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Stephen Carter On Lincoln Impeached

With Wade Goodwyn in for Tom Ashbrook.

Legal eagle and best-selling novelist Stephen Carter re-imagines Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln is shown in a formal portrait, holding the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, year unknown. (AP)

President Abraham Lincoln is shown in a formal portrait, holding the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, year unknown. (AP)

Imagine how the world might have been different if Abraham Lincoln survived the assassination. That’s the premise of Stephen Carter’s new book, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. That’s right, Honest Abe’s wound is not fatal, but he recovers only to face the indignity of a Senate impeachment.

The Radicals are not happy with Lincoln’s strong arming the constitution during the war and want the South punished even more in defeat. Murder and intrigue ensue.

This hour, On Point, it ain’t easy being The Great Emancipator.

-Wade Goodwyn


Stephen Carter,  law professor, legal- and social-policy writer, columnist, and best-selling novelist. He’s author of the new book The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. You can read an excerpt here.

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst.

From The Reading List

Washington Post “With an encyclopedic command of period detail and the courage to alter it whenever he wants, Carter has created an entertaining story rooted in the legal, political and racial conflicts of 19th-century America.”

Miami Herald “With an encyclopedic command of period detail and the courage to alter it whenever he wants, Carter has created an entertaining story rooted in the legal, political and racial conflicts of 19th-century America.”

Chicago Sun Times “That’s just about the end of the good news, unfortunately. Though Carter begins with an exciting premise — Lincoln has survived John Wilkes Booth’s bullet, only to be pulled down into the muck of partisan politics — this is a dreary, endless book, without momentum, intrigue or a character to linger in the mind beyond the last page.”


A book trailer from the publisher.

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  • ToyYoda

    Isn’t Lincoln also responsible for killing vampires too?  :)

    • Stephen

       My guess is that, having successfully addressed and solved our many vital national and global problems, the people at the top (e.g. Yale law professors) have nothing else to fill their empty days.

      • Tina

        I mentioned, above, a book with the title, Emancipation:  The Making of the Black Lawyer.  It is a huge tome that goes state by state, telling generally and individually what those who would be lawyers and happened to be African-American were up against, 1844-1944.  Many of them wanted to go into law to help other Blacks once emancipation was achieved; yet, to practice, they were still up against the massive systemic racism that existed thru out the country.  It is often a painful story; yet most people will NOT read this Emancipation book.  I’m guessing now, but I’ll bet that this lawyer/professor/author has found a way to make the extraordinary material that is available in more “arcane” texts like Emancipation accessible to readers at large.  (I HATE to say that Emancipation is “arcane”:  it is not.  Nevertheless, most people will NOT be reading it! I just had great good luck to have found it, given my line of research!)

        As I said, above, I found the Emancipation book while doing my genealogy.  What a total surprise to find my great grandmother’s first husband’s life described so fully in that book!  And, I’ve often thought that I’d love to flesh out more of his story so that people could see the many tribulations (notice I didn’t say trials and tribulations — on purpose!) of this young man who only wanted to help his fellow Blacks after all they had been thru before the Civil War.  I even have reason to think that it is possible that this young man’s parents escaped life in Virginia via the Underground Railroad, but that’s another story.  You can see, though, how having knowledge about the people of this time period AND an understanding of the law, which underlies just about everything in our lives, could prompt a scholar to want to flesh out his scholarship via the help of that Greatest Truth of All:  Fiction (when done well!)!!

        By the way, my other relative I told about, the domestic in the home of Lincoln’s autopsy doctor: she lived in Georgetown.  How interesting to hear today that it was a teeming slum during this time period!  THAT is what the fictionalizing of historic truth can do:  show us more of the truth!


    • AC

      lol. i was about to say his secret vampire hunting skills would have become known!

      • J__o__h__n

        The vampires didn’t start voting Republican until after Civil Rights. 

        • Tina


    • Brett

      I’ll admit it, good historical fiction can be wonderful…but I agree, I thought the “vampire hunter” deal was pretty ridiculous. I’ve been kidding people that I’m working on my own historical fiction/gothic novel. I call it, ‘James K. Polk, Zombie Killer.’

  • Tina

    I’ve been doing my genealogy on the African-American side of my family.  One of the things I discovered (long story!) was that one of the sisters of my great great grandmother was a domestic, after the Civil War, in the home of the doctor who did the autopsy on Abraham Lincoln.  

    I don’t know how soon after the war she began working there.  One of her other sisters is one of the family members whose owner’s name we have.  Before  the Civil War, our family was both enslaved and Free People of Color, from Virginia.  We were living in the north by 1870, but I don’t know when we went between 1860 and 1870.

    ALSO:  my grandmother’s first husband was one of the first African-American lawyers in the United States, and he was an acquaintance of one of the first Black women lawyers in the U.S.!  The book, Emancipation:  The Making of the African-American Lawyer (circa) tells about them and other black lawyers, and the struggles and triumphs they had.

    I’ve called in about this before, so I’ll just write about it here.  

    • Tina

      oops — rushing too much — I meant to say that it was my great grandmother whose husband was one of America’s first African-American lawyers.  

  • Tina

    Jack, At some points Lincoln WAS a racist.  I don’t know for how long he held this view, but he was on a record saying something like that African-Americans were not the equals of Whites and that the races would not mix well in the US.  That is one reason why, again, at least for some time, he  promoted the idea of Blacks going to Liberia.  I just raise as much of this issue as I am able to, but it needs correction by Lincoln scholars. 

    • Ron Shirtz

      Agreed. We’ve held too long a false myth of Lincoln as the “the Great Emancipator”. Along with his Liberia project to ship freed slaves out of the US,  Lincoln stated in his inaugural speech that if he could save the Union without ending slavery, he would.

      As CIC of the Union army, he allowed black Union soldiers to be paid less fighting and dying for the Union. His Emancipation Proclamation did nothing to free slaves on the Union border states.

      Lincoln was first and foremost a politician, and he employed the emotional slavery issue as a moral crusade to cloak his bloody solution to preserve the Union.

      I cannot understand how anyone can honor a president that blatantly violated his oath to uphold the constitution to prosecute so vigorously a war resulting in the deaths of 600,000 of his own citizens.

      • ElfmanNW

         I have to comment on this with just having read the excellent and well researched book by Bruce Chadwick, Lincoln for President.  This covers in detail Lincoln the politician before and during his election to President in 1860.  First off, despite revisionist history that begun almost as soon as the Civil War was over, the war was about the issue of slavery, would it continue and where.  The Republican Party was formed in opposition to slavery, especially the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that once more opened the possibility of the expansion of slavery into new territories.  It is true that while Lincoln ,as did virtually all whites North and South, considered blacks inferior to whites he always abhorred slavery.  From Lincoln’s speech at Copper Union Hall in New York City in February 1860:

        “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality, its universality. If it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension—its enlargement.… Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them?… Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the government nor of dungeons to ourselves,” he declared as his thin voice sailed out high and loud, full of thunder, over the mesmerized crowd. “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do out duty as we understand it.”

        Lincoln knew that to have any chance of winning the election in 1860 he would have to run a northern state campaign, and in fact sweep the North in order to obtain a victory in the Electoral College.  To do this he had to present a moderate face to his position on the slavery issue in order to carry such states as Indiana, Iowa, and even New York. However, he never wavered in his opposition to further expansion of slavery, nor did he waver in his commitment to preserving the Union while holding to the first item.

        When Lincoln was elected though the Secession of the Confederate States was a forgone conclusion. At that point Lincoln was presented with either the option to just let states that had by that time left  do so (which would have been contrary to his campaign position), or to fight to preserve the Union.  From his inaugural address (referring to the states that had Seceded):

        “In your hands, not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.… You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ it”

        There was no solution other then the war to preserve the Union, the Confederate States made that impossible.

        • Tina

          Thank you ElfmanNW.  We are really rounding out our understanding by all the contributions of the commentors!  The book you take this from sounds like the book I am really looking for for non-fiction.  I also think the historic fiction of the guest will add much to an understanding of themes and tones of the historic times.  

    • Chadcarlson70

      It depends on which group Lincoln was talking to. During the Douglas debates his tone change depending on whether he was speaking in the north of Illinois or in the south of Illinois. This is what he said about Negro equality in the first debate in Ottawa, IL, August 21, 1858: “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”  

      • Tina

        Thank you for that reference, Chad, and thank you, Ron, for reminding me about the military issue.  I’ll add here that it was not only Whites who believed in the Colonization movement of African-Americans going to Liberia.  That movement was controversial, tho, thru out Black America.  In fact, a newly found by-marriage and thru layers of in-laws cousin of mine told me that relatives of his, and therefore, of mine by-marriage, etc. did go to Liberia.  On the other hand, I have a book that my grandmother’s brother, a Howard University graduate like his father, and an early civil rights activist, wrote in 1914 about the history of Blacks in the U.S. (you’d think the scholarship benefitted from our increased access to documents today, when his remarkable scholarship proves more how much was known about the African-American experience that got lost to the general public over the decades, including for reasons based on Jim Crow!).  In that book, he excoriates the Colonization movement.  Instead, his whole thesis is to point out the remarkable contributions that African-Americans made to every aspect of New World and eventual U.S.A. culture, life, and economy, and that the time was upon all citizens to recognize that Blacks had every right to benefit from the ideals and economy of the nation — right here.  

  • EW

    See Lincoln’s late portraits. He does not look like a man with long to live.

    Good show.

    Ed Wilson

  • J__o__h__n

    If they impeached Lincoln, woudn’t Johnson have become president?  Why would Congress want to do that?

  • Msalitan

    Fascinating discussion.
    I would like to see a book about what would have happened if Garfield had lived.
    Question: I understand that there was a black middle class in the north but how likely is it that a black woman would be a lawyer? I have read that the first woman lawyer was admitted to the bar in 1869 and the first black woman in 1872–this must have been quite rare. 

    • Tina

      You’ll see thru out these comments that I’ve mentioned the book, Emancipation:  the Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944.  It mentions the first Black woman lawyer, Charlotte Ray, who, it happens was a acquaintance of my great grandmother’s first husband, who is also mentioned in the Emancipation book.  They both graduated from Howard University Law School which was started by the Freedman’s Bureau to help educate young African-American lawyers so that they could serve the Black community as they emerged from the Slave System and Slave Economy that had driven so much of the United States’ total modus operandi (north and south).  I have reason to believe that our family member by marriage may have had parents who emerged in the north from the south via the Underground Railroad.  I don’t remember what Charlotte Ray’s impetus was, but they all faced incredibly difficult situations once they graduated.  Mainly, most Whites would not hire them, and most African-Americans were too poor to pay enough to let these young lawyers make a living wage.  

      I believe that there may have been earlier law school graduates from Oberlin — before the Civil War.  I suspect that Stephen Carter’s work of fiction uses his knowledge of actual facts, situations, and themes, and then, by using fiction, he makes readers more aware of what the underlying legal, economic, social, and racial environment was like right after the Civil War.  If he has found a way to make Americans more aware of the period and themes of Reconstruction, I say:  hats off to him!!!  I can’t wait to get this book!

  • http://twitter.com/aloysiusokon Aloysius Okon

    Man, I LOVE Alternative History! 

  • Joealbiani

    People who attack Lincoln as being racist are making the mistake of looking at his time through the eyes of our time. He sought colonization for blacks because he coldn’t see them having a fair shot at life because of the almost universal racism of the north and the south. He said over and over that he thought it was terribly unfair but could not see how Blacks could overcome the way they were treated. He was a good lawyer and saw no way around the constitutional protection the slave holders had.
    It took the civil war to finally let him kill the evil he always hated. Yet he was a true leader and knew that this was a cataclysmic change in our culture and could not be done by fiat so he brought blacks into the military but first allowed them to be paid less than the whites to prevent whites from throwing down their weapons and leaving which was a great fear. Once the blacks showed their bravery and courage he was then able to make their pay equal and the white soldiers by then saw them as men and had no real objection.
    But his true feelings were shown in the summer of 1864 when it looked like he would not be reelected and McClellan would win and then reverse the Emancipation. Lincoln called the great black leader Frederick Douglass to the White House and asked him to lead a force to go into the South and get as many slaves as possible to escape to the Union lines so they could be free before the election and the door to freedom would be slammed shut in their faces. Douglass was moved by this experience and realized what a true friend of the Blacks Lincoln was.
    Then there is the Gettysburg Address where for the first time he used “all men are created equal” as the basis of our country’s creed. A clear reference to Blacks. And finally the greatest speech ever his 2nd Inaugural where he acknowledged that the great evil of slavery was the responsibility of both the North and the South and the war was a payback for that evil. His last speech given from the window of the White House called for the black man to get the vote. John Wilkes Booth, a die hard racist, was in the crowd listening and when  he heard that he determined that Lincoln would have to die. And he did 3 days later. He was killed precisely because he was a friend to the blacks when there were very few around. We were very lucky, whites and blacks, that there was such a man, such a great and good man, as Abraham Lincoln.

    • Tina

      We are gathering a good set of opinions here about whether or not Lincoln was a racist, and/or whether he obliterated his racism over time after having any number of experiences and contacts.  Please read the Lincoln quote that Chadcarlson provided at 2:25 yesterday.  That is the quote I am familiar with, tho I could not have provided it here, so thank you Chad.  I still don’t know, however, whether Lincoln held these opinions his entire life.  Our local Lincoln scholar is so biased in favor of Lincoln, that he cannot be asked questions about the trajectory of Lincoln’s racism.  I would very much like to find a book devoted entirely to this topic.  Are you perhaps paraphrasing from one, or from several that when put together give the portrait of his racism over time?  Can you share those book titles here?  That would be great! (And I thank you in advance in case I don’t get back to this site for awhile.)  

      I do disagree with the concept, however, of “looking at his time thru our time.”  When it comes to human rights, I believe them to be universal.  My relatives on my father’s side were mulatto and Black, living in Virginia before the Civil War, as both Free People of Color and enslaved individuals.  I look at this history thru their eyes.  I even believe that their values were the same ones that my father passed on to me and my brother, as this history is very close in time to our current generation.  By that I mean, my father’s grandmother, was already 8 years old when the Civil War began; yet she died just before I was born in the mid-20th century.  The whole family experienced Jim Crow in the supposedly unprejudiced north which they left for.  I see things thru their eyes; and they saw their full humanity — without caveats or political exigencies — since way before the Civil War began!  

      You do provide very interesting information that I’m eager to read more about.  Thanks!

    • Ron Shirtz

      “He sought colonization for blacks because he coldn’t see them having a fair shot at life because of the almost universal racism of the north and the south. ”

      So Lincoln wanted to ship them to Liberia for “Their own good”. How condescending Lincoln was.

      Then we should also hail the “compassion” of those who relocated the native America Indians from their territories to miserable reservations, because Indians could not have a “fair shot of life” assimilating into white man’s culture. What’s good for the goose should be considered good for the gander, right?

      Liberia was an faux-African nation that was not the  origin for most of blacks slaves, nor of any use to the succeeding generations of black slaves who lost their cultural traditions due to the breakup from their families and tribes. IMHO, Lincoln wanted to get the ex-slaves out of America so he would not have to fight for their full enfranchisement as American citizens–which he knew would politically ruin him.

      • Tina

        “How condescending Lincoln was.”  “Condescending”!  That’s the very word I could not find but wanted to use in my own reply, below.  It IS just what I meant when I said, “they (African-Americans) saw their full humanity — without caveats or political exigencies”!  Lincoln’s caveats and political exigencies were exactly what was condescending!  Thanks for your clarity and brevity (which is always a challenge for me!)

      • Joealbiani

        Lincoln did not want “to ship blacks to Liberia”, or Haiti and Central America, these were suggestions he and others made but he was adamant that it would only be if they wanted to go of their own free will. He never was in favor or forcing anyone to go anywhere. This is totally different from the example cited of the forced movement of American Indians and disingenuous to suggest it was. Lincoln was searching for a way to deal with the racism of the US and dropped the idea of colonization, a very popular one at the time, when it was clear to him that there were very few blacks who wanted to go anywhere. It is easy to criticize him from the distance of 150 years but at the time he was merely trying to find a solution to what appeared to be an insoluable problem. Blacks were horribly discriminated against everywhere, North and South and he did not see a way to deal with the problem and was trying to find a solution. Most people didn’t care at all about the plight of the black, free or slave. To suggest that he wanted to get blacks out of the US so he wouldn’t have to fight for their enfrachisement is ridiculous as no one was suggesting the blacks have the right to vote until he did from the window of the White House which led to his death 3 days later.

        • Ron Shirtz

          The plan to ship blacks was on Lincoln’s mind right up before his assassination. General Benjamin Butler recalled a”colonization interview” that he had with Lincoln two days before the assassination. “What shall we do with the negroes after they are free?”, Lincoln is said to have asked the general. To Butler, Lincoln  said, “I can hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace, unless we can get rid of the negroes” Butler then proposed deporting the freed slaves to Panama to dig a canal, decades before the actual Panama Canal was dug. “There is meat in that, General Butler, there is meat in that,” Lincoln reportedly said.

          I’m sorry, but even with ex-slaves being offered to freely participate in a government sponsored resettlement program, it still comes off as a hypocritical though “kinder and gentler” social purge as the resettling the Indians on reservations or the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WW2.

          The Liberia plan–along with similar ones to distant British colonies—no matter how soft-pedaled or well-intention, still sounds like a racist response: “Why don’t you go back to Africa where you belong!”

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