Springfield, Illinois is an exciting place in 1856. A flourishing blacksmith is the victim of a murder and his wife and nephew are the suspects. Rumor has it that they have been involved in an affair and were caught in the victim’s home. Their murder case becomes even more exciting as a prominent lawyer and up and coming politician becomes involved. Abraham Lincoln, future president of the United States, becomes part of the account of The Case of Abraham Lincoln.
George Anderson, the blacksmith is dead, and all of Springfield is abuzz with the rumors and gossip about his untimely death. Did his wife slowly attempt to poison him? Did her lover, the victim’s own nephew, get impatient and kill him with a bloody hammer? The Anderson case reflected a darker world hidden deep within the youth and innocence of Springfield.
In The Case of Abraham Lincoln two main tales are woven as the murder case in Springfield and Lincoln’s speech career intertwine. While these two tales don’t interact much until the end of the story when Lincoln becomes part of the team defending Anderson, the wife. He plays an important role in defending the suspects and receiving their acquittal. The book retells the proceedings of Abraham Lincoln’s life between March and November, 1856, an unbelievable busy and important time in his life. It is amazing how much of great importance happened to Lincoln and around him in that often overlooked span of time.
In the early days of the stalled murder investigation, Lincoln’s career is mirrored. He is at a difficult time in his career which was easily displayed in his emotions. He was depressed, despondent and often edgy. He had become bored and disillusioned with his work as an attorney. Lincoln’s narrative is noted as “a flat failure.” His legal career is flourishing though and he is involved in many different cases, some big, some small. He watches other politicians running within his own circle and they were all advancing well beyond his own position. The other politicians lived in a life of luxury while he “came home from his speaking tours… and went right back to buying groceries and mucking out the stall of his horse.” Lincoln was depressed by his own station in life but things change dramatically when he decides to take the job of defending the victim’s wife. The job, which paid less than $100, proved to be his saving grace. The case is “the backdrop for a year of sweeping transition for Abraham Lincoln.”
The state attorney’s office originally requested Lincoln’s assistance in their own case but he refused, finally joining the defense team. The case challenged Lincoln’s legal skills, allowing his to thrive and reinvigorated in his career and position in life. This case defined his entire legal career as well as built the foundation for his political one. He devised the imperative strategy that kept the possibility of adultery out of the court proceedings. This destroyed the prosecution’s theory about motive and ultimately acquitted the defendants. The beginnings of the Republican Party is also entangled in the case and therefore so is Lincoln and only four years later, Lincoln was elected president of the United States.
At the same time that the investigation is ongoing, Lincoln is taking a tour giving speeches around the state. This is the tour that reignited his stalled political career. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which destroyed the Whig Party and killed the Missouri Compromise, and beginning with Lincoln’s “Lost Speech” he toured throughout Illinois. That first speech at the Anti-Nebraska Bloomington Convention was when he toured on behalf of the candidate of the nascent Republican Party, John C. Fremont. He was trying to play a role between outright abolitionists, pro-slavery Buchanan Democrats and the party lead by President Millard Fillmore which was the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party. While his speeches couldn’t persuade his state to vote for his candidate, he was able to become the party’s go to spokesman in the west and he became first in line to challenge the popular Senator Stephen A. Douglas which in turn led to his presidential nomination.
While he was already a successful and mature lawyer whose talent was the tipping factor in the case of People v. Anderson and Anderson, Lincoln saw substantial political growth in 1856. His career was transformed for a local politician to one of federal recognition His deep knowledge of the founding documents and ability to describe them to his fellow countrymen and laypeople alike would make him an excellent politician for the nation.
The title and description of the book create an illusion of murder and adultery but readers have been disappointed by the lack of excitement. The subtitle for The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder, and the Making of a Great President, may give the reader the wrong impression and perhaps the author should have avoided pulling in readers with scandalous topics. The author, instead of focusing on romantic exhilaration, focused on court proceedings and the actions of lawyers on both sides. The suspects brought their dirty secrets to the grave and our desire for the gossip goes unrequited, but readers looking for a rare glimpse into the beginnings of a meteoric rise to fame will enjoy this tale. Lincoln’s life as a lawyer and his early role in politics was well described making this an interesting piece of historical fiction.
The writing of this book leaves a bit to be desired and is a bit choppy, making it difficult to enjoy the flow. The proofreading and editing of the final work leaves much to be desired. Some of the grammatical errors make the meaning difficult to understand. There are also quite a few times that the author goes off on tangents. There were also a few pieces of information which seemed glaringly irrelevant or incorrect. By noticing these bits I felt that I believed the remainder of the information less. I questioned the credibility of the story, but none the less I enjoyed The Case of Abraham Lincoln and learned an extraordinary amount about that pivotal year.