Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency Hardcover – June 5, 2018
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"Dan Abrams and David Fisher write the heart-pounding pulse of history. Abraham Lincoln: the dusty shoes, the weary eyes, the Jedi mastery of a jury in a true case of life and death. So pull up a chair. This book not only brings a rare transcript to life, it makes you feel as if you are watching a live camera riveted on a courtroom more than 150 years ago." —Diane Sawyer
"You didn't know that Abraham Lincoln was the defense lawyer in a notorious murder case on the eve of his presidency? Neither did I. But Dan Abrams and David Fisher tell the remarkable tale in Lincoln's Last Trial, and the story is both compelling on its own terms and a lesson about some eternal truths about criminal justice." —Jeffrey Toobin, author of American Heiress
“The authors give readers a moment-by-moment account of the murder trial, which featured a well-liked young victim, a claim of self-defense, [and] a deathbed admission… Lincoln enthusiasts will find the illumination of his preternatural legal skills a worthy subject; casual readers will find the centerpiece murder trial an engrossing legal thriller.” —Publishers Weekly
“Legal affairs journalist Abrams and coauthor Fisher illuminate a key marker on Abraham Lincoln’s path to the White House… The transcripts reveal Lincoln at his best, fighting for a cause he believed in with brilliance and passion—qualities that would serve him so well as president.” —Booklist
“Abrams and Fisher quote generously from Hitt’s transcript to bring into sharp focus the witness-by-witness testimony and courtroom proceedings.” —Library Journal
“We all know the story of Abraham Lincoln the wartime president, the defender of the Union, and the emancipator of the slaves. But Abraham Lincoln, the defense lawyer? Dan Abrams and David Fisher recount the engaging story of Lincoln's last trial, occurring on the cusp of the Civil War. An entertaining book filled with twists and turns and tailor-made for Civil War buffs.” —Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and 1944
"Lincoln's wartime leadership overshadows his life as a lawyer. But you can't understand one without the other. In this rich and previously unexplored corner of history, the authors take you inside the courtroom to watch Abraham Lincoln - at the height of his powers as a lawyer and on the edge of eternal fame - as he tries a thrilling murder trial to a jury." —Chris DeRose, New York Times bestselling author of The Presidents' War, Congressman Lincoln, and Founding Rivals
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Lincoln became a lawyer in 1839. He was essentially self-taught and continued to read the law throughout his lifetime. He rode the Illinois Circuit Court for twenty years trying over 2000 cases of which two dozen were murder trials. Other cases Lincoln prosecuted are touched upon to give the reader a sense of his style and diligence to see justice served. A fellow lawyer and prosecution opponent in this very trial noted, "Well, you know Abe ...He could sell you a mule, convince you it's a stallion and have you end up thanking him for the bargain." On the other hand, a fellow circuit lawyer wrote, " He could compel a witness to tell the truth when he meant to lie. He could make a jury laugh and generally weep, at his pleasure....He understood, almost intuitively the jury, witnesses, parties and judges and how to best address, convince and influence them." Lincoln tried three cases before the Illinois Superior Court and one case before the US Supreme Court. Abe Lincoln and his peers were at the cutting edge of many new laws as the young nation was dealing with territories, new states and a trans-continental railroad.
How are the particulars of this 1859 murder trial known? Lincoln hired a court stenographer, Robert Roberts Hitt, who using a gold-nibbed ink pen, transcribed verbatim the trial proceedings. Hitt telegraphed his notes back to a Chicago paper which published them. Miraculously, the original transcriptions were found tied with a ribbon in a shoebox in a Fresno, California garage in1989. For the lucky reader, the transcripts provide as spell-binding an account as if this trial were in the news today.
Abrams does a good job of describing the societal and political currents of the time. We are also reminded that "Lincoln was one of the giants who literally set the bar for the legal profession in America." and that he and his colleagues literally were "establishing precedents that future courts would come to rely on".
The trial itself took place in 1859, following the Lincoln-Douglas debates and only 9 months before the Republican convention. It was personally challenging for Lincoln. He was well acquainted with, and liked, both the defendant "Peachy" Quinn who Lincoln was representing, and the victim, Greek Crafton.
The trial itself was fascinating. To actually hear (via the trial transcript) Lincoln in action was amazing!
One thing that I didn't like was that Abrams would break up the momentum of the trial by inserting writings about prior cases Lincoln had been part of. I would have preferred the trial to continue uninterrupted.
Overall, an enjoyable and interesting read.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Hanover Square Books for permitting me access to an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. (less)
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