Lincoln on the Verge, by Ted Widmer

Summary: One for the specialists… particularly if you like trains

If you like Great Railway Journeys of the World, you will probably like this account of the 13-day journey Abraham Lincoln took as President Elect from his home in Springfield Illinois to Washington DC. Indeed Michael “Choo-choo” Portillo is probably already in the process of pitching it to the BBC as a new series idea.

It has much interesting material, including a social portrait of the United States, or at least those states that Lincoln visited on this journey, on the eve of Civil War, and details of the “Baltimore Plot” to assassinate Lincoln as he passed through Maryland before he even took up the burden of the presidency. 

Lincoln was one of the greatest public speakers of the 19th Century, indeed of world history, So I find it reassuring that even he could occasionally deliver a poor speech, as he did on this journey. But then he had to deliver hundreds of speeches during these 13 days. In these he strove to articulate his vision for a country where all are equal before the law just as the racists of the Confederacy were seeking to create a new country founded on the “principle” of inequality to allow them to continue inflicting dehumanising violence on millions of human beings through the system of slavery.

It’s an elegantly written and illustrated book, but I am not sure I would describe it as compelling. It is probably one for more specialist readers rather than for someone looking for a general introduction to Lincoln or to the Civil War… but it would make a great Great Railway journey.

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