In his ninth novel, Courting Mr. Lincoln, Louis Bayard dramatically re-creates the months after Abraham Lincoln’s 1840 winter arrival in Springfield with delicious detail and diligent diplomacy. Alternating between the disparate voices of Lincoln’s future wife and Lincoln’s best friend, Bayard offers an insider’s view of just how much the two may have influenced the awkward, often ill-mannered country lawyer as he began to inch his way up the political ladder.
Mary Todd is a debutante who has been told she needs to find a husband, and quickly. While visiting her sister in Springfield, Mary is not at all impressed by Lincoln in their first meetings, and besides, her family believes that Springfield’s societal rules restrict Mary from allowing the man a spot on her dance card, much less a courtship. Lincoln soon discovers that Mary is not the average young woman. She is educated and passionate about politics, something he doesn’t usually encounter in young women, if he ever even notices them. Mary eventually becomes drawn to Lincoln’s intelligence, humor and respect for her boldness. When Lincoln and Mary begin their relationship, albeit clumsily, they are forced to hide their courtship from everyone, including Lincoln’s roommate, Joshua Speed.
Joshua rescues Lincoln as he arrives in Springfield with only the clothes on his back and a few other items in saddlebags. With no money and no legal work yet, Lincoln agrees to Joshua’s suggestion that they share a room with only one bed. The two become inseparable, historically rumored to have been lovers, and bonded together by mutual respect and a great deal of admiration. Joshua guides Lincoln through Springfield’s waters, which can quickly become raging if proper customs regarding attire, table manners and the like are not observed. Joshua is not looking for a woman to share his life with, and he really doesn’t think that Lincoln should either—hence the crux of the problem and the book’s main thrust. Will Lincoln sacrifice his relationship with Joshua to court Mary? Better yet, should he?
Although readers know Lincoln eventually marries Mary, Bayard does an exceptional job of keeping readers engrossed as he weaves fact and fiction in this intriguing tale of intimacy between Lincoln and his two closest confidantes.