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"The House of Lincoln" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

In 1854, young Ana Ferreira became a helpmate to Mary Todd Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. Anna helped with the housekeeping and management of two rambunctious boys while Mary’s husband Abraham was away. This was the period in the future president’s life when he was involved in the Lincoln-Douglas debates throughout the Midwest. Lincoln was challenging Stephen Douglas for a place in the Illinois senate. His loss was a blow. Had he won, however, the fate of the country would have changed drastically.

The story of the Lincolns and their quest for the White House is told through Ana in “The House of Lincoln,” by Nancy Horan. It is the story of the Lincolns, of her own life as a Portuguese immigrant, and of the chasm between citizens in Springfield over the issue of slavery. More Springfield citizens voted for General George B. McClellan in the 1864 presidential election than for their own neighbor, Abraham Lincoln. McClellan supported the practice of slavery in the southern states.

The Underground Railroad ran through Springfield. Brothers Spencer and William, prominent book characters, were involved in hiding escaped slaves in their homes and businesses at their own peril. Ana’s own life was threatened when she inadvertently let slip that she saw an escapee hiding in one of their local stores.

Before Lincoln ran for president, he was not against slave states keeping their status and was even part of a group supporting the idea of sending slaves back to Africa. The Dred Scott Decision forced him to rethink his position. He knew that the country would founder, and that slavery would never end even in the free states, when it was determined through the Dred Scott decision that no blacks, free or not, could be considered citizens with rights.

The book’s second section focuses on Ana as an adult as she narrates about some of the events in the White House after the Lincolns move to Washington. Hearing of the death of Willie, a child she knew well, was hard for her to bear. Mary Lincoln’s eventual return to Springfield was devastating for Ana, too, as she witnessed Mary’s descent into depression and despair until her death in 1882.

The book ends in 1909 as Springfield celebrates Lincoln’s 100th birthday. The city is just recovering from the infamous Springfield race riots of 1908.

Lincoln’s days in Springfield and Washington, told through the eyes of Ana, are narrated in short chapters with dates at the heading of each chapter. Readers will find this book easy to read, yet very informative. It will undoubtedly be a bestseller in the gift shop of the Lincoln museum in Springfield.

About the Author: Nancy Horan grew up in Springfield, Illinois. She is the author of “Loving Frank,” the story of the mistress of Frank Lloyd Wright. “Loving Frank” won the 2009 Prize for Historical Fiction. “The House of Lincoln” may earn Horan the award in 2023.

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