Although Lincoln is named in the title, the story of “The Lincoln Conspiracy” actually deals with those involved in the events related to his assassination. As with President Kennedy and other significant leaders, some believed their deaths to be part of a conspiracy rather than the madness of one individual. The evidence here appears in the form of two diaries, one belonging to First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, and the other to John Wilkes Booth.
Booth had associates and some were prosecuted and hanged but questions remained. If there was a conspiracy, were all of those involved apprehended? And who was the architect of the plan? Booth may have pulled the trigger but he may simply have been an instrument in a plot to change the outcome and repercussions of the Civil War. Lincoln said, “I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are and henceforward shall be free.”
Did that mean African Americans were to be given too many rights?
He stated, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Could this imply that Lincoln, in his compassionate zeal to reunite the country, might not be harsh enough on the southern states who had dared to secede?
Just as we see today, there were factions in the government who wanted to punish those with whom they disagreed in the name of patriotism, paternalism and religion, etc.
The search for the diaries leads the actions of Police Detective Temple McFadden.
He was an Irish orphan who wields his cane like a sword and his wife, Fiona, a skilled nurse, both of whom are determined to restore the enlightening journals to the proper authorities.
But who were they to trust if the plot included government officials and powerful railroad tycoons? This was a time before the danger of monopolies was evident and their formation regulated.
The IRE the 20th century public felt towards the phone company and now directs at the insurance companies was then associated with railroads. Lincoln himself wrote in a letter to the assistant war secretary, Thomas Scott, “In my darker moments, however, I confess to worries that the money powers behind the railroads will seek to reinforce our prejudices and prolong our differences to further aggregate their wealth.”
Along the way to solving the mystery, we meet notable figures of the era. First there is Mary Todd Lincoln, who had already lost two sons and then seen her husband shot before her very eyes, who now turns to spiritualism for comfort.
Grief and the unsympathetic behavior of her adult son, Robert, exaggerated her already precarious hold on any semblance of a normal life.
Then there is Alan Pinkerton, known as one of the first official “private eyes,” who had an uncanny ability to foresee and creatively solve problems with legendary perseverance, coining his agency’s motto, “we never sleep,” which he had printed surrounding an open eye for signage and business cards.
He was obviously an intelligent and progressive entrepreneur as evidenced by his hiring of the first female detective, Kate Warne, who was considered a versatile and fearless operative. Other notables were extremist, John Wilkes Booth; brutal head of the northern army’s spy service, Lafayette Baker; reformer, Dorthea Dix; photographer, Alexander Gardner; and one of the most inspirational speakers of her day despite being illiterate, Sojourner Truth. Inclusion of such figures makes historical fiction my favorite genre.
This is certainly a year for Lincolnabilia and O’Brien’s work details a pivotal period in U.S. history, especially when one considers what our country might be like if the secessionists had been successful.
The author, Timothy L. O’Brien, a former reporter and editor at the New York Times, is an award winning journalist with a bachelor’s in literature from Georgetown University, master of arts in United State history, master of science in journalism, and a master’s of business administration all from Columbia. He skillfully combines these interests in “The Lincoln Conspiracy,” the first in a series of three thrillers planned for Random House.
I can also recommend the fictional account of Lincoln’s decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, The Lincoln Letter, the non-fiction description of his cabinet and Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a former K-State Landon lecturer. Finally, the Academy Award winning film, “Lincoln,” all available at the Manhattan Public Library.
Michaeline Chance-Reay is an emeritus faculty member at K-State and a Manhattans resident.