Against the rich background of post-Civil War Chicago, A Warrant For Mrs. Lincoln, by Nancy Schliefer (Xilbris April 2007) blends two unique casts of historical and fictional characters whose lives intertwine during the insanity trial of Mary Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s widow.
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Mrs. Lincoln’s saga begins on an ordinary day when she answers a knock on her door and is immediately informed of a warrant requiring her presence in court within an hour.
Her own son, Robert has filed the insanity petition, orchestrated the trial, and bankrolled his mother’s attorney to make sure that this mother will not have an effective defense.
The powerful historical context includes rich references and events such as:
• President Lincoln’s assassination
• The Chicago fire
• The insanity trial of Mrs. Lincoln
• The former First Lady’s interment in the Bellevue institution in Batavia, Illinois
• The rescue of Mrs. Lincoln by Myra Bradwell, the first woman denied admission to the practice of law by the United States Supreme Court.
The pathos of her residency in a mental institution, and the brilliant strategy utilized to release her from the institution are dramatically narrated in A Warrant For Mrs. Lincoln.
At the Poughkeepsie station, people showered them with single stems and bouquets of flowers from their gardens—lifting up nosegays so that they could grab them from the half-opened train windows, chanting, “Mrs. Abe! Mrs. Abe! Show us the children. Show us the children.”
She disembarked from the train with Abe and the boys, and they stood on the planked landing. They were real celebrities. Willie bowed to the wild crowd. Taddie ran under her skirts, convulsing the crowd with laughter. She couldn’t get Taddie to show his face again until the train pulled out. He just bounced around inside her knees until they re-boarded.
Crowds met them joyfully in every city, her husband tipping his high hat while she smiled and shook a sea of waving hands. Days and nights flew by in a penumbra of smiles. But in Harrisburg, a reliable source convinced the advisors that a serious assassination plot was brewing. The high advisors convened in another huddle, and this time they won out. Abe kissed her that night, kissed her as if he might never see her again, and she waved goodbye to him in the darkness as he boarded the midnight train from Harrisburg, leaving his family to continue south of the Mason-Dixon line without him.
In Baltimore the mobs held guns and axes instead of flowers.
Now she traveled in another train, not to her husband’s inauguration, not to Washington City, not with streamers and banners of red-white-and blue, not to a place of honor and respect, nor to a place of danger and valor, not to review the troops, or hand out honors, or accept the insistent cheers and accolades and bouquets, but only forty miles to Bellevue Place, where her son intended to inter her alive.
Historical Novels Review Online
A WARRANT FOR MRS. LINCOLN
Nancy Schleifer, Xlibris, 2007, $21.99, pb, 275pp, 9781425728458
Helen Waite, a poor girl from Chicago, seems destined to a bleak future, living in poverty and discouraged from pursuing her interest in the law by the oppressive mores of the mid-19th century. Tragedy consumes Helen’s family and all of America in the 1860s and ‘70s through the Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the destruction of Chicago in the Great Fire of 1871. From the fire of destruction comes new opportunities, and Helen faces a choice between love and a promising and unique career in law. Helen’s experiences are presented alongside the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, through flashbacks of Mary’s early life and of her hardships during the mid-1870s, including being put on trial and committed to a insane asylum by her greedy son, Robert.
Helen’s life in the law leads her to witness Mary Lincoln’s trial and commitment, as well as the terrible conditions that women were subject to as the “property” of men. Schleifer’s novel weaves fiction seamlessly into history, as Helen encounters historical figures such as the Lincolns, Myra and Judge James Bradwell, Susan Anthony, and others. History is respected in the novel, and the research is diligent and well-documented. The novel reveals the author’s narrative skill and sympathy for her characters, which are given energy and life in the novel, but Schleifer’s talent is most evident in her development of Helen and Mary Lincoln. The personality of Mary Lincoln is a challenge to present, as historical accounts vary, but the author shows Lincoln’s warmth, nervousness, dedication and love for her husband and her children, sometime irrational behavior, and the immense sorrow she faced with fairness and empathy.
Equally impressive is Schleifer’s presentation of the laws of the day. The complicated legal morass that surrounded the “place” and “purpose” of women and perceptions of insanity are illuminated, yet her explanations feel natural to the uninitiated and not at all pedantic. A Warrant for Mrs. Lincoln presents a vibrant picture of mid-19th-century law, love, and life.
-– Catherine Perkins
The Artesia Daily Press
Rescue from an asylum:
Mary Todd Lincoln trial
Against the rich background of post-Civil War Chicago, “A
warrant for Mrs. Lincoln” blends a unique cast of historical and
fictional characters whose lives intertwine during the insantity
trial of Abraham Lincoln’s trial; her interment in the Bellevue
institution in Batavia, Ill.; and the valiant rescue of Mrs. Lincoln
by Myra Bradwell, the first woman denied admission to the practice
of law by the United States Supreme Court. The entire story
is told by fictional narrator, Hellen Waite, who also recounts her
own enduring and frustrated love story int his passionate, literary,
and page-turning novel.
Mrs. Lincoln’s saga begins on an ordinary day when she
answers a knock on her door and is immediately informed of a
warrant requiring her presence in court within an hour. Her
shocking trial, the pathos of her residency in a mental institution,
and the brilliant strategy utilized to release her from the institution
are dramatically narrated.
The historical story is wrapped by an elegantly drawn fictional
reminiscence of a passionate love forged, quite literally, out of
the Chicago fire.
This is a novel that will be enjoyed by Lincoln lovers, history
buffs, and enthusiasts of literary fiction.
Nancy Schleifer is an attorney and child advocate. She has
been involved in hundreds of appeals and many first impression
legal issues involving children in Fla. Schleifer has taught a range
of literary and legal subjects in several south Fla. colleges and
universities and has written extensively in the legal field. This is
her first published novel. Visit www.warrantformrslincoln.com
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