D.P. Reisig wrote a story about Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer for the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE. She’d been researching Lincoln for a long time since she’s going to write a novel about another case he had before going into politics. And since I knew she’d read book after book about him, I thought I’d ask her some questions about some of the details in her story.
Please welcome D.P. Reisig to my blog.
- The short story you contributed to the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE was about Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer, defending his friend’s son on a murder charge. What drew you to Abraham Lincoln?
The fact that he grew up here in Indiana and we used to have the Lincoln Museum here in Fort Wayne drew me to him. The more I learned about him as a person the more I respected who he was and what he went through to become a national leader. He had to conquer a lot of personal demons and that makes him interesting as a character. He didn’t give up.
- Was Lincoln REALLY honest Abe? In your story, you show him as a master of “shenanigans.” What sort of things did he pull in a courtroom? Can you give us an example or two?
He was more intelligent than a lot of the people around him. When he believed he was right, which was usually, he would do what he had to do to win. He was not above trickery. Where the honest part comes in is that he didn’t sell out his moral beliefs. He was always fighting to do right as he saw it. He was not greedy or corrupt. He did what he honestly thought was best for people and society. He was very devoted to the idea of this democracy. Some examples of things he did as a lawyer was: in the case of a sixty-year old woman accused of killing her husband when the husband attacked her, he didn’t think he could win the case, but he believed the woman had been abused and acted in self-defense, so he helped her escape. Another example, he purposely wore old-fashioned, worn out clothes in the courtroom so the jury would see him as one of them. He went through a “disrobing” act, taking off his jacket, vest, and tie and standing before them in shirt sleeves and looking homely.
- Lincoln mentions that he’d rather be home with his wife, “chasing him with a butcher knife.” Did that really happen? How unstable was his wife?
Yes, apparently his wife, Molly, he called her, did chase him down the street with a butcher knife, but Lincoln realized how bad this looked and took the knife away from her and made her go back inside. There have been several books written about Mary Lincoln and scholars might differ as to how unstable they thought she was. Mary was likely bipolar. She and Abe developed an understanding between them, and they could help each other through their dark periods. Her deepest misfortune came after his death when she no longer had him to defend her and cater to her moods.
- You also mention his first love, a sweet young girl. What happened to her? How did Lincoln end up with Mary Todd Lincoln?
Ann Rutledge was much like Lincoln. An intelligent young girl who liked to read. Her father ran the tavern in New Salem, where Lincoln moved after leaving Indiana. She was engaged to another man who left for the east coast on a trip and never returned. For Lincoln, Ann was safe because she was engaged. He flirted with her and found himself falling in love. When this other man stopped corresponding with Ann, the two of them became unofficially engaged. They were about to make it a formal engagement, when this other man wrote that he was returning to claim Ann, then Ann became ill with typhoid fever that was running through the area and died that same month. Lincoln saw her for the last time the day before she died. He went out with a few women before settling on Mary Todd, but none of these were very serious. Mary Todd wanted to marry an important man and set her cap on Lincoln. Lincoln broke their engagement because he got cold feet, then felt guilty and they started dating quietly and soon married.
- You’re working on a novel with Lincoln as the protagonist. Can you tell us a little about that?
This will be another historical mystery based on a real crime that was never officially solved, though four men claimed to have killed the victim and openly bragged about it. I like working as closely with history as I can. The story deals heavily with mob violence. In frontier Illinois and Missouri, mob violence was the rule. Certain judges set the precedent that individuals should not go against the wishes of the mob, and if they did, they could be charged. This was a subject that concerned Lincoln very much. He saw mob violence as a huge danger to democracy and freedom. He felt it threatened to shake the foundations of this country and perhaps even destroy the nation. Lincoln gave several speeches against mob violence.
- You gave us hints that Lincoln’s childhood was not the best. What was his father like?
Lincoln did not get along well with his father at all. Some would say he even hated him. When his father was dying, Lincoln declined to go see him, even though he was asked to come. Lincoln said it would solve nothing, that there was no purpose in it. Lincoln’s father thought he was lazy because he preferred reading and studying to physical labor. His father loaned him out to other men as paid labor then took all the proceeds. His father’s eyesight began to fail him in older age and he grew more bitter and mean. His father was very jaded by life.
- Do you have any favorite books about Lincoln? Research books, included?
That’s a tough one. I enjoy them all because they all offer a different prospective on the man. It is difficult to assume that any one source is correct in capturing the man. Each book shows you just that one person’s judgment of Lincoln and who he was. My favorite account of Lincoln is actually a movie, Lincoln (2012) with Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role. When I watched it for the first time, it fit perfectly with who I felt he was from having read all the research material. I thought it was the closest you could come to truly meeting him in this day and age. Honor’s Voice by Douglas Wilson is good, and Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Abraham Lincoln by William Herndon, his law partner. My favorite books are often locally written accounts by people who knew him or whose ancestors knew him. They are often more colorful and show how he was interpreted by the common man.
- What are some of your other passions besides writing?
I have a lot of passions, which makes it harder to dedicate myself to just one thing. I love traveling, gardening, painting, cats, movies, antiques, entertaining. To name a few. I work as a nurse practitioner, so I spend a lot of time studying different medical topics.
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