Friday, July 20, 2012

Author's 'What-if' doesn't ignore what was - Fort Worth Star Telegram

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

by Stephen L. Carter

Knopf, $26.95

Author appearances:

Carter will speak and sign copies at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Belo Mansion & Pavilion, 2101 Ross Ave. in Dallas. Tickets $40, $20 for members and guests.

He will appear at a luncheon and signing at noon Wednesday at the Fort Worth Club, 306 W. Seventh St. Tickets $60, $45 for members and guests.

For tickets, register at www.dfwworld

.org or call 214-965-8412.

Stephen L. Carter knows it's inevitable.

History buffs and fact-checkers will pore over his new novel, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, hunting for historical inaccuracies large and small."There are a few fans I have who take great glee in doing this," Carter says. "They write me these notes, saying, 'I really enjoyed your novel, but you're clearly unaware that ...,' and then they tell me some error that I made. I'm sure, with Lincoln, I will hear quite a lot of that."But these readers will have their work cut out for them.Carter, whose book tour brings him to Fort Worth on Wednesday, is a stickler for detail.The Yale Law School professor and author of the bestselling novel The Emperor of Ocean Park (Knopf, 2002) has painstakingly researched every angle imaginable for his provocative "What if?" tale.He knows what Washington, D.C., was like in the 1860s when Lincoln was president. He knows who all the major political players were. He even knows which days were cloudy and which were sunny.What's more, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (Knopf, $26.95) is a work of fiction, meaning the author had no reservations about chucking the facts when they didn't fit his story.The premise of the book, after all, is that Lincoln survives the assassination attempt at Ford's Theatre and, two years later, is subjected to impeachment proceedings when his popularity ebbs.It's going to be hard for anyone to bust Carter for errors when he's freely rewriting history."That is why I write these very long author's notes, which my readers tease me about, in which I acknowledge where I've changed things," he says.Re-creating WashingtonCarter will speak this week at two World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth events: Tuesday at the Belo Mansion & Pavilion in Dallas and Wednesday at the Fort Worth Club.His book is a richly detailed historical/political drama that doubles as a courtroom thriller/murder mystery.Carter's descriptions are of 1860s Washington are gloriously vivid. But why work so hard to get all the details right if he ultimately planned to change things and make stuff up?"I did more research than on any of my other books," he says. "Just to give you an example, there are several scenes that involve this murder taking place outside a brothel. I actually got my hands on the provost marshal general's report on brothels in D.C. during the Civil War. So not only do I know the name and address of the brothel, but also the name of the madam and the number of prostitutes.""I wanted to get details like this as right as possible. It makes the story come alive."Carter's interest in Lincoln dates back to childhood. For decades, he has mused about how American history would have differed had Lincoln lived."That question fascinated a lot of historians 100 years ago," Carter says. "It's not so interesting to historians today, but I've always wondered."Shifting reputationCarter isn't convinced that Lincoln today would be so highly regarded, practically deified, had he lived to complete his second term."The late 1860s were a very hard time for America," he explains. "A significant fraction of the population was dead from the war. There were still a lot of wounds to heal, a lot of divisions. The economy was in the tank. Certainly he couldn't have spent the last three years of his term living off his war record."He would have had to deal with a whole fresh group of problems. It would have been very challenging for any president. Lincoln himself, more than once, is supposed to have said that when a country wins a great war, it's important that it find a new leader in time of peace."As to whether public opinion could turn to the point that Lincoln would face impeachment, Carter notes, "He certainly had enough enemies, including in his own party. Nowadays, when we look at Lincoln, our vision of him is that he was as renowned and revered then as he is now. But that's just not so. A lot of his public acts were controversial and a lot of people in Washington looked down their noses at him."But I want to make clear I am not saying he should have or would have been impeached," Carter continues. "I just think it's an interesting historical premise for a novel."

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