Chase in a similar way:

Following Benjamin Franklin’s advice for continual self-improvement, he founded a popular lecture series in Cincinnati, joined a temperance society, undertook the massive project of collecting Ohio’s scattered...

(The entire section contains 1316 words.)

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