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Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency Paperback – April 28, 2020
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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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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.