CBA Sept.-Oct. 2020
Each stop along the way provides a glimpse into the communities Lincoln visited and the people who saw him or likely did at the various stops. At the same time, the book describes our nation’s history at the time by also providing “a split screen” of sorts, giving us insights into the turmoil in the nation breaking apart as Lincoln endured the journey and the tensions simmering in various parts of the nation. Of the journey and connecting to the nation to establish trust, Widmer writes: “But his long trip from Mount Vernon to New York had helped to make his presidency real to the people. Now, in order to save the country, Lincoln needed to summon all of his strength for an even longer journey . . . and he needed to get there quickly while there was a country left to save.” The train schedule was tight and multi- ple challenges made it tougher. The people at each stop expected to hear from Lincoln and shake his hands, and he insisted in most instances in giving his hearty shake to all who came. Many described Lincoln as gaunt and looking like he was in mourn- ing, but Lincoln delivered on his intentions to connect directly with those for whom his mission was to save the nation. By the end of the thirteen days, Lincoln had con- nected with vast numbers of Americans and spoken directly to many. The book does not cover the Lincoln presidency to any great extent, but does cover the train ride back to Springfield four years later, this time carrying Lin- coln’s casket along the same route he had traveled to arrive in Washington, D.C. It is a moving summary of the pain caused by Lincoln’s assassination and a nation in mourning for the president. Widmer describes in the Acknowledge- ments the almost ten years he devoted to research to gather the details that make this book such a superior read. Many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, and many more will be written. However, Widmer’s description of the dangerous train ride to Washington, D.C., will keep you on the verge of your seat. It is a must- read to understand more about pre-Civil War America and the president who was elected to save the nation.
REVIEWS, REVIEWS, REVIEWS!
I n February 1861, Abraham Lincoln embarked on a thirteen-day train trip from his home in Springfield, Illinois to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. In early March of the same year, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, began the much shorter journey to his capital and inauguration. Lincoln’s trip was a difficult one, with Allan Pinkerton and other detec- tives uncovering potential death threats and plots to make sure Lincoln never took the oath of office. Although Lincoln had won the presi- dential election, he was not well known to the nation. Lincoln used the train trip to connect with citizens along the way, as the journey passed through five key states in his election: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. In his superb book, Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington , Ted Widmer recounts Abraham Lincoln’s train trip to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. In setting the background, Widmer describes the incredible power of the South in our nation’s beginnings, noting the “South had controlled the lion’s share of the patronage” and much of the leadership, writing: “In the first sixty-one years of the gov- ernment, slaveholders held the presi- dency for fifty years, the Speaker of the House’s chair for forty-one years, and the chairmanship of the House Ways and means Committee for fifty-two years. Eighteen of thirty-one Supreme Court justices hailed from the South, even though four-fifths of the actual business of the court came from the North. No Northern president had been reelected. Most of the attorneys general and military officers had been Southerners, along with a vast majority of the officers of the Senate and House.” Widmer’s focus is on the train trip, but in describing the journey, the book is much more than just a recitation of an itinerary.
Lincoln on the Verge:
By Ted Widmer Simon & Schuster (2020) Reviewed by Daniel A. Cotter
Daniel A. Cotter is Attorney and Counsel at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC, a member of theCBARecordEditorial Board, and Past President of the CBA.
38 September/October 2020
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