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

Dan Abrams and David Fisher. Hanover Square, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-488-09532-0
Abrams, chief of legal affairs for ABC News and a contributor to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, is joined by Fisher, who has coauthored books with such celebrities as Bill O’Reilly and William Shatner, to recreate Abraham Lincoln’s last significant trial before the 1860 presidential election. Drawing from a transcript of The State of Illinois v. “Peachy” Quinn Harrison discovered in 1989 in a garage once belonging to the defendant’s great-grandson, the authors give readers a moment-by-moment account of the murder trial, which featured a well-liked young victim, a claim of self-defense, a deathbed admission, and Abraham Lincoln for the defense. At key moments, Abrams and Fisher imagine the thoughts, conversations, and strategies of Lincoln, the prosecutors, the court reporter, and the presiding judge. While these forays occasionally strain credibility (and mix somewhat oddly with the factual elements), they also add immediacy to the tale. A deeper understanding of the courtroom drama is aided by clear and enlightening explanations of the historic development of American jurisprudence, including the right to trial by jury and the legal concept of self-defense. Lincoln enthusiasts will find the illumination of his preternatural legal skills a worthy subject; casual readers will find the centerpiece murder trial an engrossing legal thriller. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/23/2018
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