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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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


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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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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Father Abraham’s Call for Troops

When the American Civil War erupted in 1861, writes Kat Smutz, it had been less than one hundred years since the Colonies had wrenched themselves free of the British and declared themselves an independent government.  The infant nation had proved it could stand up for itself, and continued to due so.  As the nation spread westward, one conflict after another arose, with the United States always the victor.  When long standing controversy over the institution of slavery had boiled over into conflict, both sides were confident of their ability to defend their ideals against all challengers.

Off to see the elephant

Many young men put down their farm tools, picked up their hunting rifles and marched off to ‘see the elephant,’ a popular term of the era for battle.  Unfortunately, war was not the great and glorious adventure they envisioned, and far too many never returned home.   In January of 1861, the Union army stood at 15,000 men.  By the end of March, it had swelled to over a half million.  Confederate troops stood at just over a quarter million men.  On April 15, 1861, the day after war officially began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln (pictured) called for 75,000 volunteers for a three month term of service.

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Abraham Lincoln – the Legend and Legacy

In the United States, Abraham Lincoln has become an iconic and idealized figure, held up to every American school child as an example of honesty, intelligence, and morality.  His life is often used as an example of American liberty and freedom, where anyone can climb to the highest achievements, no matter how humble their beginnings.

But how much of Lincoln’s life is fact and how much is legend?  The realities of the life of a hero are often exaggerated in an effort to emphasis the moral of the story.  Often, they are simply misinterpreted with each telling until the subject becomes a bigger-than-life hero.

A defective education

Abraham LincolnThe facts that we think we know of the life of Abraham Lincoln are, basically, these.  He was born in a cabin, no bigger than a bedroom in most modern homes, in the backwoods of Kentucky.  He lost his mother at an early age, walked through the snow to borrow books in order to teach himself to read, and grew up to be many things.  At various times in his life, he was a trader on the Mississippi River, a store clerk, a post master, a lawyer, a statesman, an orator, and lastly, a president.  He was known as a man of high intellect, high moral values, a loving father and husband, and the man who ended slavery.

Lincoln left behind an impressively large number of letters and documents that provide a great deal of insight into who and what he really was.  Through his own words, he helped determine how much of the legend is true.  He wrote three autobiographies between 1858 and 1860.

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Abraham Lincoln – the Assassination of a President

On 15 April 1865, in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, died, having been shot in the back of the head the night before by John Wilkes Booth.

Only six days before, Confederate forces under General Robert E Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant, effectively bringing to an end the American Civil War.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes BoothJohn Wilkes Booth (pictured), who originated from a famous family of actors and was himself regarded a fine actor, had lived in the North throughout the war but, a great believer in the institution of slavery, his loyalties lay firmly with the Confederate South.

In March 1865 Booth had hatched a plan to kidnap the president but the plan came to nothing. However, following Lee’s surrender, Booth’s determination to punish the man he saw as responsible for the war and the ending of slavery hardened.

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