Book Review — Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington, by Ted Widmer

I started this book January 21, 2021, the day after Biden’s inauguration, and finished it the next day. This is a rollicking read that gives the feeling of being on Lincoln’s train careening towards destiny. Widmer is a crackerjack writer — his is one of those nonfiction books that reads like a novel. He throws in the most amazing “oh by the way” facts, too, pointing out things like which future presidents saw Lincoln’s train roaring past (Taft was four years old, and apparently already a chonk). I enjoyed the fact that at the end, Widmer writes about the return trip to Springfield, when the train carried the assassinated president’s body home for burial.
I do have to say that it was deeply surreal reading this just two weeks after the Capitol riots. Why is that, you ask? Because the SAME DANG THING happened in 1861! Congressmen were arguing over the vote count. Some were hoping to prove Lincoln’s presidency invalid and replace him with someone else. Thugs and hoodlums were milling around, disaffected, outside the Capitol building. (They didn’t storm the place that time, though.) The vice president, Breckenridge, was afraid he’d get waylaid as he was carrying the boxes with the votes in them, the boxes he was charged with protecting until the votes could be counted. The nation, and the Lincoln party traveling to Washington, were on tenterhooks all day until the votes were verified and Lincoln was confirmed as President-elect. Any of this sound the least bit familiar? This book is amazing by itself. As an example of “history repeating itself”, it’s unparalleled.

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