Friday, February 6, 2009

The Case of Abraham Lincoln or Unconventional Wisdom

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

Author: Julie M Fenster

The year 1856 was a pivotal one for this country, witnessing the birth of the Republican Party as we know it. But it was also a critical year in the troubled political life of Abraham Lincoln. As a lawyer, he tried his most scandalous murder case. At the same time, he made a decision which unleashed his soaring abilities for the first time, a decision which reverberates to this day: whether or not to join the new Republican Party. The Case of Abraham Lincoln offers the first-ever account of the suspenseful Anderson Murder Case, and Lincoln's role in it. Bestselling historian Fenster not only examines the case that changed Lincoln's fate, but portrays his day-to-day life as a circuit lawyer and how it shaped him as a politician. In a book that draws a picture of Lincoln in court and at home during that memorable season of 1856, Fenster also offers a close-up look at Lincoln's political work, much of it masterful, some of it adventurous, in building the party that would change his fate - and that of the nation.


Fenster's absorbing chronicle follows two tracks: Lincoln's reentry into the tumultuous political wars in Illinois, as Democrats, Know-Nothings, and the newly formed Republican Party vied for power; and how the death of a Springfield blacksmith evolved into a sensational murder trial. When the two tracks merge, Fenster illustrates Lincoln's emergence as a cagey politician and eloquent antislavery voice with an enhanced national reputation. This is a worthy addition to our ever-expanding knowledge concerning America's secular saint.

Randall M. Miller - Library Journal

Fenster uses the new complete edition of Lincoln's legal papers, as well as newspapers, letters, and memoirs, to weave a spellbinding tale of alleged adultery, murder, legal practices, personal rivalries, and political ambitions in the mid-1850s-and of Lincoln's emergence as a national political figure. In doing so, she brings us as close to the social and political culture of the day as possible. Although she relies too much on memoirs to depict a Lincoln much admired as a lawyer of ready wit, unimpeachable integrity, and astute judgment, she also mines the sources deeply to discover a small-town America unsure about male-female relationships, strangers in town, and "truth." As in Brian Dirck's Lincoln the Lawyer, among other recent works, she shows how Lincoln's studying of human nature, reading, and time on the legal circuit prepared him for public life. More important, she makes the most persuasive case yet that Lincoln's argument on the need to face down Southern threats of disunion was essential to holding together the disparate elements of the rickety new Republican Party and gave Lincoln national prominence before the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Her analysis of Lincoln's "lost speech" of 1856 is simply brilliant. The verdict: a captivating and compelling book that's highly recommended for public and academic libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

Through the lens of a sensational 1856 Springfield, Ill., murder case, a historian focuses on Abraham Lincoln the lawyer and politician, four years before his election to the presidency. Was blacksmith George Anderson slowly poisoned by his adulterous wife before her lover, Anderson's own impatient nephew, finally finished him off with a bloody hammer? The local citizenry certainly thought so. After declining an offer to aid the beleaguered state's attorney, Lincoln joined the defense and devised the crucial strategy that kept questions about possible adultery out of the trial, destroying the prosecution's theory about motive and ultimately freeing the defendants. This lurid case was one of many in the prairie lawyer's crowded practice, and Fenster (Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Automobile Race, 2005, etc.) follows Lincoln and other colorful members of the Illinois Bar as they trail after the traveling Circuit Court. Simultaneously, the author charts a second, more fateful, track: the speech-making tour that resuscitated Lincoln's political career. Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act-which nullified the Missouri Compromise and destroyed the Whig Party-and beginning with his stirring "Lost Speech" at the state's Anti-Nebraska Bloomington Convention, Lincoln traveled throughout Illinois on behalf of John C. Fremont, candidate of the nascent Republican Party, attempting to thread the needle among outright abolitionists, pro-slavery Buchanan Democrats and the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party headed by former President Millard Fillmore. He couldn't persuade the critical swing state to go for his candidate, but this tourturned him into the Party's premier Western spokesman, put him first in line to challenge popular Senator Stephen A. Douglas and ultimately led to his nomination for president. Already a successful, mature attorney whose talent and insight tipped the balance in People v. Anderson and Anderson, Lincoln began in 1856 his transformation into a master politician whose deep understanding of our founding documents and whose genius at translating their meaning for his fellow countrymen would make an even greater difference for the nation. An unexpected, odd-angle approach to Lincoln that proves marvelously insightful. First printing of 75,000

What People Are Saying

Richard Carwardine
"As a leading lawyer and an architect of the new Republican party in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln rarely felt the twin demands of electoral politics and the law more forcefully than in 1856, or met them with more purpose. Julie Fenster tells the interwoven story of that year's election campaign and the lurid case of a murdered Springfield blacksmith with compelling verve."--(Richard Carwardine, award-winning author of Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power)

Richard E. Hart
"A real page-turner, bringing alive Lincoln's world before his national fame. Fenster transports us to 1856 Illinois, describing the colorful life of Lincoln and his fraternity of circuit riding lawyers as they try cases and help birth the Republican Party. The suspense and storytelling are remarkable. Interwoven is a murder mystery -- the story of an adulterous wife, the murder of her blacksmith husband and Lincoln's defense. Looking for the emergence of Lincoln? Look here."--(Richard E. Hart, President, Abraham Lincoln Association)

Book review: Middle Path Cookbook or Margaret Fultons Kitchen

Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters

Author: Karen M Kaufmann

Late deciders go for the challenger; turnout helps the Democrats; the gender gap results from a surge in Democratic preference among women--these and many other myths are standard fare among average citizens, political pundits, and even some academics. But are these conventional wisdoms--familiar to anyone who watches Sunday morning talk shows--really valid?
Unconventional Wisdom offers a novel yet highly accessible synthesis of what we know about American voters and elections. It not only provides an integrated overview of the central themes in American politics--parties, polarization, turnout, partisan bias, campaign effects, swing voters, the gender gap, and the youth vote--it upends many of our fundamental preconceptions. Most importantly, it shows that the American electorate is much more stable than we have been led to believe, and that the voting patterns we see today have deep roots in our history. Throughout, the book provides comprehensive information on voting patterns; illuminates (and corrects) popular myths about voters and elections; and details the empirical foundations of conventional wisdoms that many understand poorly or not at all.
Written by three experts on American politics, Unconventional Wisdom serves as both a standard reference and a concise overview of the subject. Both informative and witty, the book is likely to become a standard work in the field, essential reading for anyone interested in American politics.

Table of Contents:
Preface     vii
Facts and Myths about American Voters: An Introduction     3
Americans Hate to Love Their Party, but They Do!     19
Are American Voters Polarized?     47
Who Swings?     67
Soccer Moms and Other Myths about the Gender Gap     93
The Young and Not-So-Restless Voters     115
The Partisan Bias of Turnout     145
Campaign Effects in the Twenty-First Century     163
Hard Facts and Conventional Wisdom as We Look to the Future     191
Appendices     201
Notes     217
Bibliography     237
Index     257

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