He was a boy with a distant father, raised in a family of modest means. He had a curious intellect, devouring history and memorizing passages from Shakespeare. He became a lawyer and settled in Illinois, where he was elected to the state legislature. With relatively little political experience, he decided to run for president. Few believed he stood a chance of winning a primary campaign against the party's heir apparent, a senator from New York.
But the gangly, bookish Illinoisan galvanized millions across a country in crisis with his soaring rhetoric, speaking in big strokes about transcending partisan politics and creating America as it ought to be. He rose from obscurity to clinch his party's nomination and the presidency. The New York senator returned home deeply disappointed and bitter, having fallen to a shrewd political tactician.
The year was 1860, and Abraham Lincoln had narrowly defeated Sen. William H. Seward to become the Republican presidential nominee. After winning the presidency, Lincoln disregarded personal animosity and took the unprecedented move of tapping Seward to be his secretary of state. He appointed two other political adversaries as well: Salmon P. Chase, a handsome widower and Ohio's governor, who resented losing to a man he considered inferior, as secretary of the Treasury; and Edwin M. Stanton, a long-bearded Democratic lawyer contemptuous of Lincoln, whom Lincoln inherited as his attorney general but later appointed as secretary of war.