The Washington Post notes that some 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th birthday we celebrate this week. To judge from the book review sections lately, another thousand or so are being published to coincide with the bicentennial. Without vouching for their historical accuracy, here are a few of the ones I’ve read so far.
Team of Weevils, by Samantha Ort. Ort, author of several revisionist books, including Churchill the Tyrant and Hitler, Peacemaker posits that Lincoln’s Cabinet was actually a hotbed of back-stabbing, name-calling, and even, on one occasion, a shoving match that left Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase with a bloodied nose after he called War Secretary Edwin Stanton a “hemorrhoid-faced poltroon.” Navy Secretary Gideon Welles broke up the fight by threatening to dispatch an ironclad to bombard Stanton’s house. Ort writes: “The real civil war was taking place not on the killing fields of Virginia, but on the ground floor of the White House.” Her assertion that Lincoln was “passed out drunk” during Cabinet meetings may cause some grumbling in certain quarters.
A new book says there is “overwhelming” evidence that President Barack Obama is a direct lineal descendant of Abraham Lincoln.
Mary Quite Contrary, by Herbert Donald David. David, author of 27 books of Lincolniana, now says that there is “persuasive evidence” that Mary Todd Lincoln was in fact a man. “If you look closely at the photographs,” David writes, “it’s like, way obvious. The face, the hands, they couldn’t possibly have been those of a woman. The intriguing part is how she was able to conceal the fact from her husband all those years.” Intriguing, indeed. The presidential children, Tad and Willie, were, in David’s telling, actually born to a Danish housekeeper named Hagnar, whom “Mary”—his birth name was allegedly Seymour Pitt—kept in the basement.
Dream of the Father, by William Smuntz. Smuntz, who was physically ejected from the American Genealogical Society in 2002 for his monograph proposing that George W. Bush was related to Albert Einstein, now says there is “overwhelming” evidence that President Barack Obama is a direct lineal descendant of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, he says, citing conveniently recently unearthed memoirs of one of the White House gardeners, had an affair with “a fetching and willing” upstairs housemaid named Merrie Christmas. Lincoln, in this telling, was “at a low point, both in the progress of the war and in his personal life, having just discovered that his wife was in a fact a man,” and thus “sought solace in the arms of the comely and willing Merrie.” When Merrie became pregnant, Lincoln’s secretary John Hay quietly arranged for her to be sent to Kenya, but said presciently, “I suspect this will not be the last of it.”
No new crop of Lincoln books would be complete without yet another version of the assassination, and so comes Wilmot Dimwiddle’s somewhat expansive, five-volume Sick Semper.
Somewhat boiled down (and trust me, I’m doing you a favor by boiling it down), Dimwiddle’s thesis is that Lincoln, bored “out of his gourd” by the play Our American Cousin, was scratching the back of his head with the .44 caliber derringer when it went off accidentally. John Wilkes Booth, he asserts, had snuck into Lincoln’s box to congratulate him personally on winning the war and freeing the slaves. When the gun went off, Booth’s “acting instincts spontaneously took hold of him, like a sudden fever.” Realizing this could be “the role of a lifetime,” he pulled out his knife, carved Major Rathbone “like a Thanksgiving turkey, and leapt onto the stage, spouting Latin.” Dimwiddle even goes so far as to allege that Booth, “an early proponent of Method Acting, broke his leg on purpose, knowing that this would give his performance extra flavor.”
Over to you.
Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. His journalism, satire, and criticism has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Esquire. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes FYI.