Brief Description: A fact-filled fictional correspondence between President Abraham Lincoln and a 12 yo African American slave girl During the American Civil War. A Dear Mr. President Book.
Historical Era: 19th Century
Date Range: 1861-1863
Original Publication: 2001
Suitable for Grades: 4-7th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
A brave and smart twelve-year-old African American girl, working in the big house on a tobacco plantation, opens a correspondence to President Abraham Lincoln with a sincere challenge: Lettie can see the smoke rising from Fort Sumter and asks, “Will this war turn back the giant wheel of slavery?” Lettie has been taught to read and write by her decent and kind fifteen-year-old mistress, whose own tenth birthday wish to her father was that he never separate Lettie or her parents from each other. When Lincoln discovers his correspondent is a young black girl, he urges caution because reading and writing is illegal for her.
For his part, Lincoln comes off as genuinely concerned about the plight of black people, although his first priority is preserving the Union. He despairs at the progress of the war, and the mounting Union losses against the rebels. Lincoln’s tender musings about his wife and sons humanize him, especially when he writes of Willie’s untimely death.
After roughly a year of correspondence, Lettie boldly asks him outright, “President Lincoln, why don’t you just make us free?” His response carefully weighs the consequences of doing so on the war effort, on the slave states that have not yet joined the Confederacy, and on the slaves themselves. Over the next several months he confesses to Lettie that the institution of slavery is contrary to his own Christian views, but he feels politically constrained by the weak military performance of the Union generals. Finally the Union victory at Antietam “has opened a door” for Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation.
The text of this fact-filled correspondence is interspersed with historical photos, many of Lincoln and his family, plantation life, and civil war scenes. A time line runs along the top or bottom of many pages. Extensive back matter includes biographical notes about Lincoln, a bibliography of books for children and adults, historical notes on the U.S. Postal Service, and an Index. Winslow Press has (or had) an interactive website that has further information on the topics covered, but the website may be outdated; I was unable to access it.