Thursday, January 31, 2008

They've Done it Again

October 22, 1864

The folks at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project in Springfield have done it again.

The State Journal-Register is reporting that the project has located a four-page letter written by President Lincoln just before the election of 1864.

In the letter, Lincoln explains why he is refusing to interfere in a political dispute between his vice presidential running mate, Andrew Johnson, and prominent Democrats.

By late October 1864, Lincoln’s reelection seemed probable, yet Johnson, who was also the acting military governor of Tennessee, required voters in his state to pledge Union loyalty oaths before entering the voting booth. Democrats were outraged. These tactics, they argued, gave the president an unfair advantage over their candidate, Gen. George B. McClellan.

Lincoln’s letter was addressed to his outraged opponents. The president declined to interfere with Johnson’s loyalty oaths. In effect, Lincoln cited the Democrats’ familiar states rights argument and declined to intervene with the power of the federal government.

Researchers have known about this letter for quite some time. In fact, the letter is included in the Collected Works, but the location of the original has been a mystery for quite some time.

Researchers found the document in the National Archives’ vaults in College Park, Maryland, but the letter was tucked away in an obscure location.

The hiding place?

A large folder labeled “Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations” contained a smaller folder labeled “Records Relating to International Claims.” Lincoln’s letter was tucked inside. No one knows how the letter found its way into such an obscure file.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lincoln's Friends


Who was Abraham Lincoln’s closest friend? It is not an easy question to answer, but it is one that comes up occasionally.

From 1837 to 1842, for example, I think the answer is pretty clear: Joshua Speed was as close to Lincoln as anyone. When Lincoln was crippled by depression in January 1841, Speed remained by his side. Later that year, Lincoln spent three relaxing weeks at Farmington, the Speed family plantation, located just outside Louisville, Kentucky.

For those of you interested in Lincoln’s time at Farmington, you will be happy to read this story. Apparently, the Farmington Historic Plantation will unveil a new exhibit next month called, “Lincoln and Farmington: An Enduring Friendship.” The exhibit will examine life on the plantation during Lincoln’s visit. For example, in addition to members of the Speed family, nearly 60 slaves lived at Farmington.

When Lincoln returned from his visit to Farmington, he continued to correspond with Speed. I think those letters are incredibly interesting because Lincoln speaks candidly about personal matters. You can search his Collected Works, but you won't find him speaking quite so freely to anyone else.

However, as time went on, Lincoln and Speed exchanged fewer letters. By the mid-1850s, their friendship had all but died. In my view, Lincoln never again had a friend like Speed.

A few years ago, David Herbert Donald wrote a book about Lincoln’s friends. We Are Lincoln Men examined six key individuals in Lincoln’s life (Speed, William Herndon, Orville Browning, William Seward, John Nicolay, and John Hay). His conclusions were startling. Though Lincoln seemed to have all the qualities of a good friend—he was convivial, had a great sense of humor, and was interesting to be around—he was never able to maintain a “best friend” or a true confidant. Indeed, after the assassination those closest to Lincoln often questioned how well they really knew the man.

Though Judge David Davis was not included in Donald’s study, I’ve often been intrigued by his comments on the subject. Davis traveled the Eighth Judicial law circuit in Central Illinois with Lincoln for years; he heard Lincoln argue hundreds of lawsuits. The pair stayed in the same dirty taverns, took their meals together, and exchanged a thousand jokes. Their relationship was not confined to the courtroom. When Lincoln’s political ambition burned, Judge Davis did what he could to help advance his friend’s fortunes. By 1860, Davis helped Lincoln capture the Republican nomination for president; throughout the ensuing campaign, he served as Lincoln’s campaign manager; as president, Lincoln even appointed Davis to the United States Supreme Court. One might conclude that Lincoln and Davis had a particularly close relationship, yet it just wasn’t the case.

A year and a half after the assassination, Davis told Herndon that Lincoln was a “peculiar man.” Despite their close association, Lincoln “never asked my advice on any question…” Davis doubted whether Lincoln had “Strong Emotional feelings for any person—Mankind or thing. He never thanked me for any thing I did—never as I before said asked my advice about anything—never took my advice…” (David Davis to William H. Herndon, interview, Herndon’s Informants, 346, 348.)

Those are certainly interesting insights from someone who had spent a great deal of time with Lincoln.

Monday, January 28, 2008

But What Exactly was a Lyceum?

Abraham Lincoln, 1846

Yesterday marked the anniversary of one of the most curious speeches of Abraham Lincoln’s public life.

On January 27, 1838, the 28 year old lawyer addressed The Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield. The title of his lecture was curiously titled “The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions.” It was published a few days later in the local paper.

The Young Men’s Lyceum had only been around for a few years. Founded in 1833 by a group of especially ambitious Whigs, including Simeon Francis, John Todd Stuart, and Daniel Stone, the lyceum was only beginning to take off a few months before Lincoln’s lecture.

But what exactly was a lyceum?

The term itself comes from the ancient Greeks. Aristotle founded a school in Athens around 335 B. C. that met in a gymnasium that had been dedicated to Apollo Lyceus. The school soon became known as the Lyceum.

The American experiment in popular government owes a significant debt to the ancient Greeks. Think, just for a moment, about that great experiment. No longer would the colonists consent to the decrees of a king; instead, America would be governed by the common people. The new president, representatives, senators, and members of the Supreme Court would come from the masses! Not only was it a revolutionary political concept, but it absolutely changed the way American society would develop. Take, for example, the role education needed to play in the new nation. The new nation depended on an educated polity—not just to make informed decisions on Election Day, but the elected leaders themselves needed to be competent too.

Therefore, hundreds of nineteenth century communities throughout the American Northeast and Midwest emulated the Greek tradition and formed organizations called lyceums, which were really forums for adult education. Typically, organizers would invite speakers who were especially well-versed on a particular subject. Men of voting age would attend the talks; they might learn something about the topic, exchange a few ideas, and socialize with their neighbors.

By presenting a lecture at a lyceum, Lincoln joined many of his most prominent contemporaries, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison, and Mark Twain.

Why not take a few moments and read through Lincoln’s lecture? As you read, keep in mind who Lincoln was in 1838. He was a young lawyer who had only recently joined John Todd Stuart’s law firm. The importance of law and order is a major theme in his lecture.

Second, Lincoln was also an incredibly ambitious politician, even in January 1838. He had been a member of the state legislature since 1834 and his tenure would continue until 1841. He was an intensely loyal Whig, as well as a staunch opponent of the Democrats and their leader, Stephen A. Douglas. See if partisan issues factor into his lecture.

Last, Lincoln fears the new direction society seems to be heading in. Just three months before he delivered this lecture, proslavery forces in Alton, Illinois had murdered outspoken abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. The new nation faced tremendous challenges in 1838, just as the coming decades would further complicate matters. However, Lincoln cautions his neighbors against taking matters into their own hands. It was one thing to disagree on things, but it was never acceptable to flagrantly ignore the law and commit atrocious acts of violence. If the new nation was to survive, its citizens must submit to the rule of law.

If you would like to read Lincoln's Lyceum Address, click here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Robert Burns!

Robert Burns

Happy birthday today to one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poets, the inimitable Robert Burns!

Born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1759, the national poet of Scotland was the oldest of seven children, attended school sporadically, and seemed destined to spend his life toiling on the farm. But his pen saved him.

His brother convinced him to publish a book of poetry. The result, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was an instant hit. Burns became known throughout the country.

Like thousands of people in the nineteenth century, Lincoln loved Burns. Contemporaries remembered listening to Lincoln recite Burns’ poetry from memory. It was no easy task. Consider, for example, one of Burns’ most famous poems, “To a Mouse,” which was included in his first book poetry. Like much of his work, the poem is written in the Scots dialect. Not only could Lincoln decipher what Burns was saying, but he could mimic the Scots dialect. His performances captured both the poet’s rich humor and deep sentiment.

Try to make your way through the poem and see if you can decipher what Burns is saying to the mouse. Notice the second to last verse, which contains the famous phrase, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Go oft agley (awry).” The poem inspired John Steinbeck’s brief 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.

“To a Mouse”

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
What makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell -
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me;
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects dreaer!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The 'Fatal First' and Things We Just Don't Know

John Todd Stuart

The specifics are hard to pin down. We can reconstruct events, analyze evidence, and form a number of convincing interpretations, but there are times in which we must simply admit that there are things we just don’t know.

Take, for example, the “fatal first” of January 1841. Something caused Abraham Lincoln to plunge into a profound depression. He dropped his business in the state legislature and isolated himself in his room. Lincoln’s friends feared that he was suicidal.

What happened? What brought this 32 year old member of the state legislature to his knees?

Recent work by Douglas L. Wilson and Joshua Wolf Shenk note that Lincoln’s public life was crumbling around this time. As a four-term member of the state legislature, he had supported the state’s costly internal improvement projects. Not only had the various road, canal, and railroad projects been poorly managed, but they were still incomplete. To make matters worse, the state had taken out massive loans to fund the projects. The first payment was due on January 1, 1841; legislators like Lincoln knew that the state would not be able to make the first payment. In fact, the state couldn’t even afford the interest charges.

Politically, Lincoln and his Whig colleagues had backed themselves into a corner and their political futures did not look bright. Moreover, their ill-advised economic policies had plunged the state into financial ruin.

But that alone does not explain Lincoln’s collapse.

Most interpretations acknowledge that something happened between Lincoln and his fiancée, Mary Todd. They had a fight. If one accepts that they were engaged, then it was abruptly called off. At the very least, the couple stopped talking completely.

But what sparked the fight?

There are a number of intriguing possibilities. Historians have written scores of books and articles on the subject. If you’re interested in reading more about them, send me an email and I can point you in the right direction.

Though Lincoln’s letters do not give us a definitive answer as to what caused his depression, they do give us a great deal of insight into his condition during this period. He appears to have been in great pain—not physical pain, but excruciating mental anguish.

On this day in 1841, Lincoln wrote one such letter to his law partner, John Todd Stuart, who was in Washington, serving as a member of Congress. Keep in mind, Stuart was not simply Lincoln’s law partner—he was also Mary’s cousin. Notice that Lincoln’s remarks are incredibly diplomatic. He cannot very well bury Mary Todd to her cousin, yet he is terribly honest when he talks about his current condition:

For not giving you a general summary of news, you must pardon me; it is not in my power to do so. I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.

The letter seems to indicate that Stuart is already familiar with what sparked Lincoln’s current depression. In a previous letter, Stuart had suggested that he might be able to use his position in Congress to secure an appointment for Lincoln, perhaps an appointment to a new location, far away from Springfield, in which he might get over his current sadness and recover his former vitality. Lincoln closes his letter to Stuart by thanking his law partner for looking into the possibility:

The matter you speak of on my account, you may attend to as you say, unless you shall hear of my condition forbidding it. I say this, because I fear I shall be unable to attend to any bussiness here, and a change of scene might help me. If I could be myself, I would rather remain at home with Judge Logan. I can write no more.

Stuart followed through on his offer. He wrote to Secretary of State Daniel Webster in recommendation of Lincoln for a diplomatic post in South America, but nothing came of it.

While we know that Lincoln eventually recovered and his relationship with Mary Todd was indeed salvageable, I think we must also acknowledge that there is a great deal about the fatal first that we simply do not know.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Making us Laugh

Lincoln Laughing

With Super Tuesday still a few weeks away, I thought I’d attempt to inject some levity into the political discussion.

The Christian Science Monitor recently ran a piece dealing with humor on the campaign trail. The article details some of Abraham Lincoln’s best one-liners while on the stump, including a particularly good bit on being “two-faced.” I know I’ve relayed this story before, but I’ll do so again:

A man in the crowd thought he heard Lincoln contradict himself during a speech and decided to call him out on it.

“You’re two-faced!” the man shouted.

Instead of arguing the point with the heckler, Lincoln made a joke.

“If I were two-faced,” Lincoln replied, “would I be wearing this one?”

Not only can humor level a vocal critic, but it can also attract votes. Candidates have long-recognized how valuable a good sense of humor can be.

For instance, the article mentions a few memorable lines from the recent past. In 1980, Ronald Regan explained some familiar economic terms this way: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

Good stuff.

Here’s another. In 1992, Bill Clinton told a crowd in Georgia that handing over the economy to George H. W. Bush would be like “hiring General Sherman for fire commissioner.” No doubt the reference to Sherman’s “March to the Sea” resonated with many of the proud Georgians in the crowd.

If there was an American president who had a better sense of humor than Lincoln, I am not aware of it. Let me put it another way. Somehow, Lincoln was able to inject humor into the Lincoln-Douglas Debates…these were three-hour long affairs that dealt with the momentous issue of American slavery! Moreover, his humor was usually well-placed. A long story with a good punch line was almost always designed to illustrate a larger point.

Many of today’s candidates are reluctant to make a joke on the campaign trail, much less during a televised debate. Consultants are familiar with the terrible repercussions of a joke that bombs. Instead of laughs, the audience gasps. Instead of collecting votes, the candidate offers apologies.

I have watched a handful of the presidential debates thus far. Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and John McCain do not seem to be afraid to make a joke. I like that.

The Democrats seem less eager to make us laugh; nonetheless, I came across this news story this morning. I liked it quite a bit.

Last night, Senator Barack Obama made Nevada voters laugh. He told them about something funny that happened during the Democratic debate on Tuesday.

The candidates were asked to name their biggest weakness.

Obama had to respond first. He replied that his desk was a mess and he needs some help organizing his paperwork. The next day, his opponents used his reply against him. If Obama can’t keep his office in order, they asked, how can we expect him to run the country efficiently?

Fair enough. Obama walked into that one. However, he told Nevada voters that he was terribly disappointed in the way his opponents answered the same question.

Former Senator John Edwards said his biggest weakness is that he has a powerful response to seeing pain in others.

Senator Hillary Clinton responded that her biggest weakness is that she gets impatient to bring change to America.

“Because I’m an ordinary person, I thought that they meant, ‘What’s your biggest weakness?” said Obama. “If I would have gone last I would have known what the game was. And then I could have said, “Well, ya know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don’t want to be helped. It’s terrible.”

The crowd laughed with Obama, perhaps they will vote for him too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"More Painful than Pleasant"

Abraham Lincoln and his father had a complicated relationship. Search Lincoln’s letters and try to find a “word of praise” for his father. You won’t succeed.

Consider the final letter he sent to his father.

Harriett Hanks Chapman, Dennis Hanks’ daughter, sent Lincoln a letter in early January 1851. She had just visited his father and things didn’t look good. He was in terrible health and, by all accounts, he would not recover from his latest illness. She told Lincoln that the family had written to him twice, but he had failed to respond each time. His father was dying, but he didn’t seem to care. Why?

After reading her letter, Lincoln finally reached for his pen. Instead of responding to her, he wrote directly to his stepbrother, John D. Johnston, who was at his father’s bedside.

Lincoln began by telling his stepbrother that he had received both of the letters. He had not forgotten about the letters, nor had he “been uninterested about them,” but “it appeared to me I could write nothing which could do any good.”

He explained that he could not travel to nearby Coles County to see his father. “My business is such that I could hardly leave home now,” he wrote. Moreover, his wife was presently “sick-abed” with a case of “baby-sickness,” though he did not think it was serious. Mary had given birth to their third child, Willie, on December 21, 1850, some three weeks earlier.

But before he closed his letter, Lincoln worked up some final words he wanted his father to hear:

I sincerely hope Father may yet recover his health; but at all events tell him to remember to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker; who will not turn away from him in any extremity. He notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads; and He will not forget the dying man, who puts his trust in Him. Say to him that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant; but that if it be his lot to go now, he will soon have a joyous [meeting] with many loved ones gone before; and where [the rest] of us, through the help of God, hope ere-long [to join] them.

Why did Lincoln think it would be “more painful than pleasant” to see his father? By painful, did he simply mean sad? Was he trying to say that it would be painful or sad to see his dying father because he loved him and did not want to see him suffer? Maybe.

The illness was indeed serious.

On this date in 1851, five days after Lincoln wrote to him, Thomas Lincoln died. He was 73.

Lincoln did not attend the funeral.

Two years later, the Lincolns named their fourth and final child after him. Interestingly, he rarely went by “Thomas;” instead, everyone called him “Tad,” because his father said his large head reminded him of a tadpole.

A little more than nine years after his father’s death, Lincoln visited Coles County for the final time. He had been elected president and was preparing to leave for Washington. He said goodbye to his stepmother and visited his father’s grave. He mentioned that he would like to have a headstone placed at the gravesite.

Two years after the assassination, in late 1867, Lincoln’s widow wrote to her husband’s aged stepmother:

My husband a few weeks before his death mentioned to me, that he intended that summer, paying proper respect to his father’s grave, by a head & foot stone, with his name, age & & and I propose very soon carrying out his intentions. It was not from want of affection for his father, as you are well aware, that it was not done, but his time was so greatly occupied always.

However, Mary failed to make good on the promise.

By 1880, local citizens spearheaded an effort to erect a monument to Lincoln’s father. When Lincoln’s son, Robert, heard about their efforts, he made “a generous contribution to the undertaking.” He also donated money for a tombstone to mark Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s grave.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Did Lincoln Have a Secretary Named Kennedy?

Abraham LincolnJohn F. Kennedy

This semester I am assisting Professor John Y. Simon with the second half of his American history course. Today we talked about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

I admit that the assassination has not always been one of my favorite topics. However, I have recently become quite interested in it. If you aren’t familiar with the assassination, but want to know more about it, I recommend Blood on the Moon by Edward Steers, Jr. and American Brutus by Michael W. Kaufman. Both books are well-written and will serve as good introductions to the topic.

We started today’s class with one of my favorite exercises. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that Lincoln and John F. Kennedy have quite a bit in common, perhaps even too much in common to be mere coincidence. Hardly a year goes by without someone sending me an email that goes something like this:

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Both lost a son while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

Both were shot in the back of the head.

Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.

Both were succeeded by Southerners.

Both successors were named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.

Both names are made of fifteen letters.

John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in a Theatre called "Ford."
Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy in a car called a "Ford" Lincoln.

Booth ran from a theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

A month before Lincoln was shot he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A month before Kennedy was shot he was with Marilyn Monroe.

Lists like this one began circulating shortly after the Kennedy assassination. I have even seen such lists printed in newspapers from foreign countries.

Lately, I've seen lists that include this one:

Lincoln's last child, Tad, had his funeral held on July 16, 1871. Later he was exhumed and moved to a different grave site.

Kennedy's son JFK Jr. was lost at sea on July 16, 1999. Later his body was found, brought up, and then reburied at sea.

But what, if anything, can we make of such a list of eerie coincidences?

At first glance, it certainly looks impressive. The two presidents appear to have much in common, but notice that there are a number of errors. For instance, I have never been able to find a secretary by the name of Kennedy who worked for Lincoln in the White House, or for that matter, at any other point in his life. Another error comes up when we compare the birthdates of the assassins. This list claims Booth was born in 1839 and Oswald in 1939, but it is not true. Booth was born on May 10, 1838, while Oswald was born on October 18, 1939. Similarly, the claim about Marilyn Monroe is simply false. Monroe died on August 5, 1962, which was more than a year before the Kennedy assassination.

While the factual errors may not stand in the way of the next Oliver Stone movie, I do think they are at least important enough to mention. That isn’t to say I’m not interested in the list. In my view, any list that encourages us to think about American history is going to get my support.

I want to add one more thing. Isn't a list of similarities misleading? What about the many differences between these two political figures? When we examine a list of differences, I am afraid that the chain of eerie coincidence snaps in half! Such a list might look something like this:

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.
John F. Kennedy was born in 1917.

Abraham Lincoln’s father was a subsistence farmer.
John F. Kennedy’s father was a multi-millionaire businessman and politician.

Abraham Lincoln had a brother, who died in infancy, and a sister.
John F. Kennedy had eight siblings, all of which reached adulthood.

Abraham Lincoln never attended college.
John F. Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 1940.

Abraham Lincoln was married in 1842.
John F. Kennedy was married in 1953.

Abraham Lincoln was a Whig and later a Republican.
John F. Kennedy was a Democrat.

Abraham Lincoln served two years in Congress.
John F. Kennedy served six years in Congress.

Abraham Lincoln was never a member of the Senate.
John F. Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1952.

Abraham Lincoln never officially joined a church.
John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic.

Abraham Lincoln had four children, all boys.
John F. Kennedy had three children, two boys and one girl.

The list could certainly go on, but you get the picture.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Judge Napolitano Takes DiLorenzo's Word for it

I want to thank fellow blogger Brian Dirck for calling my attention to a strange new book by Fox News Senior Legal Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano. Apparently, his book, The Constitution in Exile, features a chapter titled "Dishonest Abe."

I'll let you make your mind up about the book, but this chapter looks like a CliffsNotes version of Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln. Let's hope the judge cited his sources.

Special thanks also goes to Brooks Simpson for pointing out one of Napolitano's recent book talks. Double click on the picture at the top of this entry to hear the judge's anti-Lincoln rant. If you don't see the picture in your browser, just CLICK HERE to view it directly from youtube.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Starring Harrison Ford as Andrew Johnson...

Andrew JohnsonHarrison Ford

The Reader in Nebraska is reporting that Harrison Ford, of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Fugitive fame, is set to star in Stephen Spielberg's adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals.

No, Ford will not play Lincoln, that role is reserved for Liam Neeson. Instead, Ford will play Lincoln's second vice president, Andrew Johnson. I can't wait!

Here is the original blurb from Friday's edition of The Reader:

Recalling that working with Steven Spielberg can make you rich and famous, Harrison Ford has jumped aboard another project from the director, a biography of Abraham Lincoln starring Liam Neeson. Spielberg has planned the film since back when Neeson was famous. Ford plays Vice President Andrew Johnson, a demotion from his last presidential role in Air Force One. Given Spielberg’s need to please audiences and Ford’s “action man” nature, look for Johnson to save Lincoln at the theater by laying out John Wilkes Booth and quipping, “The play may not be over, but it’s curtains for you, pal!”

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lincoln's Legacy: Ethics and Politics

Lincoln's Legacy: Ethics and Politics

As many of you already know, the late Phillip Shaw Paludan was one of the finest Lincoln scholars of the era. When he passed away last year, he was working on a collection of essays caleld Lincoln's Legacy: Ethics and Politics.

The University of Illinois Press is preparing to publish the volume sometime in 2008. I am not sure of the exact date, but I will pass that along as soon as I am able. However, the press has released the cover image (pictured above), as well as a synopsis of the book, along with author endorsements.

It looks like the book will be very short: just four essays totaling 112 pages. Nonetheless, I suspect that each of these essays will give us plenty to think about.

The collection begins with an essay by Paludan titled “Lincoln and Democracy.” I believe that I heard him deliver a version of this essay during the Lincoln Symposium a few years ago in Springfield. If the polished essay follows his presentation, readers won’t be disappointed. Paludan challenges many of the assumptions we have of Lincoln as a traditional democrat (note the "lower-case d").

The second essay in this collection comes from William Lee Miller, the author of the recent Lincoln’s Virtues. His essay is titled, “The Exacting Legacy of a Virtuous President.”

Mark W. Summers, a professor at the University of Kentucky and author of such books as The Plundering Generation: Corruption and the Crisis of the Union, 1848-1861 and The Era of Good Stealings, contributes the third essay, which is titled “Lincoln Spoils the War.” I suspect that this essay will examine the issue of patronage and corruption in the Civil War.

The final essay in this volume comes from Pulitzer Prize winning historian Mark E. Neely, Jr. His essay, “‘Seeking a Cause of Difficulty with the Government’: Reconsidering Freedom of Speech and Judicial Conflict under Lincoln,” will no doubt center on the controversial issue of civil liberties during the Civil War, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and Lincoln’s interpretation of the constitution.

The following synopsis, explaining the significance of this volume, comes directly from the publisher:

On the eve of the bicentennial celebration of Lincoln's birth, Lincoln's Legacy highlights his relevance to contemporary issues of law, politics, equality, the rule of law, and political and constitutional leadership. Among the problems he encountered were corruption in government ranks, political disagreements rooted in regionalism, wartime quarrels with the judiciary and legislative branches, and disputes concerning moral obligations. Although Lincoln would be unlikely to recognize many aspects of modern America, a surprising number of issues that he faced during his tumultuous presidency still resonate in twenty-first century politics.

But don’t take the publisher’s word for it. Two of my favorite Lincoln scholars are weighing in on this collection:

"Lincoln's Legacy includes essays by four renowned scholars of Lincoln and the Civil War. The essays are each outstanding in their own right and offer fresh new perspectives on Lincoln's leadership, the role of patronage and spoils, Lincoln's ideas on democracy, and the role of freedom of speech and the judiciary in the Civil War." -- Ronald C. White Jr., author of The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words

"Readers who may be wary of books about Lincoln's 'legacy,' which often feature an overdose of apologetics and adulation, will be agreeably surprised and much enlightened by these authoritative and highly readable essays." --Douglas L. Wilson, codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, and author of Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Apologizing for Slavery

Jack, a Slave from West Africa

New Jersey has become the first Northern state to officially apologize for slavery.

According to the New Jersey legislature’s website, the House of Representatives passed the resolution by an overwhelming 59 to 8 margin, with eight members abstaining. The resolution was carried in the Senate by a 30 to 1 margin.

Here is the resolution in full:




The Assembly Appropriations Committee reports favorably Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 270.

This concurrent resolution issues a formal apology on behalf of the State of New Jersey for its role in sustaining and perpetuating the institution of slavery, and expresses the State’s deepest sympathies and profound regrets to the thousands of slaves and the descendents of those enslaved, who were denied life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while in bondage.

In tracing the history of slavery and its legacy of inequality from the founding of the Republic to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s, the concurrent resolution acknowledges the injustices, the broken promises and the blank checks that have never come to fruition. It calls upon the residents of this State to learn about and gain a deeper understanding of the history of slavery, the legacy of de facto and de jure segregation, and the existence of modern day slavery to ensure that these tragedies will not be forgotten and will not be repeated.

In 1846 New Jersey became the last Northern state to abolish slavery. According to the 1840 Census, the last in which slavery was legal in the state, 674 slaves lived in New Jersey, which was 0.18 percent of the state’s total population.

New Jersey is now the fifth state to officially apologize for slavery. Less than a year ago, on February 24, 2007, Virginia became the first state to express “profound regret” for its role in the institution. While slaves accounted for less than a fifth of one percent in New Jersey in 1840, more than 30 percent of Virginia's population was enslaved in 1860. When the Civil War began, Virginia was home to nearly a half million slaves.

A month after Virginia issued its apology, lawmakers in Maryland passed a very similar resolution, which expressed their “profound regret” for participating in an institution that "fostered a climate of oppression not only for slaves and their descendants but also for people of color who moved to Maryland subsequent to slavery’s abolition.” According to the 1860 Census, 87,189 slaves lived in Maryland. Slaves made up about 13 percent of the state’s population.

About two weeks later, North Carolina joined Virginia and Maryland. The legislature passed a resolution expressing the state’s “profound contrition for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated the denial of basic human rights and dignity to fellow humans.” According to the 1860 Census, 331,059 slaves lived in North Carolina. Slaves made up 33.4 percent of the state’s population.

On May 31, 2007, Alabama became the fourth state to express “profound regret” for “centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices.” According to the 1860 Census, 435,080 slaves lived in Alabama. Slaves made up more than 45 percent of the state’s population.

Cynics say the apologies are of little value. After all, the slaves themselves are not alive to accept an apology. One of the New Jersey legislators who voted against his state's resolution put it another way: “None of us can truly apologize for the institution because neither we, nor anyone we represent, was in anyway responsible.”

While I certainly see his point, I must repectfully disagree. Read the resolution again. Notice that the apology does not come from modern day citizens of New Jersey, nor does it even come from the state's elected representatives. Instead, the apology was issued “on behalf of the State of New Jersey.” The state sanctioned slavery, passed laws to sustain it, and benefited from the institution. Therefore, the state apologizes for its actions.

New Jersey will not be the last state to issue a formal apology for its role in America's "peculiar institution." Clearly, the momentum is building and I predict that several more state legislatures will pass similar resolutions within the year. Look for Georgia, Missouri, and Arkansas to join the list very soon.

One last thing...

Let me be among the first to call for legislators in South Carolina and Mississippi to begin drafting similar resolutions. According to the 1860 Census, 402,406 slaves lived in South Carolina. In other words, slaves accounted for more than 57 percent of the state’s population. Similarly, when the Civil War began, 436,631 slaves lived in Mississippi, which was more than 55 percent of the state’s population.

Perhaps then a similar resolution from the United States Congress would be in order.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

He Found it in the Trash

Assassination Reward

It was just an old book that someone threw away, but it caught the policeman’s eye. He plucked it out of the trash and flipped through the pages.

He was startled by what he read.

It was a 140 year old police logbook that contained handwritten entries from a Washington, D. C. police officer who was on the scene of the Abraham Lincoln assassination in April 1865.

Researchers had no idea the two pages of Lincoln related material existed.

The entries begin with an officer’s narrative of the facts. He states that the president was shot at Ford’s Theatre by a lone gunman, who witnesses were already identifying as prominent actor John Wilkes Booth.

“The excitement was great throughout the precinct,” writes the officer, “but the people were orderly and quiet…the whole force were immediately put on duty by order of Superintendent Richards.”

The logbook also details the simultaneous attempt on Secretary of State William Seward’s life.

“The gloom that overshadowed the nation by the sad occurrence deeply affected the whole force and brought many heartfelt sympathies from the nation’s loss,” the officer concludes.

The logbook itself is something of a mystery. It remained in private hands for more than a century until recently. Someone threw it in the garbage and a discerning Washington, D. C. policeman saved it for posterity.

The officer has donated the book to the Washington, D. C. police museum.

CLICK HERE to view a video of the discovery.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ridden out of Town on a Rail

Gov. Mike Huckabee

I enjoyed watching the presidential debates on Saturday evening. I thought ABC did a really nice job of presenting the Republican and Democratic hopefuls.

However, I was shocked by something I heard during the Republican portion of the debate.

No, it wasn’t a policy position. It was a reference to Abraham Lincoln.

During a heated discussion on illegal immigration, in which many of the candidates were all speaking at once, the following exchange took place between the moderator and Republican Mike Huckabee:

Moderator: “Governor Huckabee is sitting here with a quiet smile, just thinking, ‘OK, let them fight; I'm going to stay out of this.’ So I want to bring you in quickly, and then Congressman Paul, then we will move on.”

HUCKABEE: As Abraham Lincoln said, "If it weren't for the honor of it, I'd just as soon pass," when he was run out of town on a rail. But let me join in on this.”

Being ridden out of town on a rail was a very public and humiliating punishment in colonial America. Typically, the victim was forced to straddle a fence rail held on the shoulders of two men. He was paraded around town and subjected to ridicule for his offense. For example, the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? offers a depiction of such a punishment. When Homer Stokes, the Grand Wizard of the KKK and the “reform candidate” in the election, objects to the music of the Soggy Bottom Boys on the grounds that they are racially integrated, he is ushered out of the auditorium on a rail.

Was Abraham Lincoln ever ridden out of town on a rail? If so, what on Earth did he say to draw the wrath of his neighbors in central Illinois?

The answer is: Gov. Huckabee fumbled the reference.

Lincoln was never ridden out of town on a rail. However, he liked to tell a joke about a fellow who had been. According to General Horatio C. King, a group of friends from Illinois called on Lincoln in the White House. Toward the end of the visit, one of the men asked Lincoln if he liked being president. Lincoln smiled and replied: "You have heard the story haven't you, about the man as he was ridden out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered, somebody asked him how he liked it, and his reply was if it was not for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk." [P. M. Zall, Abe Lincoln Laughing: Humorous Anecdotes from original Sources by and about Abraham Lincoln (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 143.]

Though the punch line remains the same, the details of the story make a great deal of difference.

But Sam, some of you might be asking, what does it matter?

A Lincoln reference is always going to get my attention, especially when it is a botched one. I give Huckabee the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he got caught up in the moment and simply misspoke. If so, he earns the Lincoln Studies pardon.

However, I wonder if the misstep is meaningful when placed into the larger context of the campaign? For instance, Gov. Huckabee has made a handful of errors when talking about American foreign policy in regard to Pakistan. When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last month, Huckabee told Iowa voters that Pakistan had more illegal immigrants in the U. S. than any other country but Mexico. It turns out that Pakistan is nowhere near the top of that list. Similarly, when he clarified his comments to MSNBC, Huckabee criticized the president of Pakistan by saying Musharaf “has told us he does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able to go after the terrorists.” Again, Huckabee misspoke. The borders are in the west. One final example. In the wake of the Bhutto assassination, Huckabee told a crowd that he was worried about martial law “continuing” in Pakistan. However, Pakistan was no longer governed by martial law when Huckabee made the statement. It had been lifted on December 15.

I am not suggesting that Gov. Huckabee should be ridden out of town on a rail just yet. However, I think he should hire a fact checker.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Murder, Adultery, and Abraham Lincoln (and the flu)

I hope everyone had an enjoyable and productive holiday. I know I did, but at the moment I’m fighting off a touch of the flu. I hope to be back on top of my game next week.

Until then, I thought I’d pass along my recent review/interview with Julie Fenster, the author of The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President, which appeared in a recent issue of the Illinois Times (December 27, 2007).

I have added the piece to the Book Reviews section and reprint it here for your reading pleasure. I will be back on Monday, until then, stay away from the flu!

The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President

By Julie M. Fenster (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Pp 256, $24.95, ISBN 140397635X

The autopsy confirmed what the doctor suspected; someone had been trying to poison George Anderson. The strychnine in his system certainly explained his excruciating stomach pains, but it had not killed him. Apparently, his assassin ran out of patience and resorted to a more traditional method of execution.

It did not take a medical degree to determine the cause of death. Someone had struck Anderson in the back of the head with a hammer. When his family found him, he was already dead, laying face down in his own back yard on Monroe Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, in downtown Springfield.

Citizens were both horrified and intrigued. Nearly everyone had a theory. The smart money seemed to be riding on Anderson’s widow, Jane, and his young nephew, Theodore. Gossipers claimed that the pair were having an affair and wanted the old man out of the picture. The theory was hard to argue against, especially after investigators discovered a bottle of strychnine in Theodore’s trunk, along with a daguerreotype of Jane and a number of unsigned love letters. Prosecutors charged both Jane and Theodore Anderson with murder.

Long before the birth of the 24-hour news cycle and cable television, Springfield editors realized that they were sitting on a sensational story that promised to sell newspapers. They devoted several pages per issue to the murder mystery and the ensuing trial, which began on Nov. 19, 1856.

Enter Abraham Lincoln.

The overworked state’s attorney, Amzi McWilliams, knew he needed help with the case. He offered Lincoln $200 to become a special prosecutor, but to his surprise, Lincoln declined. Instead, Lincoln announced that he had accepted $75 to assist the defense.

Lincoln scholars have not focused on the Anderson murder case. Albert A. Woldman’s Lawyer Lincoln (1936) does not mention the case, while John J. Duff gives little more than a brief synopsis in A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (1960).

However, we live in exciting times. In 2000, the Lincoln Legal Papers project (now the Papers of Abraham Lincoln) in Springfield released the single most important resource on Lincoln’s legal career, The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition.

Historians have mined the resource and are now beginning to share their findings. Two excellent books on Lincoln’s legal career have recently been published. Mark E. Steiner’s An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln (2006) takes a broad approach and covers Lincoln’s diverse 25-year legal career, while Brian Dirck’s Lincoln the Lawyer (2007) approaches the topic from a slightly different angle. Dirck examines how Lincoln applied his legal skills to his political career.

Julie M. Fenster’s new book, The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President, fits neatly onto the Lincoln studies bookshelf.

I recently sat down with the author. We discussed the Anderson murder case, the intersection of Lincoln’s legal and political careers, and her upcoming projects.

Wheeler: The Case of Abraham Lincoln is an interesting title with a number of implied meanings. On one level, the book deals with a specific case in Lincoln’s vast legal career, People v. Anderson and Anderson. The twists and turns in the case are enough to keep true crime aficionados turning the pages, but there is something else going on here. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you want to crack an even larger case in the Lincoln canon. You want to uncover how a relatively obscure small-town lawyer became one of the nation’s greatest presidents. You build your case around the year 1856. What was so special about that year?

Fenster: I set out in hopes of recreating the actual texture of Lincoln’s practice — which is to say, a great many small cases and occasionally, an important case of the type that hits the headlines. The Anderson case, being Springfield’s “murder of the century,” fit the latter description. Yet in my mind, its role in the book is something like a clothesline, if you will, drawing out over a span of about six months. On that line, I could hang the medium and small matters that came Lincoln’s way during the same timeframe: the priest being sued for slander, for example, or the Chicago sharpie trying to pull a fast land deal. All in all, I was aiming for a slice of time that answered the question: just exactly what did Lincoln do to make a living?

The year 1856 was the best choice for a second reason. It was a crucial year for Lincoln as a politician, being the year that he made the touchy decision to join the Republican Party. It is not over-covered in the Lincoln canon, by any means, yet it reflected a sea change in Lincoln’s political fortunes, from the beginning of the year to the end.

If Lincoln had looked back on his life, I think he might have chosen 1856 as his favorite year. A lot happened to him — and because of him. He managed to juxtapose his legal career and political work without detriment to either, and by the way, his family was well and happy.

Though Lincoln’s “Lost Speech,” delivered at the Bloomington Convention, never surfaced, several sources claim that it was one of Lincoln’s finest political performances. In the absence of a transcript, how did you piece together Lincoln’s comments and ultimately, how did you weigh the evidence?

William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner and loyal supporter, considered the “Lost Speech” to be the finest address of Lincoln’s whole career. It was delivered at the first Republican Convention in the state of Illinois, May 29, 1856. People who heard it went to the Republican Party’s national convention soon afterward and they were still so fired up, they garnered over a hundred votes for Lincoln as the vice-presidential nominee. He ultimately placed second, but he was on the national stage for the first time.

The speech has long been known as the “Lost” Speech, because the reporters who were present didn’t write it down. That doesn’t, however, mean that it was lost to the ages. A speech of that much influence is measured in the changes it makes in the minds of the listeners.

In that sense, the “Lost” Speech wasn’t lost, at all. People acted on it, as at the national convention, and certainly remembered it. Because it was considered so important, those who heard it were often asked to recollect it.

In my research, I collected letters, speeches, and memoirs, along with newspaper clippings, in which men who were present recalled the points Lincoln made and sometimes, even the words he used. When the accounts were put together, they gave a remarkably clear picture of what had happened that day, that May 29. Most of these recollections fit neatly into the whole — that is, they repeated enough of the same facts to lend a credible consistency. Lincoln did accomplish something magnificent in the speech, turning the momentum of the slavery crisis around, and giving the North a dominant line of reasoning to use against the South.

My hope would be that with The Case of Abraham Lincoln and other works to come, the May 29 address would no longer be called the “Lost” Speech. That name does a disservice to its importance in Lincoln’s career. The “Remembered Speech” would be a good alternative; the “Republican Empowerment Speech” would be accurate. The “Bloomington Speech” would, at least, be simpler. But “Lost?” No. If it had truly been lost, that is, unnoticed and forgotten, then somebody else’s face would probably be on the penny right now.

Wheeler: You understand that Lincoln’s legal and political careers were never really separate entities. They were not simply connected, but they actually fed off one another. I am interested in how you developed the concept for the book. Were you drawn to the Anderson case first or did the overall political drama of 1856 intrigue you? Was the idea always to integrate the legal and political narratives or did it just work out that way?

Fenster: You are right. Lincoln’s legal career and his political aspirations can’t be separated, especially during his ascendancy in the late 1850s.

In central Illinois in the 1850s, members of the legal profession held most of the power over politics and even business; entrepreneurs, clergymen, journalists, union leaders and corporations were still emerging. For example, of those on the organizing committee of the new Republican Party in the state, about 90 percent were lawyers. Lincoln was, of course, well-aware of the special status of lawyers in his place and time.

In The Case of Abraham Lincoln, I wanted to show the synergy between Lincoln’s legal and political machinations on a daily basis. He used his travels with the circuit as a kind of unending campaign, making himself known and maneuvering into a position to note even small shifts in mood and opinion.

Lincoln didn’t always find it easy to go back to trial work after the exhilaration of political campaigning, but over the course of the summer and fall of 1856, he had no choice: he had to find ways to make room for both sides of his life, often in the course of a single day.

Wheeler: Lincoln’s legal colleagues have always been some of my favorite characters. Again, they were not merely his legal friends, but they were also his political lieutenants. Your book draws a number of colorful sketches. I’m thinking of folks like Orville Browning, David Davis, William Herndon, Stephen T. Logan, John Todd Stuart, and Henry C. Whitney. I found your characterization of Benjamin Edwards most intriguing, and of course, Usher F. Linder. But I was curious, which of these characters did you find most interesting?

Fenster: Many of Lincoln’s fellow lawyers were remarkably well-educated, graduates of Princeton and other eastern schools. The fact is, rising to the top of the political fray in Illinois offered very steep training for Lincoln. And the others had further advantages that Lincoln did not have: Browning had a great deal of money. Edwards was the son of a former governor. Davis, of course, was the judge on the Eighth Circuit and had a mass of connections because of it. Lincoln distinguished himself nonetheless, with that mysterious quality of seeing further than others, and with a lot of plain, hard work, as well.

But you asked about my favorite of these lively colleagues and competitors. I can’t help but say: John Stuart. When he was around, things were never dull; he was extroverted and he could be funny. He also knew Lincoln well, probably as well as anyone. Stuart maintained a lively, caring correspondence with his daughter, who was away at school. That proved very useful in the book, since he told her about events around Springfield, including the Anderson murder. The fact that John Stuart sided with the South on the slavery issue helps to bring the complex atmosphere in Springfield to light. Stuart was opposed to Lincoln politically, but maintained a sure loyalty to him otherwise.

Wheeler: I believe John Walsh’s book, Moonlight: Abraham Lincoln and the Almanac Trial touches on the Anderson case. Walsh says that the Anderson trial was the last murder case Lincoln was involved in before his most famous murder case, the Almanac Trial. But, off the top of my head, I don’t know how many murder cases Lincoln was involved in. More importantly though, how would you compare Lincoln’s participation in the Anderson case to other cases in his legal career?

Fenster: Lincoln was retained in 27 murder cases, or an average of approximately one per year. Consulting my copy of The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln Complete Documentary Edition, that most valuable and highly recommended body of research, it appears that Lincoln did play a role in a couple of cases (People v. Goings & Beck and People v. Bantzhouse) in between the Anderson trial in November 1856 and the famous Armstrong case, which came to a close in May of 1858. That doesn’t detract from the interest of the Armstrong case, or Mr. Walsh’s Moonlight, which covers it.

Many people assume that Lincoln had a white-glove sort of a practice, but actually, he was involved in capital crimes and other cases that placed him in the midst of very distressing situations. He was a defense attorney: his job was to straighten out the messes people got themselves into. That’s important, because Lincoln’s circle of acquaintances was wider because of it. He didn’t only come into contact with people just like himself. Through his profession, he knew all sorts and, what’s more, people in all sorts of emotional states. He undoubtedly learned a lot about human nature from the variety of his practice.

In the Anderson case, Lincoln was retained less than a week before the trial. Oddly enough, that was how he liked to practice. It was very much the style expected of lawyers on the Eighth Circuit. Logic, argument, and presentation were their weapons. It made for an expeditious practice, but apparently, it was on the verge of changing in the mid-1850s. A more studious, Eastern-style was on its way West. Lincoln wasn’t comfortable with the Eastern style, with its dependence on depositions, briefs, and research. “They study on a case perhaps for months,” he said of Eastern lawyers, “as we never do. We are apt to catch up the thing as it goes before a jury and trust to the inspiration of the moment.” The Anderson case suited that style; he was certainly inspired to provide his trial arts at their most effective.

Wheeler: Why wasn’t the case reopened? Did newspapers or any of Anderson’s children ever press to reopen the case? Why wasn't anyone ever punished for the crime?

Fenster: The mystery does continue in the Anderson case. Even apart from the Lincoln connection, George Anderson’s murder is an intriguing case. Everyone who reads the Case of Abraham Lincoln seems to have their own theory as to who killed George Anderson.

Springfield and its police were conspicuously quiet after all of the storming during the trial. As far as can be known, they never looked for another suspect. Anderson’s family didn’t seem to press for further investigation, either.

For the sake of the book, I appreciated the way that the Anderson case reflected quite a lot about Springfield at the time that Lincoln lived there. Sometimes I wish that I could’ve found evidence implicating someone with certainty, but it is a book about justice in Lincoln’s time, rather than closing cases from this distance of time.

Wheeler: You’ve written on a wide variety of subjects. You’ve written a New York Times bestseller about a 19th century priest called, Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism. You’ve authored a book about a 1908 auto race, as well as another book called Ether Day about “America’s greatest medical discovery.” I’m curious: how did the Lincoln experience compare to your other projects? And, of course, can your readers expect another Lincoln book in the future?

Fenster: I have been a student of the Civil War for many years, and about 10 years ago, I compiled a series of audiotapes recreating battles such as First Bull Run and Shiloh entirely through solders’ letters from each side — and often the soldiers were describing the same specific action in the battle, which was very exciting.

My interest in Lincoln has always seemed to center on his law career — I can’t seem to get over the fact that he was the only President who was earning a living, a regular living in the private sector, right up to the time that he won the Presidency. I have long read everything I could on that aspect of his life, but once I homed in on the Anderson murder and Lincoln’s first campaign as a Republican during 1856, I went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, which offered a trove of fresh material, and my usual favorite source: microfilmed newspapers of the day. The Case of Abraham Lincoln is the result of my attempt to walk with Lincoln for a few months, a season in the sun, just before the rest of the world discovered him.

I am starting my reading in anticipation of another book on Abraham Lincoln. I am interested in how he has been viewed in other countries, from his time to ours; in other words: we know what he has meant to our nation, what has he meant to the world?