My life in outer space

The Lincoln Hunters – Wilson Tucker (1958)

The Lincoln Hunters

‘Ben Steward, man of the 26th Century, was a “Character” for Time Researchers: he was an adventurer, an actor, a student of history… a man trained to blend into any era of man’s long past. In the overpopulated, stultifying world of 2578, his was an exciting job.

He had, for example, been standing on the shore with the Indians when the Pilgrims rowed ashore from the Mayflower. And now he had been sent back 700 years into his past, to the political furore just before the Civil war… and he was facing certain death.

For the engineers who operated the time machine had made a mistake, and Steward was stuck in a time which would overlap the time-segment he had already scouted. No person could twice exist in the same time; it was an impossibility. And so Steward, in a few moments, would simply disappear…’

Blurb from the Ace paperback edition

In 2578 Time Travel is possible but fiendishly expensive. The chrononauts employed to travel the time lanes are known as ‘Characters’ because of their ability to adapt to different ages and assume characters with society. They are employed to retrieve artefacts or recordings (for profit) from the past and the company employs – apart from the chrononauts themselves – a team of research specialists and engineers to ensure that they will pass unnoticed in the relevant period and that they have a precise geographical and temporal target. All does not always go according to plan however.
Amos Peabody, the curator of a future museum has discovered a reference to a lost speech by Abraham Lincoln, made in Bloomington, Illinois in 1856 and wants the Time Researchers to obtain a recording for him.
The leader of the four man chrononaut team, Ben Steward, is sent to reconnoitre the area, but arrives a day too late on the morning after the speech. he explores the town, finds a fragment of the company’s recording wire and is greeted by a man who appears to have met him the day before.
Steward returns to the future and selects three colleagues to accompany him back to 1856; Doc Bonner, Dobbs and Billy Bloch. the latter two are by trade, actors, a profession which lends itself to the business of fitting into the local scene.
Billy has problems though. he is an alcoholic and has learned that his brother – by dint of becoming unemployed – has been sequestered into one of the government’s labour gangs. To all intents and purposes this is government endorsed slavery.
The recording of Lincoln’s speech is made but Billy disappears and Steward is forced to try and find him before his earlier self appears the following morning. This will create a ‘cancellation’ of the individual since no two manifestations of the same person can exist at the same time.
One might consider it to be a cosy little novel but Tucker includes a rather sobering afterword. Within the novel he gives no hint of the text of Lincoln’s speech, although it is common knowledge that Lincoln is an excellent orator and knows how to work a crowd. It has long been supposed that that the speech was a dire condemnation of the slave-owning states of the South and that this was a turning point in US history when other political parties (such as the Whigs) died out, leaving only the Democrats and Lincoln’s Republican party.
Tucker tell us that he was prompted to write the novel by an old booklet published in 1897 for the Republican Club of New York entitled ‘Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Speech’ assembled from notes taken at the time by one HC Whitney:-

HC Whitney quotes Lincoln as follows:
(Speaking of a statement made by Stephen Douglas: “As a matter of fact, the first branch of the proposition is historically true; the government was made by white men, and they were and are the superior race. This I admit.” (A paragraph later:)
“Nor is it any argument that we are superior and the negro inferior – that he has but one talent while we have ten. Let the negro possess the little he has in independence; if he has but one talent, he should be permitted to keep the little he has.” (Speaking on a plank in the Whig Party platform:) “We allow slavery to exist in the slave states – not because slavery is right or good, but from the necessities of our Union… and that is what we propose – not to interfere with slavery where it exists (we have never tried to do it), and to give them a reasonable and efficient fugitive slave law… It was part of the bargain, and I’m for living up to it…”

Tellingly, within the novel Dobbs tells his colleagues a story about Ramses who was at one time at war with the Hittites. He suffered a terrible loss in a decisive battle, but decided – in a masterful ancient Egyptian act of spin, to tell his nation that he had won a glorious victory. This account of Ramses’ victory was recorded and was accepted as historical fact for at least 3000 years. Tucker is telling us in his own way that the Americans, and presumably all other societies, are very adept at rewriting their own history.

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