Choir Notes

From Rivals to Friends 
From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Lloyd D. Newell • Program 4377

In May 1860, four men were vying to be their party’s nominee for president of the United States at the Republican convention. Delegates were expected to give the nod to well-known and experienced Senator William Henry Seward, with Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase the next most likely candidate and Judge Edward Bates another viable choice. The long shot was a one-term congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, whose previous history at the ballot box was stacked with losses. They were all good men, but Lincoln seemed to lag in both respect and recognition among the competitors. As the balloting began, Seward placed first but not decisively, with a surprisingly strong showing by Lincoln. On the second ballot, Lincoln pulled almost even with Seward; and on the third, Lincoln registered a stunning victory. Months later, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. 

While Seward, Chase, and Bates grumbled about the outcome and envied the new president, Lincoln shocked the political community by appointing his three rivals to positions in his cabinet. The editor of the Chicago Tribune asked President Lincoln why he had made the surprising appointments of men who coveted his position and who might overshadow him with their political experience. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet,” Lincoln replied. “These were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”1

What a lesson in wise, big-hearted leadership. Who can tell how history might have been different if Lincoln had not been willing to place the good of his country above his personal pride and ambition? 

Our decisions may not determine the destiny of nations, but they can influence, for good or ill, our cherished relationships. How many relationships have been saved when a good soul chooses to be happy—rather than envious—about a neighbor’s success? Interestingly, Lincoln’s surprising cabinet appointments not only blessed the country but also turned political rivalries into warm and respectful friendships. 

Like Lincoln, we can stand above the fray and applaud the successes of others; we can see the good they have to offer and embrace their contributions. As we do, we will find ourselves and our relationships stronger as a result.

1 James M. McPherson, “‘Team of Rivals’: Friends of Abe,” New York Times, Nov. 6, 2005,

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