Legend has long overtaken truth when it comes to Lincoln

in Fiction by

“I would save the Union.  I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.”  If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them.  If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote this on August 22, 1862 in a letter to the editor of the prestigious New York Tribune.  Not quite the image we’re all taught, is it?  Lincoln makes it abundantly clear that, for him, slavery was not the reason for the Civil War.  Freeing slaves was not necessarily the result he intended from fighting the war.  If this shocks you, there’s a good reason since it’s all part of the many legends associated with our 16th president.  In fact, legend has long overtaken truth when it comes to Lincoln.  All of this is considered in my next novel, The Lincoln Myth, coming May 20, 2014.

Years ago, I became fascinated with Lincoln’s contradictions. Today, we call those contradictions flip-flops. They become the butt of late-night comedians and fodder for news channel pundits. In Lincoln’s day they were simply never noticed, much less called out and addressed. Luckily, with the benefit of hindsight and a careful study of history, it’s possible to not only find these discrepancies, but analyze their context and assess their credibility.  The one quoted here, along with several others, enticed my interest enough to send my recurring hero, Cotton Malone, to investigate. Malone (and the reader) are going to discover a series of contradictions, some more shocking than others. John F. Kennedy said, “the great enemy of the truth is often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” That’s Lincoln, through and through. So check out The Lincoln Myth.  You’re going to learn a lot about Abraham Lincoln you never knew.


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is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of nine Cotton Malone adventures, four stand-alone thrillers, and four short-story originals. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 17 million printed copies in 51 countries. History lies at the heart of every Steve Berry novel. It's his passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, which led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation.


  1. This sounds interesting to me as I have also noticed in all my readings the contradictions of Lincoln and slavery. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that he never really cared one way or another about it, but it became an instrument in which to keep the union as one. I can forgive him for that. I look forward to reading your book.

  2. It’s a shame, a national one at that, that our own history is so fraught with such disinformation and myth. To not know the bare facts, be they positive or negative, and/or to have that information purposely withheld from our educational system, demeans us all.

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