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Visions of History by Henry Abelove, etc., E.P. Thompson

By Henry Abelove, etc., E.P. Thompson

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9 The sheriff, James Dick, said Lincoln had handed him the almanac during a recess and asked Dick to hold it until it was called for. Lincoln’s detractors sought to add weight to the bogus almanac claim by using Dick’s testimony to suggest chicanery. Why had Lincoln handed the almanac to Dick if not to deflect suspicion from himself if the forgery were discovered? Dick’s inability to remember whether the almanac was for 1857 or some other year compounded the suspicion. 10 When Lincoln produced the almanac, the prosecutors sent for another to compare with it, and none could be found in the courthouse.

Just as there are three names for the grove in which the killing occurred, there are three versions of what happened in the trial. It seems there are at least three versions of every event in Lincoln’s life. What really happened at the trial? What really happened that night in Walker’s Grove? The scenario set forth earlier in this chapter recites the facts in the light most favorable to the prosecution. It may not set them forth with complete accuracy, and you would be accurate to say that they are not complete.

Often recorded years or decades after the events they describe, these reminiscences can be colored by nostalgia, influenced by other people’s accounts of the same event, and refracted through their later attitudes toward the participants. 21 Exclusionary rules often mechanically reject perfectly reliable evidence. Exclusionary rules have no place in historical investigation, and we do not a priori reject any relevant evidence. We may reject it if we weigh it and find it wanting, but first we must weigh it.

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