Harriet Beecher Stowe – a summary

Born into a family of ministers and abolitionists who worked with the Underground Railroad, it would have been surprising for Harriet Beecher Stowe not to have been a bold free thinker. Stowe is credited with writing the fictional story that threw the spark that ignited the American Civil War. Even Abraham Lincoln himself spoke of her as the “little lady who started this great big war.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher StoweHer novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the best selling novel of the nineteenth century. Based on stories that Stowe heard told by escaped slaves, the story depicts a variety of slave situations. The main character is Uncle Tom, a slave who is sold by his owners due to their financial troubles. His new owner is a kind man. But when Tom is sold again, he falls into the hands of the evil Simon Legree who is determined to break Tom and his faith in God.

Another character, Eliza, is owned by the same family. But upon learning that she might be torn from her son by the sale, she takes the child and runs away. She has the good fortune to encounter abolitionists along the Underground Railroad who help to keep her from being captured by a slave catcher.

Stowe’s book enraged Southern slaveholders. Some Southern authors retaliated with their own “Anti-Tom” literature, defending slavery and condemning Stowe’s work. One of the most popular “Anti-Tom” novels of its day was The Planter’s Bride by Caroline Lee Hentz. The story is seen through the eyes of a Northern abolitionist’s daughter who marries a slave owner.

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John Wilkes Booth – a summary

Even before he became famous as the first man to assassinate a United States president, John Wilkes Booth was a well-known name. Born into one of the most famous acting families in America, Booth was the ninth of ten children of Junius Brutus Booth. Booth was born in Bel Air, Maryland. His mother was Mary Ann Holmes, his father’s mistress until 10 May 1851 when they were married.

John Wilkes BoothBooth and his brother Edwin were athletic young men who loved fencing and horses. Booth attended Bel Air Academy for a time, but was described as an ‘indifferent’ student. He later attended Saint Timothy Academy, an Episcopal military academy, where he studied the classical arts.

Booth’s father died when Booth was fourteen. At sixteen, he began to take an interest in the stage and in politics, on 14 August 1855, aged seventeen, he made his stage debut in Baltimore, Maryland.

Leading Man

John Wilkes Booth was often described as handsome and athletic. By the time the American Civil War broke out, he was earning as much as $20,000 a year, a sum equal to about half a million dollars today. During the war, he performed primarily in the Union and in the border states. When Booth T. Ford reopened his theatre in Washington, DC, in 1863, Booth was one of the first leading men to appear there in a play entitled The Marble Heart. Sitting in a box seat just above the stage was President Abraham Lincoln. Booth’s final appearance at Ford’s would be 18 March 1865 in a play entitled The Apostle.

While his acting career and fame grew, Booth’s political views did as well. He was so strongly opposed to abolition that he joined the Richmond Grays, a 1,500-man volunteer militia group that traveled to Charlestown, Virginia, (now West Virginia) in order to guard the hanging of John Brown on 2 December 1859 and prevent any rescue attempts.

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Abraham Lincoln: History In An Hour

LincolnAbraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, is an American icon. To many, he is a symbol of values, sacrifice and determination. Modern notions of nationalism, liberty, and constitution all owe their debt to Lincoln, as does the unity of the American states. And yet, in his own day, Lincoln was also reviled by many as a traitor, tarnished by his associations with the wrong kind of race and the wrong end of society.

Charting his ascent from humble origins to the leader of the United States during its hardest democratic and ethical conflict – the American Civil War – ‘Lincoln: History in an Hour’ is a succinct guide to the life of a great and controversial modernizer. Having educated himself and made good as a lawyer, he embarked on a journey that would see triumph in the abolition of slavery and then tragedy in the final drama of his own assassination. From his struggles as President to his family life and roles as husband, father and friend, this, by Kat Smutz, is the story of one of history’s greatest leaders.

This, in an hour, is Abraham Lincoln…

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Also available as an audio download.


The Roots of Leadership
The Railsplitter and Honest Abe
From Childhood to Manhood
A Politician is Born
Life, Love and Marriage
The Politics of Slavery
The Birth of a Political Party
Life in the White House
The Politics of War
A Presidential War
Re-election and Political Maneuvring
The War Is Won
A New Beginning and a Tragic End
Assassins and Conspiracies
The Failure of Reconstruction
The Lincoln Legacy


Edwin Stanton – a summary

Edwin Stanton was the son of an Ohio physician and a storekeeper.  Born 19 December 1814 in Steubenville, Ohio, Stanton’s father, also named Edwin, died in 1827.  Stanton, who was the oldest of four children, was fourteen years old.  He quit school to help support the family by assisting his mother in running her general store.  Stanton later returned to school, attending Kenyon College.

Edwin StantonIn 1833, Stanton returned to Steubenville where he studied law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1836.  He married Mary Lamson on 31 May 1836.  Stanton built a home in Cadiz, Ohio, where he and Mary had two children, Lucy and Edwin.  Lucy died in 1841.  Edwin survived his father, dying in 1877.  Mary Stanton died 13 March 1844.  Stanton’s brother, Darwin, committed suicide in 1846.  The loss of five loved ones in five years sent Stanton into a depression so deep that it changed him.  The good-humored Stanton became an intense man.


After Mary’s death, Stanton moved from Cadiz to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he met his second wife, Ellen Hutchinson.  Stanton then moved to Washington, DC, in 1856 where he practiced law before the United States Supreme Court.  He was one of the first attorneys to successfully use the insanity defense.  Stanton gave up his law practice in 1860 when he was appointed Attorney General of the United States under President James Buchanan.

Stanton was a Democrat who strongly opposed secession.  During the Lincoln administration, Stanton was legal advisor to Secretary of War Simon Cameron.  When Cameron was accused of corruption, Lincoln reassigned him and replaced him with Stanton on 15 January 1862.

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Ralph Abernathy – a brief summary

Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, a grandson of a slave, became a highly respected pioneer who, alongside Martin Luther King, strove for civil rights for African Americans.

Early Years

Ralph AbernathyAbernathy was born on 11 March 1926 in Linden Alabama.  He was one of William L. Abernathy’s twelve children and the family lived on his 500-acre farm.  Well respected, William was the first black man to serve on a grand jury in his county. Ralph attended the Linden Academy, a Baptist school founded by the first Mount Pleasant District Association.  Whilst there he led his first demonstration – protesting against the dire state of the college’s science lab.

Encountering Racism

During World War Two, Ralph Abernathy enlisted in the army. Before the war he had not been aware of the blatant and widespread hostility towards black people and was stunned by the strict black and white segregation. Despite the disadvantage of his skin colour he achieved the rank of Platoon Sergeant; but a bout of rheumatic fever finished his army career. He was given an honourable discharge and a flight back to America.

Higher Education

After the war, Abernathy enrolled at the Alabama State University; where he gained a Science Degree in Mathematics (with honours). Also, he earned a Master of Science Degree in Sociology while building the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King, Jr.  His thesis, The Natural History of a Social Movement: The Montgomery Improvement Association, was later published in book form entitled The Walking City-the Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-1956.  During his studies Abernathy joined the ministry, delivering his first sermon on Mother’s Day, 1948.

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Mary Todd Lincoln – a summary

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln had four children – all but one predeceased Mary. But before meeting Mary Todd, Lincoln was almost engaged to another Mary. Among Lincoln’s papers can be found three letters written to Mary Owens.  Mary was the daughter of Nathanial Owens, a plantation owner from Green County, Kentucky.  She had a sister who lived in New Salem, Illinois, and Mary paid a visit there in 1833.

Mary Owens – ‘in want of teeth’

Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln had met Mary during that visit in 1833, and when her sister planned a trip home three years later, she posed a question for Lincoln.  She asked him if he would marry her sister, Mary, if she came home with her.  Lincoln, in jest, said that he would.  He regretted his words when Mary Owens arrived in Springfield as a woman engaged to be married—to Abraham Lincoln.

Not only was Lincoln shocked that he had been taken seriously, the Mary Owens of 1836 was not the same woman he recalled from 1833.  In a letter to a friend, he described her as ‘…over-sized, weather beaten, and in want of teeth.’  However, Lincoln had given his word that he would marry the woman and determined that he would find some good in her.  He decided that she was intelligent and had a handsome face, if not pretty.

Nonetheless, he wrote three letters to her discouraging the marriage.  In the last, dated 7 May 1837, he tells her that he is unhappy living in Springfield, Illinois and discourages her from moving there.  He tells her that he cannot provide the kind of life she was accustomed to and that the hardship such a life would bring would make her unhappy.  He concluded by telling her, ‘If it suits you best not to answer this, farewell – a long life and a merry one to you.’  She didn’t answer – it was the last of their correspondence.

Mary Ann Todd

Mary Todd LincolnLincoln seemed destined to marry above the station into which he had been born.  In 1839, a young woman named Mary Ann Todd moved to Springfield.  Her father was a slaveholder named Robert S. Todd of Lexington, Kentucky.  Mary’s mother, Eliza Parker Todd, had died and Mary did not get along with her new stepmother, Elizabeth Humphries Todd.  Mary had come to live with her sister, Elizabeth Edwards, one of six siblings.  Her father and Elizabeth had nine more children together.

(Picture: Mary Todd Lincoln in about 1846, photograph taken by Mathew Brady).

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Jefferson Davis – a summary

Jefferson Davis, 1808-1889, was the first, last, and only president of the Confederate States of America.

The youngest of ten children, Jefferson Davis was born 3 June 1808 in a Kentuckian log cabin. He fought in the Black Hawk War of 1832, serving under the future president, Zachary Taylor. In 1835, Davis married Taylor’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor. Within three months of their wedding, the couple caught malaria and although Davis survived, his 21-year-old bride did not. She died 15 September 1835. The grief stricken Davis resigned from the army and became a planter, owning a successful Mississippi plantation and possessing up to 75 slaves.

Jefferson Davis and Slavery

Jefferson Davis was a great supporter of slavery and later would write, “the servile instincts [of slaves] rendered them contented with their lot”. Slavery, according to Davis, was “the mildest and most humane of all institutions” and freedom for the slave was little more than a “tempter… like the serpent in Eden”. Slaves and their masters, Davis wrote, enjoyed a “strong mutual affection”.

“The North was mad”

In 1845, Davis married again, to Varina Howell, the same year as he was elected to the US House of Representatives. Returning to the battlefield, Davis fought in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, where, wounded, he earned high praise. Between 1853-57, Davis served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.

Although a great believer in States’ rights, Davis spoke against secession and was still urging against it when, in December 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.

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George B McClellan – a summary

George B McClellan was another West Point graduate who went on to a successful military career.  He commanded a company of engineers in the Mexican-American War and was an engineering instructor at West Point.  He was often sent on scouting and exploration expeditions, including one journey into the wilderness to gather information that would be used to plan the transcontinental railroad.  He was part of a group sent to observe European armies.  He later wrote cavalry manuals and designed a saddle, both of which were adopted by the United States’ cavalry.

In 1857, McClellan resigned from the army to become chief engineer and vice-president of the Illinois Central Railroad as well as president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860.  He married Ellen Marcy in New York that same year.

McClellan was opposed to federal interference with slavery.  He was approached by colleagues to side with the Confederacy, but he disagreed with secession. He returned to the military and was involved in two conflicts that were minor, but drew enough attention to make him a national hero. (The photograph of McClellan was taken by Mathew Brady).

Army of the Potomac

He formed the Army of the Potomac and built defenses for Washington, DC, that were nearly impregnable.  They included 48 fortified positions with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists.  He favored the Napoleonic style of campaigning which imposed minimal impact on the civilian population and would not require the emancipation of slaves.  This was one of many things that put McClellan at odds with Abraham Lincoln.

The two men did agree on one thing.  They opposed the Radical Republicans.

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The Montgomery Bus Boycott – a summary

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American seamstress, seated in a segregated bus, refused to give up her seat to a white man. It sparked the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott and resulted in an early and significant victory for the Civil Rights movement. It brought to national attention a 26-year-old recently appointed Baptist reverend by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Three years earlier, in 1952, the US Supreme Court declared that segregation on interstate railways was unconstitutional, and, two years later, also outlawed segregation on interstate buses. However, the practice was not barred on state-run bus services and persisted in many southern states.

Whites Only

White people entered the bus from the front, black people from the back. If the bus was full, and another white person boarded, then a black person was expected to give up their seat. Martin Luther King described the situation: ‘Negroes (were forced) to stand over empty seats reserved for “whites only”. Even if the bus had no white passengers, and Negroes were packed throughout, they were prohibited from sitting in the front seats.’ Continue reading

The Gettysburg Address – a summary

The Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1 – 3 July 1863, was the biggest battle of the American Civil War, in American history, and indeed in the western hemisphere. At the end of it, Union forces, led by General George Meade, emerged victorious but in doing so paid a heavy price – 23,000 men killed or wounded, while the forces of the Confederacy, led by General Robert E Lee, had lost over 28,000 men, killed or wounded, and were forced into retreat. Most of the dead lay in shallow graves; many not buried at all.

Of these 51,000 men, 7,963 Americans lost their lives during the three days of battle at Gettysburg.

‘A few appropriate remarks’

Shortly after the battle, seventeen acres of land were purchased to establish the Soldiers’ National Cemetery of Gettysburg where the Union dead were moved from their shallow graves to more honorable places of rest. The mammoth task of reinterment was only half done when, four and a half months after the battle, the new cemetery was dedicated on Thursday, 19 November 1863. The principle speech, lasting over two hours, was delivered by the former US secretary of state, Edward Everett. Following Everett, came the President, Abraham Lincoln, invited as an afterthought to deliver ‘a few appropriate remarks’, or, as listed in the program for the event, ‘Dedicatory Remarks’.

Lincoln’s speech, in contrast to Everett’s marathon, consisted of only ten sentences, 272 words, and lasted barely two minutes. In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln summarized the principles of human equality as declared in the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”), and expressed the Civil War in terms of a struggle for “a new birth of freedom”.

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