Saturday, September 27, 2014


The most successful book I ever had a hand in writing has to be Cross-Examination Handbook. It has done so well that our publisher wants us to keep it up-to-date with a second edition. The publisher asked, and we responded. We (my co-authors and I) have just finished writing the second edition, which takes note of recent case law and statutory law, and discusses some of the high-profile cases tried since the first edition.

In keeping with the custom of almost all trial advocacy books which deal with cross-examination, the first edition of our book contained the story of the Almanac Trial and Lincoln’s dramatic cross examination of Charles Allen.

When we were writing the first edition of Cross-Examination Handbook, I pointed out to my co-authors that there was some question about the accuracy of the story. I based my belief on the fact that I had read several variations of the story of Lincoln's dramatic cross-examination, and no two were exactly alike. Now, I know that no to witnesses ever tell the exact same story in exactly the same words. The part of the story, however, which differed from variation to variation was a part which should have been verbatim the same in each account—the transcript of the questions Lincoln asked on cross-examination. I also strongly suspected that any transcript of the cross would be fabricated. Court reporters don't type up transcripts of cases where the defendant is found not guilty.

Despite my misgivings, we decided to keep the story of Lincoln's cross in the first edition of Cross-Examination Handbook, but the issue helped to inspire me to investigate the issue and write Lincoln’s Most Famous Case.

I hadn't been researching long before I discovered that the story we told was one of three versions of Lincoln's performance in the trial.
Version One, the story we told in Cross-Examination Handbook, actually finds its origin in The Graysons, a historical novel written by Edward Eggleston in the 1880's. Eggleston's book had Lincoln save an innocent man with a brilliant cross, but it was very different from Lincoln's actual cross. The other two versions originated as campaign rhetoric in Lincoln’s first run for the presidency. Version Two hardly mentions the cross, but portrays Lincoln as the consummate orator who exposes Allan’s perjury by using an almanac during final argument. Version Three paints Lincoln as a shyster who used a fake almanac to discredit a truthful witness. Given Lincoln’s great fame as the author of the Gettysburg Address, Version Two would seem to have the most prior probability. But Version Three, the shyster story, had such verisimilitude that one of Lincoln’s close friends, Ward Hill Lamon, incuded it in his Life of Lincoln.

My book, Lincoln’s Most Famous Case, presents a Version Four, which I believe to be the most accurate version. Instead of basing the story on a novel or campaign rhetoric, I based my reconstructed Version Four on a careful reading of the surviving letters and statements of the men and women who were actually involved in the trial itself. determined that although Version One was inaccurate, it taught basically the lesson about trial advocacy and cross-examination as Version Four. The fourth version just wasn't as dramatic as the first.
Trying to figure out what happened in that long-ago case proved to be, at least for me, an engaging detective story. I discovered all sorts of interesting facts about Lincoln and about how cases were tried in antebellum Illinois, and I was able to correct a number of other misconceptions about the trial. If you like history and you like puzzles, you should like Lincoln’s Most Famous Case. I was well satisfied with the end product, but still I was not happy with the version of the story we told in Cross-Examination Handbook. It was inaccurate and needed to be corrected. 
therefore was glad to learn that the publisher wanted to print a second edition of Cross-Examination Handbook. The request showed that we had done a good job writing the first edition, and it gave us an opportunity to correct the inaccuracies in our story of Lincoln’s cross. 

The second edition is at the printer’s as I write, and it comes out some time in 2015.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Although I don’t plan to do any more writing about Abraham Lincoln in the foreseeable future, I continue to be fascinated by the man. My interest in Lincoln has prompted me to amass a large and growing library on the man. Because many of the books which interest me are out of print, I buy them used. The other day I got in some old books about Lincoln and as I was going through them, some newspaper clippings fell out.  I didn’t pay much attention to them at the time, so I don’t know which of the books they came from. Yesterday I got around to studying the clippings. The articles gave no indication of when they were published or by whom, but they appear to be very old. Upon examination, decided that the clippings had been cut from some American Socialist newspaper printed shortly before World War II, and they seem to have been published in an effort to paint Lincoln as a proto-Socialist who would have approved of a violent Socialist overthrow of capitalism in America.

One of the articles purported to be a reprint of a speech Congressman Lincoln made before the House of Representatives in 1848 condemning the War with Mexico. It’s not unusual that a President of the United States would condemn the war—in his autobiography Ulysses S. Grant, who served in the war with distinction, said it was one of the greatest injustices a stronger country could visit upon a weaker. What was unusual about the speech was something Lincoln supposedly said about disaffected citizens rising up and throwing off their government.  The remarks were so contrary to Lincoln’s position during the Civil War that I hardly credited the words as coming out of the future President’s mouth. I went to the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln to verify that Lincoln actually spoke those words, and found that the article quoted him correctly. Here’s what he said:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable—a most sacred right—a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement. Such minority, was precisely the case, of the Tories of our own revolution. It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old lines, or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones.

Lincoln apparently had changed his mind by the time the Southern states began the process of trying to “rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suit[ed] them better.” If he hadn't changed his mind, there might not be a United States today.