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Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington Hardcover – April 7, 2020
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—Ron Chernow, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Grant and Washington: A Life
"Ted Widmer's Lincoln On the Verge is an impressively vivid and intimate portrait of Abraham Lincoln on his historic 1861 train journey from Illinois to Washington D.C. (where he was sworn-in as America's 16th president). With a deft blend of textured storytelling and fresh research Widmer recounts the widespread uncertainty and fear that consumed the nation on the eve of the Civil War. Highly recommended!"
—Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America
“Lincoln's journey by train from Springfield to Washington in February 1861 was full of drama and tension caused by a nation breaking in two as the president-elect's passage through seven of the largest Northern states helped unify them for the impending struggle even a delegates from seven seceded states met a thousand miles to the south to form the Confederacy and conspirators in Baltimore plotted to assassinate Lincoln as he passed through their city, a conspiracy that was foiled by a secret midnight transit. Ted Widmer's narrative captures the drama and tension with sparkling prose that projects the reader back in time to that fateful journey.”
—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
“A positively elegiac account of the most consequential pre-inauguration journey—and pre-presidential public relations offensive—in American history. Lincoln said at the outset that he had a “task greater than” George Washington faced to preserve the Union the founders had created. Ted Widmer has successfully undertaken a great task of his own in crafting a cohesive, dramatic, and ultimately stirring account of the politically fraught, emotionally draining, and physically dangerous voyage that brought Illinois’ favorite son to the nation’s capital in time, and shape, to meet his destiny.”
—Harold Holzer, winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
“A richly detailed and colorful narrative, Ted Widmer's book is wonderfully readable, and surely the fullest account yet of Lincoln's perilous trip to Washington as President-elect.”
—Douglas L. Wilson, author of Honor's Voice and Lincoln's Sword
“Ted Widmer is one of our best contemporary chroniclers of the American story. He immerses readers in a pivotal moment at the brink of the Civil War, bringing our greatest president to life on the page. And as America now faces another moment of seemingly irreparable disunion, Widmer finds relevance — and even reasons for hope — in the past.”
—Adam Goodheart, author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening
“In a wholly original, gorgeously crafted reimagining, Mr. Widmer portrays Lincoln’s demanding journey as a Homeric odyssey through perilous terrain toward almost preordained immortality....The story of Lincoln’s inaugural journey has never been told in such rich detail....Mr. Widmer brings off his panoramic, almost mystical interpretation with riveting panache. His book is not only a historical achievement but a literary one."
—The Wall Street Journal
“A book about a time of national crisis, in a time of national crisis.”
“Lincoln buffs will undoubtedly devour the book. A colorful, richly detailed overture to Lincoln’s odyssey.”
“Widmer’s exploration of this historical footnote delivers real depth… History buffs will be entertained and enlightened by this unique view of Lincoln and the country on the cusp of war.”
“At last count there were about 15,000 books on Lincoln, not all of them are worth reading. Lincoln on the Verge is.”
—CBS This Morning
“Widmer’s Lincoln on the Verge is quite simply as good as it gets in the art of writing biography. Besides his thorough research and fast-paced storytelling skills, the author’s deep insights into this tipping-point experience in Lincoln’s life as he traveled to meet his ultimate fate as president charged with the nation-on-his-shoulders responsibility of reuniting the states while acting as commander-in-chief during the most horrific war in American history makes for a saga to be savored.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"A Lincoln classic...superb....So much has been written about Abraham Lincoln that it’s rare when a historian discovers an episode in his life that, if fully developed and interpreted, yields important new insights. Ted Widmer has done just that..."
—The Washington Post
"Widmer portrays a politician who has a populist touch but exercises this power responsibly, achieving what Frederick Douglass later called 'wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them.'"
—The New Yorker
"Gripping...evocatively illustrated, and resonant with the kind of leaderly rhetoric and character that sustained the nation—and made it great."
"One of the most fascinating history books of the year thus far."
—The Bowery Boys Podcast
"Riveting. Enthralling. Rewarding. Take your pick! Ted Widmer has written a history book that jumps from the page."
About the Author
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To his advantage, Lincoln had a plainspoken honesty and directness that moved people. He was a sharp contrast to James Buchanan and his corrupt administration. He also had a deep reverence for the ideals of democracy and the United States. In a shrewd move, he chose to stop in small towns and meet local dignitaries spending time with regular people. Along the way he and his aides thwarted several attempts on his life, to reach a capital city where many of its residents had questionable loyalties.
Ted Widmer’s heavily-researched account of Lincoln’s journey incorporates perspectives of Henry Villard, a journalist, Lincoln’s secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay and wells as countless other notables. Widmer’s research also includes numerous anecdotes and recollections of many regular people who interacted with the President-Elect. One charming story includes the meeting of Grace Bedell, the twelve-year-old girl who had written Lincoln and promised she could deliver the five votes of her father and brothers if he would grow a beard. He had complied and Grace was there to meet him in Westville, New York. After gaining the attention of the whole crowd and meeting Lincoln, the shy Grace hid the rest of the day.
The route was by no means a straight shot to Washington. Lincoln needed to avoid Virginia as much as possible as the state was on the brink of seceding as South Carolina had already done. Lincoln’s train traveled through Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, New York City, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and dangerous Baltimore to reach Washington. His train slowed for him to make one and five-minute stops in smaller towns to allow people to see him. Widmer documents Lincoln’s inner moods and bouts of sadness, the personalities and events at each stop, the crush of crowds, and the wearying nights he had to endure standing and shaking hands. He gave over a hundred impromptu speeches.
The final dash through Baltimore was thrilling. Kate Warne, a female spy, had gathered information from talking to Southerners and identifying a specific plot to kill Lincoln in Baltimore. Lincoln switched trains to a low-profile rail car and traveled all through the night in a disguise to reach Washington unharmed.
Widmer’s book is a detailed and moving account of Lincoln’s first exposure as the President-Elect to a nation undergoing a crisis. Many famous names of those involved in this trip will stand out to readers such as Alan Pinkerton and Dorathea Dix. I had little knowledge about Lincoln’s trip to Washington before I read this and was engrossed with the danger of his journey and the utter dignity of the man. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy learning more about Abraham Lincoln and this very chaotic time in American history.
This book is packed with historical photos and drawings. I would say it is almost 20% photos and illustrations and 80% text. Widmer's writing draws the reader in and paints pictures in clear terms with his writing style. This book is almost 600 pages but it has a bit everything: history, drama, humor, poetry, and illustrations.
Overall, and excellent addition to a Lincoln library or to anyone with an interest in one of the greatest presidents of all time.
Parliamentary schemes were proposed of the type that would be familiar to Mitch McConnell. There was talk that Congress, still controlled by the South, would refuse to certify the election.
Conspiracies formed in Baltimore to assassinate the President-Elect.
Men took up arms and claimed to be the rightful government of the United States.
Meanwhile, Lincoln embarked on a long and circuitous train journey to Washington, stopping in towns large and small on the page. Lincoln on the Verge depicts how Abraham Lincoln made it to his inauguration, protected by a nation that wished to reclaim the true American ideals of equality.
Ted Widmer is a beautiful writer, making history come alive with historical anecdotes and facts that bring the story to life. You will learn something about this country on every page.