Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency

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A Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2018
A Mental Floss Best Book of 2018
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“Makes you feel as if you are watching a live camera riveted on a courtroom more than 150 years ago.” —Diane Sawyer

The true story of Abraham Lincoln’s last murder trial, a case in which he had a deep personal involvement—and which played out in the nation’s newspapers as he began his presidential campaign

At the end of the summer of 1859, twenty-two-year-old Peachy Quinn Harrison went on trial for murder in Springfield, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln, who had been involved in more than three thousand cases—including more than twenty-five murder trials—during his two-decades-long career, was hired to defend him. This was to be his last great case as a lawyer.

What normally would have been a local case took on momentous meaning. Lincoln’s debates with Senator Stephen Douglas the previous fall had gained him a national following, transforming the little-known, self-taught lawyer into a respected politician. He was being urged to make a dark-horse run for the presidency in 1860. Taking this case involved great risk. His reputation was untarnished, but should he lose this trial, should Harrison be convicted of murder, the spotlight now focused so brightly on him might be dimmed. He had won his most recent murder trial with a daring and dramatic maneuver that had become a local legend, but another had ended with his client dangling from the end of a rope.

The case posed painful personal challenges for Lincoln. The murder victim had trained for the law in his office, and Lincoln had been his friend and his mentor. His accused killer, the young man Lincoln would defend, was the son of a close friend and loyal supporter. And to win this trial he would have to form an unholy allegiance with a longtime enemy, a revivalist preacher he had twice run against for political office—and who had bitterly slandered Lincoln as an “infidel…too lacking in faith” to be elected.

Lincoln’s Last Trial captures the presidential hopeful’s dramatic courtroom confrontations in vivid detail as he fights for his client—but also for his own blossoming political future. It is a moment in history that shines a light on our legal system, as in this case Lincoln fought a legal battle that remains incredibly relevant today.
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About the author

Dan Abrams is an American author, entrepreneur, news anchor, born in New York City in 1966. He earned his law degree at Columbia Law School. He is the chief legal affairs anchor of ABC News. At A&E network, he is the host of Live PD. His first book was published in 2011, Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers and Just About Everything Else (2011). His second book was published in June 2018, Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Harlequin
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Published on
Jun 5, 2018
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9781488095320
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Presidents & Heads of State
History / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
True Crime / Murder / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Lincoln Prize winner William C. Harris turns to the last months of Abraham Lincoln's life in an attempt to penetrate this central figure of the Civil War, and arguably America's greatest president. Beginning with the presidential campaign of 1864 and ending with his shocking assassination, Lincoln's ability to master the daunting affairs of state during the final nine months of his life proved critical to his apotheosis as savior and saint of the nation.

In the fall of 1864, an exhausted president pursued the seemingly intractable end of the Civil War. After four years at the helm, Lincoln was struggling to save his presidency in an election that he almost lost because of military stalemate and his commitment to restore the Union without slavery. Lincoln's victory in the election not only ensured the success of his agenda but led to his transformation from a cautious, often hesitant president into a distinguished statesman. He moved quickly to defuse destructive partisan divisions and to secure the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. And he skillfully advanced peace terms that did not involve the unconditional surrender of Confederate armies. Throughout this period of great trials, he managed to resist political pressure from Democrats and radical Republicans and from those seeking patronage and profit. By expanding the context of Lincoln's last months beyond the battlefield, Harris shows how the events of 1864-65 tested the president's life and leadership and how he ultimately emerged victorious, and became Father Abraham to a nation.



Table of Contents:

Illustrations

Introduction
1. Re-election
2. Careworn and Haggard
3. The Burden of Patronage
4. The Search for Peace
5. The Humble Instrument of God
6. Beyond the Battlefield
7. At the Front
8. Martyrdom

Abbreviations
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index



Reviews of this book:
Harris provides detail that has been paraphrased or neglected by other biographers...In even-tempered, observant prove, [he] ably organizes his facts into a presentation that even veteran Lincoln readers will appreciate as fresh.
--Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

This is a first-rate monograph for which Harris has done diligent spadework. This Lincoln isn't the sentimentalized or melancholy saint or savior, but a proficient, inventive, even cheerful administrator, dealing with diplomatic detail (chiefly with the British over Canada), naval technology and patronage squabbles in such key states as New York. Harris also provides a fresh retelling of the story of Lincoln's murder and martyrdom.
--Edwin M. Yoder Jr., Washington Post Book World

Lincoln Prize winner William C. Harris turns to the last months of Abraham Lincoln's life in an attempt to penetrate this central figure of the Civil War, and arguably America's greatest president. Beginning with the presidential campaign of 1864 and ending with his shocking assassination, Lincoln's ability to master the daunting affairs of state during the final nine months of his life proved critical to his apotheosis as savior and saint of the nation. In the fall of 1864, an exhausted president pursued the seemingly intractable end of the Civil War. After four years at the helm, Lincoln was struggling to save his presidency in an election that he almost lost because of military stalemate and his commitment to restore the Union without slavery. Lincoln's victory in the election not only ensured the success of his agenda but led to his transformation from a cautious, often hesitant president into a distinguished statesman. He moved quickly to defuse destructive partisan divisions and to secure the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. And he skillfully advanced peace terms that did not involve the unconditional surrender of Confederate armies. Throughout this period of great trials, he managed to resist political pressure from Democrats and radical Republicans and from those seeking patronage and profit. By expanding the context of Lincoln's last months beyond the battlefield, Harris shows how the events of 1864-65 tested the president's life and leadership and how he ultimately emerged victorious, and became Father Abraham to a nation.

Though the reader knows exactly what will happen to Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday, 1865, William C. Harris brings nail-biting tension, along with heartbreaking pathos and insightful historical analysis, to the story of Lincoln's final days. This is masterful story-telling and gripping history.
--Harold Holzer, Co-chairman, US Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

Just as his prize-winning book on Lincoln and Reconstruction revised our understanding of that subject, here William C. Harris finds much that is fresh, insightful, and important to say about the last months of Lincoln's life. Students of Lincoln and the Civil War will want this book on their shelves.
--Michael Holt, author of Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party

There are few neglected subjects in the field of Lincolniana, but Professor Harris has found one--the last five months of Abraham Lincoln's life. He offers readers a thoroughly researched and fair-minded historical evaluation of the beginning of Lincoln's second presidential term, restoring a sense of indeterminacy to a surprisingly revealing period that has too often been sacrificed to the dramas of Appomattox and assassination.
--Mark E. Neely, Jr., author of The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America

Lincoln's Last Months shows in clear and fascinating detail how the embattled Civil War president was able, in the final six months of his life, to contend with a seemingly overwhelming array of military and political problems.
--Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College

Harris's important and revealing study shows that during these last months the President exhibited his greatest mastery, both as a political leader and a military strategist. This fine book is admirable for the depth of its research and for the judiciousness of its interpretations. It is one of the half-dozen books on Lincoln published in the last decade that must be read by every student of the American Civil War.
--David Herbert Donald, Charles Warren Professor of American History Emeritus, Harvard University
Most Americans know Andrew Jackson as a frontier rebel against political and diplomatic norms, a "populist" champion of ordinary people against the elitist legacy of the Founding Fathers. Many date the onset of American democracy to his 1829 inauguration. Despite his reverence for the "sovereign people," however, Jackson spent much of his career limiting that sovereignty, imposing new and often unpopular legal regimes over American lands and markets. He made his name as a lawyer, businessman, and official along the Carolina and Tennessee frontiers, at times ejecting white squatters from native lands and returning slaves to native planters in the name of federal authority and international law. On the other hand, he waged total war on the Cherokees and Creeks who terrorized western settlements and raged at the national statesmen who refused to "avenge the blood" of innocent colonists. During the long war in the south and west from 1811 to 1818 he brushed aside legal restraints on holy genocide and mass retaliation, presenting himself as the only man who would protect white families from hostile empires, "heathen" warriors, and rebellious slaves. He became a towering hero to those who saw the United States as uniquely lawful and victimized. And he used that legend to beat back a range of political, economic, and moral alternatives for the republican future. Drawing from new evidence about Jackson and the southern frontiers, Avenging the People boldly reinterprets the grim and principled man whose version of American nationhood continues to shape American democracy.
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A Mental Floss Book to Read in Summer 2019

“Gripping.… Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense is a must-read.” —NPR

A President on Trial. A Reputation at Stake.

ABC News legal correspondent and host of LIVE PD Dan Abrams reveals the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s last stand—an epic courtroom battle against corruption—in this thrilling follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Lincoln’s Last Trial.

“No more dramatic courtroom scene has ever been enacted,” reported the Syracuse Herald on May 22, 1915 as it covered “the greatest libel suit in history,” a battle fought between former President Theodore Roosevelt and the leader of the Republican party.

Roosevelt , the boisterous and mostly beloved legendary American hero, had accused his former friend and ally, now turned rival, William Barnes of political corruption. The furious Barnes responded by suing Roosevelt for an enormous sum that could have financially devastated him. The spectacle of Roosevelt defending himself in a lawsuit captured the imagination of the nation, and more than fifty newspapers sent reporters to cover the trial. Accounts from inside and outside the courtroom combined with excerpts from the trial transcript give us Roosevelt in his own words and serve as the heart of Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense.

This was Roosevelt’s final fight to defend his political legacy, and perhaps regain his fading stature. He spent more than a week on the witness stand, revealing hidden secrets of the American political system, and then endured a merciless cross-examination. Witnesses including a young Franklin D. Roosevelt and a host of well-known political leaders were questioned by two of the most brilliant attorneys in the country.

Following the case through court transcripts, news reports, and other primary sources, Dan Abrams and David Fisher present a high-definition picture of the American legal system in a nation standing on the precipice of the Great War, with its former president fighting for the ideals he held dear.
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