Who was Lincoln before he ran for president? Novel sees him through the eyes of his best friend


Have you ever wondered what famous people were like before, well, they were famous?

What about Abraham Lincoln? Long before he was president, he had a hard time getting credit to purchase something as simple, as a bed.

In 1837 the future president rode into town on a horse he didn’t own with nothing more than he could carry in his saddlebags.

Joshua Speed owned the general store where he went to buy a bed on credit. He told Speed he hoped to pay him after he began working, otherwise, he wouldn’t pay him at all. It has been said that Speed called it, “the least promising application for credit ever received.”

Instead of selling Lincoln the bed, he offered him a room upstairs to rent in his own apartment. Lincoln went upstairs, set his two saddlebags down, returned downstairs and said, “I’m moved.”

“That was the start of their friendship. I could not improve on that story,” said author and history buff Jonathan F. Putnam said. “It’s so evocative and so different than what I think the image of Lincoln is.

Putnam spent two decades as a lawyer pursuing his passion of writing as a hobby. When he turned 40, he loved being a lawyer, but he knew if he didn’t take the leap into writing, he never would.

He began researching famous lawyers to structure a series around. He stumbled not upon Lincoln, but on his roommate, Speed, the enterprising son of a wealthy southern plantation owner.

“He met Lincoln as a young, beginning lawyer and was his roommate for almost four years,” Putnam said. “That really captured my imagination. These were two, young, unmarried men on the American frontier in the 1930s and it was a limitless time of opportunity for them.

“At that point he was already halfway through his life. He was unformed, unsuccessful and uncertain. He may be the most famous man in American history but at that time he and Speed were on equal footing,” Putnam said. “His friendship with Speed in real life played a huge part of Lincoln becoming Lincoln.”

Putnam wondered what it was like for the two to share meals and discuss the day’s events.

“It captured my imagination and drove me to want to know more about their relationship,” Putnam said.

Putnam began developing his books by digging into the men’s history. He visited various sites where the pair worked and lived and read through court records of Lincoln’s cases so that the history and underpinning mystery of each book was as accurate as possible.

What he didn’t have, was dialogue.

“Obviously there was no text or email, and later in life they communicated by letter. But in terms of what did Lincoln and Speed talk about? There’s nothing,” Putnam said. “I’m hopefully successful at capturing who he is and making Lincoln sound like we imagine he would have sounded.”

Throughout the three book series, narrated by Speed, the men work together to solve the mysteries that arise from Lincoln’s actual court cases. Putnam describes it as a Sherlock Holmes and Watson type of relationship.

Each of the books is named after a line in the Gettysburg Address: Honored Dead, Perish from the Earth and Final Resting Place. Putnam said the historical fiction is absolutely appropriate for middle and high schoolers and may help students to better understand the man in their school books.

“This is not the Lincoln in your textbook. This Lincoln is much less accomplished, much less settled and much more relatable,” Putnam said. “He doesn’t feel like the marble statue in Washington. Instead, this is an alive, unformed, growing young man trying to find his place in the world.”