THE LINCOLN MYTH by Steve Berry

In 2009 Governor Rick Perry of Texas told a Tea Party Rally that “We’ve got a great union.  There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it.  But if Washington continues to thumb its nose at the American people, you know who knows what might come out of that.  But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re pretty independent lot to boot….When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation….and one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want.  So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”  The remarks created a furor that Perry was suggesting that Texas had the right to secede from the United States.  Perhaps Steve Berry thought about Perry’s comments when he was developing his new novel, THE LINCOLN MYTH, as the main theme of the book surrounds the concept of secession and whether the Founding Fathers may have supported the idea that the union of the United States was not a perpetual one.  Employing Cotton Malone, a former Justice Department intelligence operative as his main character as he has done in his previous books the scenario runs something like this; Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon church in 1854 predicted that the Civil War would occur and that would end the persecution of Mormonism.  Berry calls this the “White Horse Prophecy” and Young struck a deal with Abraham Lincoln that allowed the north to defeat the confederacy.  To show their seriousness Young and Lincoln traded important information.  Young informed Lincoln where Mormon gold was stored, and Lincoln provided a document, signed by the Founding Fathers, that said individual states possessed the right to leave the union.  A Utah Senator who was next in line to become the prophet of the Mormon Church along with a few other plotters to foster Utah’s secession from the union as a precursor to the creation of Deseret, the new Mormon nation.  Once Utah would secede other states would follow once the Lincoln document was made public and the Supreme Court overturned the 1869 Texas v. White decision that ruled unilateral secession by any state unconstitutional.  According to Harvey Tucker, a professor in the political science department at Texas A&M University, “among scholars, the consensus is that the Civil War settled all these issues, and Texas does not have the right to secede.”

(Brigham Young, 19th century Mormon Leader)

Whether the issue of secession has been put to bed or not, Berry has created an interesting yarn that has some basis in history, but as is the case in the author’s Cotton Malone series he takes historical license and creates many primary documents to further his narrative.  In terms of legitimate history Berry does make the case that Mormonism played a much larger role in American history than many have given it credit for.  The argument put forth is whether the Founding Fathers created a perpetual union at the constitutional convention that precluded any state from seceding once it ratified the constitution.  Scholars argue that the constitution was a contract that could not be broken.  The information presented dealing with Lincoln’s ideas are somewhat cherry picked by Berry, but he is totally accurate when he presents the Great Emancipator as a president who fought the war to maintain the union, and freeing the slaves was not the most important thing on his agenda.  According to Utah Senator Thaddeus Rowan, “Lincoln fought the Civil War not to preserve an indivisible union.  Instead he fought that war top create one, conning the nation that the union was somehow perpetual.”  Rowan argues accurately that the Declaration of Independence was an act of secession that violated British law and the Constitution was an act of secession from the Articles of Confederation.  For Rowan it is clear that Lincoln violated his executive power by conduct during the Civil War.  Historians have debated whether Lincoln overstepped the bounds of executive power during the struggle between the states and in some areas he did.  But Berry takes it a step further through Thaddeus Rowan’s character who argues that what Lincoln had done was taken away the “natural and inalienable rights” of all Americans, and he intended to restore them.

The novel itself is very suspenseful, but at times predictable.  The documents that Berry creates are somewhat believable and are employed to support the “Utah type coup” that is the core of the novel.  Berry brings back characters from previous novels such as Cassiopeia Vitt, the historical preservationist, and now a love interest of Cotton Malone, and Stephanie Nelle, Malone’s old boss at the Magellan Billet, a Justice Department Task Force.   In addition to Rowan we have Josepe Salazar, a Spanish elder in the Mormon Church who in line to be the prophet and leader of Mormonism.  Whether you accept that Lincoln believed a constitutional contract among the states was irreversible, or you support the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who believed the opposite is not the issue for Berry.  He has created an interesting plot line that has overtones in today’s political world of partisanship which seem to be on steroids.  To assist the reader in ascertaining the true historical record, Berry includes a ten page chapter at the conclusion of the book identifying what areas are historically accurate and what aspects of the book he created on his own.  If you enjoyed Berry’s previous “Cotton Malone” novels, I would suspect that you would enjoy THE LINCOLN MYTH.  But keep in mind, what Berry alludes to as his plot line, currently is circulating in certain political circles.

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