Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Team of Rivals

One of the books I'm currently reading is Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. The book takes a comprehensive look at Abraham Lincoln's rise to the presidency, his leadership style, and the members of his cabinet. It's an extraordinary book and should be essential reading for all Americans.

William Seward, who served as Mr. Lincoln's Secretary of State, is one of the key players in the book. During his stint as an U.S. Senator from New York, he was perhaps one of the most vocal critics of slavery. Despite this he was still able to bring Northerners and Southerners together. How did he accomplish this? He brought them together at the dinner table:

. . . seventeen courses were served, beginning with turtle soup. The plates were changed with each serving of fish, meat, asparagus, sweetbreads, quail, duck, terrapin, ice cream, and "beautiful pyramids of iced fruits, oranges, French kisses." By each place setting there stood wineglasses, "five in number, of different size, form and color, indicating the different wines to be served." After dinner, coffee was served to the women in the parlor while the men gathered in the study to enjoy after-dinner liqueurs, and cigars ordered specially from Cuba. Through these Bacchanalian feasts, "by the juice of the grape, and even certain distillations from peaches and corn," Seward endeavored one reporter suggested, "to give his guests good cheer, and whether they are from the North or South, keep them in the bonds of good fellowship. Strange rumors have often crept out from Washington and startled the people, to the effect, that fire-eaters have been known to visit the house of the great New Yorker, and come away with the oil of gladness, purple with the essence of the fruit of the wine."
Once again, my friends, we see that food is more than food. Food has the power to bring together polar opposites. Perhaps, we should look to the dinner table to find common ground.

Please pass the salt,

P.S. Perhaps, he should have planned a menu that catered to the tastes of Southerners. Whiskey, BBQ, and some fried delicacies should have been on the menu. Maybe the Civil War could have been avoided.

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