Fiction / Humanities for the Unbound Mind / My Bookshelf

Book Review ~ History Behind the Curtains

Originally published December 7, 2014

The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry Available for less than $10.00


History. The record of human experience recorded by imperfect humans. Sometimes reinterpreted for reasons great and small, pure and not so pure. This time of year reminds me of such things. We as humans love our legends. They are created, passed on, embellished, and polished until the root of the event is lost in the mists of time. All meaning of the original struggle is erased. As an amateur anthropologist, this process is understood and has its own tale to tell. As an amateur historian, it is often a travesty. I believe that we cannot draw meaningful lessons from history unless we are brave enough to explore the real events, motivations and results to the best of our ability. Steve Berry is an author of fiction that combines history and action to bring out possibilities in historical legends. The Lincoln Myth, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. It is also very apropos of current events.

There was a time when I argued that the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. I have since learned differently, which is part of why I never stop researching, reading, listening, assessing data. There is, however, a view that stresses a concept in our forming documents often forgotten: state’s rights. In the story written by Berry those rights centered on one very specific issue, the right to secession. I can, almost, forgive him for down playing the suffering of so many in order to shed light on something that has again become a hot topic in our country—the right of states to pick up their marbles and leave.

Secession is a hot topic just now. I’m afraid the reasons that most people express for such a move seem rather callow to me. I honestly see no meat in many of the shoutings and rantings present in social media and the media in general. Mostly, this is the case because everyone is talking over everyone’s head and few take the time to research the facts before they jump on the favored bandwagon. In addition, few proponents of either side of the issue take the time to analyze the repercussions, the consequences of such an undertaking. It’s exhausting. Berry, in today’s climate, was a breath of fresh air.

The story begins with a scene dated September 10, 1861. The White House visit of General John Fremont’s wife, Jesse, is historical. What occurred can only be surmised. Berry begins with this point and fast forwards to the current day. He articulates rather clearly what the problems of the moment were and are. In 1861, if the Southern states left the union, the North would lose substantial amounts of funding from the port tariffs in place at the time. There was more at stake than slavery, the South needed to run their own ports because they were very busy selling cotton to Britain and Europe, and they needed to maintain the flow of human labor to their fields. The North could not let them leave or it would go bankrupt.

Lincoln also made it clear before his presidency that as a lawyer he supported the right of secession. A quote:

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848.

The Revolutionary War was a war of secession: America was not of the mind to overthrow the government of Britain. Why would those who fought that war lock the door for others to leave a union if they so desired?

Interesting, eh? Something else of interest? Lincoln had no power to end slavery. Slavery was enshrined in the Constitution. A president does not have the authority to change the Constitution. Slavery was not abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The Senate passed the bill in 1864, the House on January 31, 1865. The states ratified the amendment by December of 1865. Then, and only then, was slavery legally abolished.

These are the issues that Berry explores in his fast-paced action novel with historical roots. His characters also explore what it would mean for various and sundry parts of the union to go their separate ways.

I can tell you that the legal and political links between the Canadian provinces are far less entangled than those of the states and yet Quebec has been unable to gain the political and public will to break away. It’s not all that easy. There are consequences and not all of them are pretty.

If I have any advice for those I know and care for who are struggling against one aspect or another of our current government? Think carefully. Understand the consequences of your choices and work to strengthen, not destroy, what was once a great country.

As I re-read this post at the closing of the year 2020, I shudder at the thought that we are still, again, yet? a shattered country. Some of us have, at least, begun to understand something of privilege, a privilege that once upon a time allowed me to believe it wasn’t all about the ownership and oppression of another human soul. When will we ever learn?

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