Lest any one think that Lincoln’s Last Trial is a true story, it is in fact, fiction, though historical in nature. The book is based on a transcript of the trial prepared by Robert R. Hitt, a court stenographer. However, the story of the trial in the book is told by Hitt, although Hitt did not leave any record of how he came to be at the trial or what he did or thought during the trial. That is made up by the author. So in that sense, the book is a fictional account of the trial. As the authors admits in the Forward, they often had to deduce what was said. They certainly had to deduce what Hitt said or thought as well as what the Lincoln and the other lawyers and the judge were thinking.
This book is a regurgitation of the story of the trial of “People vs. Simeon “Peachy” Quinn Harrison” as written in Chapter 17 Prairie Defender: “ The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln” by George R Dekle Sr., a source that the authors acknowledge in the book’s bibliography. In my opinion, Dekle’s version is much more preferable than that of that in Lincoln’s Last Trial. I found Abram’s version somewhat boring, mainly because too much of the book is devoted to stories which had little or nothing to do with the trial. It took forever to get to the end. Dekle’s version is much less verbose and much more to the point than the Adams which digresses much too often.
If a reader is more interested in Lincoln as a criminal lawyer, the reader will find Dekle’s book much more informative. And he tells it like it is and doesn’t guess at what happened.
My personal interest in this book and books about Lincoln is that I found success as a trial lawyer by adopting the methods used by Lincoln. I have studied Lincoln extensively and had two college papers about Lincoln as a Politician and Lincoln and Slavery published. So I am always looking for anything that will cast additional light on Lincoln, particularly as a lawyer. I didn’t find anything in Lincoln’s Last Trial that provide any additional illumination.
But there was one nugget that did not appear in Dekle’s version and that was the discussion of allowing a defendant to testify. The problem facing the defense lawyers was the rule of law at the time was that a defendant could not testify on his own behalf because such testimony was considered self-serving and therefore, untrustworthy. This presented a problem for the defense because if a defendant could only use force to defend himself if in his own mind, he felt his life was threatened. This presented a major problem for the defense because they had to prove that enough evidence was submitted to prove that Peachy felt so threatened as to justify using deadly force to defend himself without having him testify as to what was going through his mind. Much of the trial centered around this issue. Later the rule against defendants testifying was eliminated but it was the rule at the time of the trial.