A St. Louis teacher’s second novel about Lincoln traces the future president’s Springfield years | book reviews


By Harry Levins Special for post-shipment

For her day job, Jan Jacobi teaches social studies at St. Michael School in Clayton. In his spare time he produced a multi-volume historical history of Abraham Lincoln.

His first book, “Young Lincoln”, won two awards. Now Jacobi continues with “Lincoln at Springfield.” The capital of Illinois was where Lincoln hung his big black hat from 1837 to 1849, when he turned 40.

In a first-person account, Jacobi traces Lincoln’s experience as a lawyer, state legislator, one-term congressman – and suitor and winner to Mary “Molly” Todd, his wife and mother of their children.

Jacobi aimed his book at young adult readers, but some of his well-researched Lincoln tales may surprise even adults.

For example, the man we call Honest Abe insists at the beginning of this book that unlike so many lawyers, he would live up to his name. He says, “I thought I could give a moral tone to my work. Lawyers were sometimes ridiculed as dishonest, but that shouldn’t be true if the lawyers won his client’s trust. Above all, I would be honest and I would strive to obtain the honor that a lawyer could attribute to himself by his work.

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In contrast, Jacobi’s Lincoln – “the great emancipator”, as the story calls him – expresses less than uplifting opinions about black people. In a court case, he represents a Kentucky slave owner named Robert Manson, who took some of his slaves to his secondary farm in Illinois one summer and sued for the return of some fugitives.

Lincoln said in his closing argument: “Robert Manson did not break the law. His slaves broke the law when they ran away from his farm. They are his property. If he wants to sell them, that’s his right.

Presumably, Jacobi will follow up with another volume or two in his work. And if it does not meet the definition of “biography” but is far too factual to be qualified as a “novel”, Jacobi ends his work by inventing a new literary genre. As he says:

“I have tried to find the most reliable sources on Lincoln and his life in Springfield from 1837 to 1849 and adopt them as a historical novel for young adults. So, is it a novel or a biography? My friend Bob Bray calls it “novelography,” and I’m going to accept that.

Manchester’s Harry Levins retired in 2007 as the Post-Dispatch’s senior editor.

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