Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge & the Making of America

Brian McGinty. Norton/Liveright, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-87140-784-9
Despite a subtitle that suggests excessive hype, McGinty (Lincoln and the Court) makes good on his promise to articulate why a now obscure 1857 trial had much broader significance than one would expect of legal battle over transportation. What came to be known as the Effie Afton case began with the crash of the steamboat of that name on the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa. While no one was injured, the collision with a railroad bridge destroyed the boat—which had been transporting cargo and freight valued at $350,000—and its owners sued the company responsible for the construction and placement of the bridge. Abraham Lincoln, who was already a well-regarded lawyer, was hired to assist with the defense. McGinty illuminates the case’s larger issues related to the conflict between two modes of commercial travel (by water and by rail), while also demonstrating how decisions concerning transportation had an impact on the simmering tensions between North and South over slavery shortly before the Civil War erupted. This is a masterful popular history that places its focal point in a richly detailed wider context and will get readers interested in Lincoln’s legal career. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/2014
Release date: 02/01/2015
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-63149-147-4
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-87140-785-6
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