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AUBURN | Doris Kearns Goodwin clearly likes to tell stories.

In front of a sold-out Auburn High School auditorium Thursday evening, the historian and "Team of Rivals" author spoke with zeal and command about the Auburn research that inspired the book, its central narrative of Abraham Lincoln's "political genius," and the new Steven Spielberg movie the book inspired, "Lincoln."

Given William Seward's prominent presence in both the book and the film as Lincoln's secretary of state, Goodwin was brought to Auburn by the Seward House Museum as its 2012 Elsa Soderberg Distinguished Speaker Series guest.

The museum's executive director, Billye Chabot, introduced Goodwin with praise for her storytelling ability in "Rivals."

"Some call it the most important political book ever written," Chabot said.

Goodwin then took the stage to sustained applause. She began by noting what she turned down to be in Auburn that night: An exclusive White House screening of "Lincoln."

But Goodwin was committed to come to Auburn, as she felt a "special warmth" toward the city. It was at the Seward House that her research inspired the narrative structure "Team of Rivals" would take. She described seeing Seward's cigars and snuff box, the "fabulous resources" that were Seward's letters to his wife, Frances, and the garden where Seward awaited word — ultimately in vain — that he won the 1860 Republican nomination for president.

Researching Seward led Goodwin to look at Lincoln's other rivals for that same nomination, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates.

"Then I had my story," she said.

Much of what followed would be familiar to "Team of Rivals" readers. Goodwin outlined each of the four rivals' paths to the White House and their varying shades of ambition, but also what distinguished Lincoln from the others: care not to make enemies, and determination to live forever through his achievements.

After winning the presidency and surprisingly taking his rivals to the White House with him as his cabinet, Lincoln faced what Goodwin described as attempts at puppet-rule from Seward.

Lincoln welcomed the veteran politician's advice. Goodwin noted, as she does in the book, that the "mystic chords" phrase in Lincoln's first inaugural address came from the Auburnian. Later, Seward would wisely advise Lincoln to wait until the Union won a Civil War battle — ultimately Antietam — to announce the Emancipation Proclamation.

But by rebuffing the secretary of state's more aggressive maneuvers "gently but firmly," Lincoln won Seward's respect and friendship. The two would "let the day's worries go behind them" with talk of Shakespeare, poetry, and theater, Goodwin said.

Goodwin also went beyond the book, describing how she urged Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and Daniel Day-Lewis, as Lincoln, to include plenty of the president's renowned stories in "Lincoln." To much laughter she shared a slightly profane tale involving Ethan Allen and an outhouse that ultimately made the movie.

Goodwin developed her own love of storytelling from following baseball with her father, she said.

"I'm always grateful for this curious love of history," she said toward the end of her talk.

Goodwin took a few questions before being told it was time to conclude, at which point she launched into a story about her first confession to "a baseball-loving priest."

She just had to tell one more.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter at drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.