Throughout the war his Cabinet would function successfully, even as its members fussed and feuded; Stanton's running of the War Department surpassed even Chase's performance at the Treasury. There are times, however, when Lincoln's management-by-magnanimity—after four years of badmouthing and betrayal, Chase was rewarded with the post of chief justice—seems to border on the masochistic. But Goodwin disagrees when I put the psychological possibility to her: "If the forgiveness were eating away at Lincoln, and not being able to deal with the anger directly was taking certain life force away, then it would be a negative thing; but you don't have the feeling that that's happening with him."
Lincoln could absorb the hurts and slights—suck it up, as we would say today—because he possessed, Goodwin convinces us, the longest possible view. For rewards he would leave himself to heaven; no matter that he didn't believe in its existence. The seraphim he could see was posterity, whose deferred approval would be huge. He furloughed soldiers so that they could go home and vote for him, and he was bolstered by their love. But he was after something more permanently enveloping than that, and he came to understand that the Emancipation Proclamation would be his guarantor of immortality. Always self-mocking of his stringy, badly dressed form, he could still imagine it in marble.
Goodwin gives us a man "acutely aware of his own emotional needs," one who managed his melancholy as shrewdly as he did his subordinates. She does not neglect the near-suicidal depression Lincoln sank into in the winter of 1841, though she highlights the political disappointments that contributed to it. She amply supplies us, too, with Mary's moods and behavioral binges, and also the grief both parents suffered over the death of their son Willie, who probably perished, from typhoid fever, in a sort of infectious friendly fire: "The White House drew its water supply from the Potomac River, along the banks of which tens of thousands of troops without proper latrines were stationed." But none of this dominates Goodwin's portrait. "I really do think that the idea of him as a depressed individual has been overstressed," she tells me; too much emphasis on the sad, homely expression has prevented Lincoln's full animation for readers, she believes. In some ways he was "more married to these guys in the Cabinet" than to Mary, she jokes; and it is Goodwin's picture of Lincoln laughing in Seward's parlor that stays with one after all the other lantern slides have been put back into the drawer.
Lincoln-Kennedy "parallels"—some of them bogus, some of them real ("Each president in his thirties married a socially prominent twenty-four-year-old girl who spoke French fluently")—are an Internet perennial, but Goodwin agrees when I suggest that few more disparate presidential pairs exist than the coolly detached JFK and the tender, mystical Lincoln. "Kennedy wasn't in my head" while writing this new book, she says. Lyndon Johnson (who's "always in my head") shared with Lincoln a passionate need to be remembered, though LBJ's developed only after he'd attained the presidency, whereas Lincoln had spoken of his as early as his first campaign for the state legislature, when he was twenty-three. The Lincoln parallels to Goodwin's third former president, Roosevelt, are occasionally temperamental—"They both understood, much more than Lyndon Johnson, the importance of relaxation," she says—but more frequently managerial: "They both had a magnificent sense of timing." Each knew how to bring a reluctant public around to his largest aims by picking the media forum that suited him best: Roosevelt's fireside chats and Lincoln's public letters, those widely disseminated but intimate-seeming communications that explained his evolving position on slavery.
The books into which Goodwin has put these presidents, at the rate of one a decade, have been decidedly different from one another. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream remains interesting for the one-of-a-kind, up-close-and-personal access that produced it, but it's a ramshackle production, an uneasy blend of journalism, biography, memoir, and political-science study, much of it reflective of Goodwin's graduate training in Harvard's government department, where Richard Neustadt (Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents) was "like a second father" to her. Conversations with Erik Erikson during that same period, and participation in a seminar on the application of psychoanalysis to biography, make themselves overapparent in analyses of Johnson's dreams and "repetition compulsion." Goodwin now muses that she was "always, I think, underneath," a historian, but in the LBJ book she hadn't yet learned to dramatize the particulars; it's surprisingly abstract and unanecdotal about Johnson's Senate career and persuasion strategies.