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The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter: Reading Group Guide

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter: Reading Group Guide

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Published by Alfred A. Knopf
What if Abraham Lincoln had survived Booth’s bullet? In The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Stephen L. Carter, the best-selling author of The Emperor of Ocean Park, travels back to Washington, D. C. (then known as Washington City) in April 1865 and imagines what might have happened had Lincoln survived the assassination attempt. The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading in this guide are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of this fascinating work of alternative history.
What if Abraham Lincoln had survived Booth’s bullet? In The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Stephen L. Carter, the best-selling author of The Emperor of Ocean Park, travels back to Washington, D. C. (then known as Washington City) in April 1865 and imagines what might have happened had Lincoln survived the assassination attempt. The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading in this guide are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of this fascinating work of alternative history.

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Published by: Alfred A. Knopf on Aug 16, 2012
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The Impeachment of Abraham LincolnStephen L. Carter What if Abraham Lincoln had survived Booth’s bullet?In
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln,
Stephen L. Carter, the best-selling author of 
The Emperor of Ocean Park,
travels back to Washington, D. C. (then known as WashingtonCity) in April 1865 and imagines what might have happened had Lincoln survived theassassination attempt. The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading in this guideare designed to enhance your group’s discussion of this fascinating work of alternativehistory.Incensed by Lincoln’s conciliatory policies in the South, radical Republicans in Congressare determined to impeach him. They charge him with misusing presidential power duringthe Civil War, failing to protect freedmen in the South, and, most seriously, with the intentto overthrow the authority of Congress. One month before the trial is scheduled to begin,Abigail Canner, a young black woman, appears at the offices of the President’s lawyers.She possesses a degree from Oberlin, a letter from one of the partners promising her employment, and the strong conviction that her gender and race will not prevent her fromrealizing her ambition to become a lawyer. As the case against Lincoln heats up, Abigail’scontributions to the defense are hardly noticed—until she uncovers a conspiracy that couldundermine the congressional case and destroy the reputations of prominent politicians andsome of America’s wealthiest families.Carter blends concrete facts, wholly credible fictional events, and beautifully realizedcharacters both real and invented into a tantalizing tale of what might have been.
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln
offers fresh and provocative insights into anextraordinary time in American history and its enduring impact on our politics and society.
 
For Discussion
1.
Abigail “learned from her late mother, that, whatever limitations society might place onordinary negroes, they would never apply to her” [p. 14]. Is she arrogant? Naïve? Whatis the significance of her making a distinction between herself and “ordinary negroes”?Does her frustration with the presumption “that if you were black you must have been aslave until the Emancipation Proclamation; or, if you had been born free, then your  parents surely scrubbed kitchens or waited tables” [p. 35] explain her attitude? Inaddition to her mother’s lesson, what inspires her determination to challenge society’scustoms and rules?
2.
How would you characterize the relationships between Abigail and the men she workswith? How do her race and gender affect the way she is treated by Jonathan Hilliman,Dan Sickles, and Rufus Dennard? What part do their personal histories and biases play?What light does this shed on the racial and sexual mores of the period? Are there parallels to the interactions between men and women and among various racial groups inthe workplace today?
3.
Abigail said that “whatever wrongs Mr. Lincoln may or may not have committed, he hasalso committed the two greatest and most important acts any President has done, or islikely to do. He won the war to restore the Union. In the process, he forced an end toslavery” [p. 117]. Using this quotation as a starting point, discuss the variety of opinions presented in the novel about Lincoln and the actions he took during and after the war,including the views expressed by Dinah Berryhill [pp. 36–37]; Abigail’s brother,Michael [pp. 30, 88]; Police Inspector Varak [p. 60]; General Felix [pp. 79–81]; AugustBelmont [p. 184]; and other secondary characters. What insights do they offer into theroles of wealth, class, and race, as well as personal morality, interests, and fears, in theshaping of political opinion?
4.
The meeting between Judith and Abigail [pp. 143–45] and Judith’s subsequent
 
revelations [pp. 223–26] provide invaluable keys to the puzzle Abigail is trying to solve.What does Judith’s situation reveal about the African American community, and particularly about African American women, during the period? In what ways do her actions represent the hidden or neglected contributions of African Americans toAmerican history? What aspects of Judith’s life serve as an example and inspiration toAbigail?
5.
“Rejection, exclusion, condescension—these were the price the nation daily exactedfrom the colored race, like a special tax on darkness” [p. 148]. How does Abigail dealwith the prejudices she encounters? In what circumstances does she demonstratecourage? When does she seem most vulnerable? Do you think her behavior is ever rashor unreasonable?
6.
How do their ambitions, expectations, and current situations (Jonathan’s engagement toMeg and Abigail’s to Aaron) influence Abigail and Jonathan’s relationship? When doeseach of them become aware of the romantic attraction that exists between them? Who ismore willing to accept and explore the possibility of a more personal commitment, andwhy? To what extent do their interactions reflect the larger story of the relations between blacks and whites during this period of history?
7.
At the impeachment hearing, Abigail finds herself sitting with Jonathan’s fiancée, MegFelix, who “was broad and tough and deliberate. Every movement of her soft bodyexuded a winning confidence: you knew at first glance that she would accomplishwhatever she set her mind to” [p. 65], and Kate Sprague, Salmon P. Chase’s daughter,“married to the wealthiest man in the Senate,” and “said to be puzzling constantly over how to manipulate her ambitious father into the White House” [p. 256]. In addition totheir prominent fathers, what accounts for the power and prestige they enjoy? To whatextent do they, along with Abigail herself, embody qualities you associate withfeminism?

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