Reader’s Club: “The Lincoln Conspiracy” Book Review

“The Lincoln Conspiracy” by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

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In early 1861, when President-Elect Abraham Lincoln was en route to his first inauguration, he was not only preparing to step into the biggest role of his life: he was evading an assassination attempt on it.

In “The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President – and Why It Failed,” authors Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch detail the plot by a secret society of Lincoln haters and the riveting plan to thwart it. The efforts of investigators who prevented the attack laid the groundwork for modern intelligence strategies.

The detailed and disturbing plan to intercept Lincoln on his trip east was circumvented at every turn, allowing him to safely arrive in Washington, D.C. and be duly inaugurated. But the reasons the plot existed in the first place have eerie parallels to today.

Through the lens of history, Lincoln is rightly viewed as one of the most important and influential presidents to ever hold office. He is revered, respected, and memorialized more than almost any other president. His untimely death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth remains one of the darkest moments in our collective history.

But in his own time, popular opinion was entirely different, as the book explores in depth.

In Lincoln’s first election, he did not receive even one vote in several Southern states. In some cases, his name did not appear on the ballot at all. He did win the Electoral College votes, which – notably – did not lead citizens to demand its dissolution.

Lincoln remained unpopular in the South throughout his entire time in office. The Northern media was reasonably fair to him, but the Southern media’s treatment of him was abhorrent. They constantly criticized him, even poking fun at his awkward appearance.

In the 1860s, the American people relied on newspapers and word of mouth to get their news; there simply were not other options. It’s reasonable to assume that the media – that is, the newspapers – had significant influence on the people, because they had no way to discern the accuracy of reporting or to separate fact from opinion. It’s frightening to consider how the media’s tone may have influenced voters and the criminals who planned to harm the President.

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“The Lincoln Conspiracy” reads like a thriller: it’s painstakingly researched, well written, fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping, and horrifying. Even though the outcome is not a surprise, the details, twists, and turns keep it shocking and page-turning from start to finish.

It’s stunning to think about what would have happened if this plot had succeeded; the entire course of American history afterward may have been altered. The Civil War erupted just weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration and the assassination plot was mostly lost to history, until Meltzer and Mensch brought it back to life in this absorbing, intriguing and outstanding book.

Rebecca Horvath
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