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The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jul 10 2012
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“With an encyclopedic command of period detail . . . Carter has created an entertaining story rooted in the legal, political and racial conflicts of 19th-century America. . . . Carter’s delight in all this material is infectious. He’s a fantastic legal dramatist, and there’s the constant pleasure of seeing his creation of Washington City in 1867, alive with sounds and smells. . . . History buffs can test their mettle by trying to unwind Carter’s entangling of fact and fiction, but anyone should enjoy this rich political thriller that dares to imagine how events might have ricocheted in a different direction after the Civil War.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“[T]he best legal thriller so far this year . . . I’ve liked Carter’s four previous forays into fiction. This one, I loved.”
—Patrik Henry Bass, Essence Magazine
“Washington readers will get a kick out of comparing Carter’s vivid portrait of late-19th-century DC with the city they know today. . . . But the best thing about sitting down with this rich, often thrilling novel is watching its alternative history unfold.”
—John Wilwol, The Washingtonian
“[T]he streets come alive in his vision of Washington . . . Carter’s tale comes to a conclusion as thrilling and untidy as the actual events that unfolded during the turbulent postwar years.”
—Andrew Dunn, Bloomberg.com
“A smart and engaging what-if that has the virtue of being plausible . . . Abigail makes for a grandly entertaining sleuth.”
“This novel has all the juicy stew of post–Civil War Washington, with the complexities of race, class, and sex mixed in. Carter draws on historical documents and a vivid imagination to render a fascinating mix of murder mystery, political thriller, and courtroom drama . . . Imaginatively conceived.”
—Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred)
About the Author
Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He is the author of eight books of nonfiction, writes a column for Bloomberg View, and is a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and Newsweek. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is his fifth novel.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Carter does more than just offer a narrative however. This is clearly a well researched book that brings elements from real history, existing documents and weaves things together in such a way that the reader will not only be entertained but will also come away with an appreciation and better understanding of the historical figures and events that are woven into this alternate scenario.
Throughout the book. there is a clear depiction of the elements of politics, negotiation and the use of political power to mask personal and economic ambition. There is both a clear depiction of racial tensions as well as an illustration of the advanced standing of northern freemen and their status in Northern society that stands in stark contrast to the commonly assumed stereotypes which find their roots in the post-plantation South in the midst of Jim Crow laws.
Whoever comes to this book can expect to be entertained, challenged and to leave the book with several elements of history, that which both real and imagined will leave the reader better for the experience. A compelling and educational read.
5 stars. Recommended without reservation.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Impeachment" takes an alternative history view of Abraham Lincoln's last years in office. Carter begins his book with Lincoln surviving the assassination attempt at Ford's Theater. John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators are hunted down and most were killed before they could talk. Lincoln continues as president, though in Carter's story, VP Andrew Johnson is killed and William Seward is so badly injured that he never leaves his home. Lincoln, therefore, carries on with the Reconstruction of the South. He wants to be relatively gentle on the returning Confederates and not impose the harsh citizenship and economic penalties that were actually meted out under Andrew Johnson. But Abraham Lincoln has as many enemies post war as he had during the war and opponents get together to bring a bill of impeachment against Lincoln. The president was impeached by the US House of Representatives and the trial will be heard and judged by the US Senate.
Lincoln has hired the law firm of Dennard & McShane to defend him in front of the Senate. He doesn't appear at his own trial, but works with the lawyers who are defending him. One of the newly hired law clerks at the firm is 21 year old, Abigail Canner. Recently graduated from Oberlin College, she turns up at the firm with a letter from partner Dennard, promising her a place as a law clerk, on the recommendation of an Oberlin professor. But not only is Abigail Canner a woman, she is also black - a member of what Carter always refers to as "the darker nation". (Carter uses this term in his first three novels, too.) Abigail works her way onto the team defending the president, but is often on the outside looking in at the actual day-by-day work. So she begins working on her own, trying to piece together the importance of some murders, some spy reports, and other out-of-place happenings in "Washington City" that are connected with the on-going impeachment trial. She is also attracted to a fellow law-clerk, the wealthy, white Jonathan Hilliman.
Abigail Canner is the daughter of the middle-class black community of Washington DC. She's been well-educated and is a beauty. She wants to be a lawyer and, by god, she will be. Her determination to get ahead is part of her charm to the many - both black and white - who meet her. And Abigail is only one of Carter's many well-drawn characters in his book. There are no caricatures, and the plot is well-paced. Heavy on law, Carter does a good job, a really good job, at explaining the law to the reader.
But the important thing about Stephen Carter's new novel is that he's back to his original form. For the Carter fans, a long wait is over. "The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln" is another well-written novel.
In "the Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln", he has taken on the task of writing a "what if" historical story with an intriguing premise.
What if Lincoln survived the attempt on his life by John Wilkes Booth? Carter has taken Lincoln to 1867 where he finds himself facing impeachment in the Senate for some of his actions after the Civil War in order to do what he felt was needed to stabilize the country.
The fascinating main character in this book is not Lincoln but a young black woman named Abigail Canner. She is a recent college graduate who is taking on a job as a law clerk at the law office of the firm who is responsible for defending the President.
Canner makes for a solid lead in this book as her feisty attitude, knowledge of the law, and determination to succeed is vital to the role she is about to play at the law firm. Her skin color is a key attribute in the novel and it both helps her and hurts her in various ways in post Civil War USA.
This is not simply a story of the impeachment trial. It covers many bases. Carter throws in a murder mystery, an examination of the social mores existing in Washington after the war, conspiracy theories, race relations, and political divides.
When one member of the defense team is found dead along with a supposed prostitute, Canner refuses to accept both the conclusions of the police and the relationship between the two murder victims. Her investigation into that issue is an interesting part of the book.
Canner finds herself torn between advancing her career, romantic sparks between herself and another member of the law firm and the prejudices of members of her own family and others.
This book is well over 500 pages and covers an enormous amount of ground in getting to and through the actual trial of the President.
The story had a few problems for me. Carter is a law professor and uses that knowledge along with his obvious awareness of history to put together a big piece of fiction. And the law as applied both in the late 19th Century as well as the complications of an impeachment trial are a bit too much for the average reader to absorb.
As the story is a fictional description of the era, he uses both real and fictional characters to tell his story. If any book required a list of characters at the beginning, this is one. The law firm itself is full to the brim with key players. The many members of high society who are vital to the story are too numerous to mention. Canner's own family and friends who have critical roles to the outcome (no spoiler here) are many.
You throw in Lincoln's cabinet, his own advisers, the complete array of Senators and you have nearly 100 key people. There are many other characters who play a role in either defending Lincoln's decisions or seem to be conspiring against him for his actions. Many times I would have liked to refer to a list in order to remind me who's who.
Carter also portrays Lincoln as someone who likes to tell rambling stories to others and there are a few too many of those rambles for me.
So this combination history story, trial novel, mystery tale, defining of race after the Civil War, family story, society examination and political piece fails to come together completely for me. Not because the concept is bad or many of the people in the story aren't fascinating. Simply because Carter tries to pack too much story into too many pages. If he had cut back a little on the trial detail or the views of so many privileged people in the District of Columbia, he might have been able to focus in on fewer elements and kept me more involved in the book. The best part of this book for me was the logic behind Lincoln's decision process and the evolution of race relationships post Civil War.
And I do compliment Carter on an amazing final twist that he throws in for the reader near the end of this epic.
Others may feel that the elements mentioned are truly the base of his novel. And I wouldn't fault anyone for feeling that way but it just didn't come together for me. As much as I wanted to love this book, I left with a lot of like and a bit of disappointment at what might have been. A "what if" for me!
In 1867, the war has been over for two years. Andrew Johnson, not Abe Lincoln, was shot and killed by Booth. And Secretary of State William Seward has been so wounded that he doesn't leave his house anymore. And the president's wife has died a year ago from a mysterious accident. This is the alternate history that Carter has meticulously woven together. Lincoln faces an impeachment trial from Congress on four counts due to his policies (or lack thereof) and intercessions (or lack thereof) during Reconstruction: 1) suspension of habeas corpus, 2) seizing of telegrams and shuttering a handful of newspapers 3) not sufficiently protecting the freedmen in the southern states 4) conspiring with the military officers to overthrow the constitutional forms of government.
This finely nuanced and well-paced novel is packed with fully realized characters and situations. Of course, with a cast this extensive, and numerous plots within plots, some characters are there to lend background and color, or to promote a larger connection. There are plots and subplots, romance, adventure, conspiracies, and even murder. How Carter tightly brings it all together in this capacious novel is superbly tight, with room for ambiguity, and he always remains a step ahead of the reader. Half of the fun was trying to catch up and tease out the disclosures before he did!
Abigail Canner is a twenty-one-year-old black graduate from Oberlin who lives with her aunt, a freed slave named Nanny Pork, in Washington City. She aspires to become a lawyer, and shrewdly procures a job as a clerk in the law office that represents Lincoln. It is a win-win, too, because the personnel know it looks good to practice what they preach. All too often, it is known that "like so many people of liberal persuasion, they value their own progressive opinions more than they value the people they hold those opinions about."
Abigail is the polestar of this book, and Carter has drawn her with an able and agile hand. Whatever a reader might fear could occur with a character like Abigail--such as too much PC, or implausibly heroic--those fears will be allayed by the subtle sharpness of Miss Canner. Yes, there's romance in the air, and it doesn't take the reader long to foresee its possibility, but Carter wins you over with his credible storyline and keen restraint. And, not all is as doubtless (or doubtful!) as it may initially seem.
The book was like a web, or a circle with vectors projecting in every direction. As the author demonstrates, there are no easy answers, and often, both sides imbibe elements of hypocrisy and criminal behaviors, as well as righteousness and nobility. At this time, during the impeachment proceedings, Lincoln states that he would be ready to step down, but doesn't feel that his work is finished until he brings the Union together. The radical Republicans--who are men of his own party who could be seen, on the one hand, as fanatical, or on the other, as dedicated and true--want to oust him now.
I was concerned that the story would be clumsy, with a ham-handed Lincoln and a heavy-handed story. It has to be difficult to portray an icon known as "Honest Abe," two years beyond his actual survival time, a president most known for freeing the slaves. But this isn't just the Lincoln we learned about in our history textbooks in high school. Here we have a troubled, complicated man, always at the ready with an amusing anecdote, a sometimes dour but witty and enigmatic presence. And a flawed human being who nevertheless understands the times he is facing.
There is nothing black and white in this racially charged novel of American history. Besides the conflict of race, there are the businessmen with greedy propositions about tariffs; egos; political ambitions; social issues of women and class; and more.
"The cost of war," says Lincoln in 1867, " is impossible to estimate in advance...wars continue long after one side surrenders. Every conflict plagues the peace that follows it."
"There is a tradition," says retired Union General Dan Sickles, one of Lincoln's staunchest supporters, "that once a great war has been won, the leader must at once be deposed. The Romans used to do it. The British, too."
In the Author's Note, a must-read at the end of the book, Carter provides important information regarding his source material, and a fascinating peek at how he braided fact and fiction together. Like his first novel, THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK, he slyly evinces the skullduggery in the chess games of politics, as well as the toll of personal loss to the cause and commitment of justice. Moreover, he doesn't forget that his story is, principally, to entertain, and seduce his readers into believers. He makes the most of his characters and their individual and shared passions, and renders a deeply felt and plausible history, back to the future.
Well... no. At best you get one out of the three- the proceedings and arguments, at least when the main characters can be bothered to attend the impeachment trial on the Senate floor.
The book is, in reality, a convoluted and unconvincing murder mystery, featuring conspiracies too confusing and inexplicable to be believed. The main character is a well-off free black woman with a college degree- which already overstretches the bounds of probability for 1867- who seeks to become a lawyer at a prestigious Washington law firm... at a time when there were only a handful of black lawyers in the whole nation, and no female lawyers whatever! The character by herself is so improbable that the author has to make repeated efforts to justify her existence- NOT a sign of good writing. Tack on to that an interracial romance or two... in the Reconstruction era... well, good-bye, credibility.
The reader is dropped straight into the impeachment crisis with absolutely no lead-in other than, "Lincoln took a bullet to the head from Booth and was up and about again in four days, yay Lincoln!" When looking for historical figures to gain a frame of reference, the reader is almost always disappointed: all but one or two of the principals are one-dimensional cardboard cutouts with all the personality of a theater lobby standie. (The principal exceptions are lawyer and former general Daniel Sickles and ruthless socialite Kate Chase Sprague, who manage to achieve a whole two dimensions each.) Lincoln barely appears himself at all; he is left as a mysterious, vague presence who the other characters map their own prejudices and hopes upon.
The plot wanders like a drunkard, the cast expands to gargantuan size, the contrivances grow less believable with every page... and the plot ends, quite frankly, on a cop-out. The kindest word that can be applied to this work is "ambitious," but it is ambition with the skill to back it up.
I checked my copy out from a local library, and I'm exceedingly glad I didn't lose any money on this unreadable mess. Hopefully some less ambitious or more skilled author will take the same title for a more focused book, either drama or alternate history. The title is interesting; the book behind it, everything but.
Imagine my surprise when I was reading the first pages and references were made to Lincoln still being alive after the assassination and that Seward and Johnson had also been wounded. Then I read the blurb and was thrilled to realize this was actually an alternate history and that I HADN'T lost my marbles and forgotten everything I knew about the Civil War.
Anyhow, this book will grab you quickly and not let you go. I absolutely love Carter's style of writing. He is heavy on the legal aspects, but still manages to keep the book interesting and accessible (unlike much of the legal writing you are forced to read in law school!). The characters are well-developed and Carter does a great job of creating an alternate history but still maintaining the feel of the era. As an historian I find anachronisms in historical fantasy novels really jangle my nerves and make suspension of disbelief difficult to maintain. I never experienced that jangling while reading this book.
I have certainly wondered many times what would have happened if Lincoln had survived and what his approach to reconstructing the nation would have been. I think Carter has created not only an entertaining novel, but one that has raised questions for me to ponder for some time to come. I highly recommend this book if you have always been intrigued by the Civil War and the mammoth personalities of that era.