A Friend of Mr. Lincoln
Imagine becoming a close personal associate of a world famous, almost god-like, historical personality. This is the intriguing premise of Stephen Harrigan’s A Friend of Mr. Lincoln.
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” . . . excellent job of building believable and well-rounded characters, both real and fictional.”
A fictional character, Micajah “Cage” Weatherby, makes the acquaintance of a young and ambitious Illinois assemblyman, Abraham Lincoln. Cage, Lincoln and a group of other Springfield young men share a passion for poetry and discussing the important topics of the day–the Alamo, then the Annexation of Texas; the need for infrastructure improvement such as canals and railroads in the state and how to pay for them, and sometimes even the evils of slavery. Cage, as a published poet with abolitionist leanings, doesn’t understand his friend’s skirting the issue. He sees Lincoln as two-faced, trying too hard to please everyone so he doesn’t risk losing his office or pulling the Whig party down. Cage feels Lincoln needs to take a stand on slavery, and he finds himself both surprised and disappointed when Lincoln helps free a captured run-away slave woman in court, yet he also goes on to represent a Kentuckian who insists his Black servants remain slaves and return with him after he manages his land in the free state of Illinois.
Perhaps what causes the most heated conflict between the two men is their respective love lives. Lincoln’s heart seems inconsistent to Cage. After losing the love of his life early on, Ann Rutherford, Lincoln doesn’t seem able to settle with any of the ladies of Springfield society who want to attach themselves to the up-and-coming lawyer/politician. One in particular, Mary Todd, seems determined to win Lincoln over. Cage and Lincoln’s other friends see Mary as a danger to the sanity of their manic-depressive comrade when Lincoln finds himself deeply unhappy after becoming “engaged to be engaged” to the ambitious woman. After rousing Lincoln from a near death depression over the misunderstanding, Cage makes an enemy of Miss Todd (and become off limits to Lincoln, once married to Mary). Cage’s own love life falls apart when his secret lover, Ellie, moves her dress shop to Chicago after an anonymous letter in the newspaper exposes their affair. Cage and Lincoln drift apart, but the mutual admiration for the talent and humanity in each other doesn’t, even as the years pass and the onset of Civil War brings both men to the same conclusion, slavery must end.
A Friend of Mr. Lincoln evokes a strong sense of being a part of history, of breathing the same air of great men during their formative years. Harrigan does an excellent job of building believable and well-rounded characters, both real and fictional. The settings and details bring the 1830s through1840s in Springfield, Illinois alive, giving modern readers insights into the customs, culture and politics of the time and place. It is a novel sure to please both history and Lincoln biography lovers alike.
For more information, see: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/212923/a-friend-of-mr-lincoln-by-stephen-harrigan/9780307745330/
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews