One by one, the sacred cows hit the ground, adroitly tipped over by the best-selling author Steve Berry in his 13th historical novel, "The Lincoln Myth."
Berry, 59, is a Florida-based former attorney and county commissioner turned author whose previous 12 books have sold more than 17 million copies in 51 countries. The sales are a tribute to the author's skill at folding his research into little-known historical puzzles inside murder mysteries starring Cotton Malone, a retired U.S. Justice Department operative turned book-seller.
Each one of Berry's books takes on at least one commonly held assumption. "The Lincoln Myth" takes on what Berry sees as at least three.
Sacred Cow No. 1: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.
"Lincoln never freed a single slave during his presidency," Berry says. "Not one. In fact, when he was given the opportunity to free some slaves, he refused."
Sacred Cow No. 2: Seceding from the union is prohibited by the Constitution.
"The Constitution is totally silent on that point," Berry says. "The question of whether a state can leave the union is not as clear-cut as everyone thinks."
Sacred Cow No. 3: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons) confines its activities to spiritual matters and has had little impact on American history.
In 1863, Berry says, "Abraham Lincoln and [church leader] Brigham Young made a secret deal that may have altered the course of the Civil War."
Berry will discuss his conclusions when he comes to Baltimore on May 22 as the featured speaker at a fundraiser to benefit Baltimore's Edgar Allan Poe House.
An edited conversation with The Baltimore Sun appears below.
What's the inspiration behind "The Lincoln Myth"?
I was in Salt Lake City, and I learned something that I'd never known before, that in January of 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln made a secret deal with Brigham Young.
It was a good deal for everybody. The Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 was not enforced against the Mormons. The Mormons did not enter the Civil War on the side of the South, and they kept the railroad and telegraph lines open to the west.
You have to realize that in January of 1863, the North was getting its butt kicked in the war. Lincoln was in a panic. If he loses the west, it's done. The telegraph lines and railroad lines are running right through Utah, and Brigham Young could have cut them in five seconds.
So he made the deal.
Let's talk about the question of whether it's legal for a state to leave the union, which your book explores in depth. Are you trying to foment rebellion?
[Laughing.] I'm not advocating secession. But I like to raise awareness.
When I started writing this book, I would have told you that secession was ridiculous. Today, I think that a state does have the right to leave the union. It's a very fascinating constitutional argument that has no clear answer.