Born Blind

Can an idealistic slave-holding lawyer overcome his brother’s potentially treasonous ambition and avert the Civil War through the brilliance of his blind slave and the power of the Supreme Court?

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“Riddle’s novel intriguingly explores its themes of legality and justice.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Skillful writing and an extraordinary idea.” – Amazon reviewer

“An illuminating and informative novel of the pre-civil war.” – Amazon reviewer

“The central characters were well developed and compelling. Riddle is a very vivid writer!” – Amazon reviewer

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Note to readers:

I have gotten several inquiries about the nature of historical fiction, and the distinction between fact and fiction. I have distilled my responses to these questions with respect to my own book into three points that might be useful as you read.

  • My premise is, of course, fiction, but most of the action in the book is based on historical fact.
  • All characters in the book are historical figures except the Scott family and their slaves. The dialogue for all characters is imagined, except for that appearing in historical documents.
  • All text in italics are quotes from historical documents except for the letters exchanged between the Scott brothers, which are fictional but which deal mostly with historical events.

Time:  1845-1860

Primary locations:

–        Panther Springs, TN (30 miles NE of Knoxville on the Holston River) – prosperous slave-managed farm of the Scott family;

–        Nashville, TN –  various sites, including the State Capitol building, and Polk Place, home of Sarah Polk, widow of 11th President of the United States;

–        West Point, NY – United States Military Academy;

–        Kansas Territory – various sites in “Bleeding Kansas”;

–        Washington City – various sites, including the Capitol Building and the Executive Mansion of these United States.

Principal Characters:

The Scott Family – all fictional:

–        Jeremiah Scott (b. 1798) – successful planter in East Tennessee; Christian slave-holder supporting emancipation;

–        Sarah Scott – (b. 1806) – Jeremiah’s wife; supportive of emancipation;

–        Rachel Scott- (b. 1780) Jeremiah’s mother, widow of Jonathan; Christian slave-holder and educator for her family; opposes emancipation;

–        Capt. Lee Scott (b. 1826) – Jeremiah’s and Sarah’s eldest son; Mexican War cavalry volunteer; U.S. military academy graduate; served with distinction in Kansas Territory; supports continuation of slavery and supports secession;

–        Jerald Scott – (b. 1827) – Jeremiah’s and Sarah’s second son; lawyer and Tennessee state representative; opponent of slavery; opponent of secession, but architect of constitutional secession petition by the state of Tennessee.

The Morris Family – all fictional:

–        Zechariah “Zech” Morris –  (b. ca. 1804) – Slave purchased by Jonathan Scott at auction when he was about six; raised with Jeremiah; now grown and acting as overseer of Scott farm;

–        Eliza “Liza” Morris – (b. unknown) – Zech’s wife, purchased by Jeremiah from neighboring farm to marry Zech; house maid to Sarah and Rachel Scott;

–        Gamaliel “Gam” Morris – (b. 1832) – only son of Zech and Liza; blind from birth; raised mostly by the Scotts in the family manor home rather than by the Morris’ in their cabin by the river; educated by Rachel Scott and Tennessee School for the Blind.

Others – all historical:

–        William Brownlow – (b. 1805) – firebrand publisher and editor of Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig, most widely-circulated newspaper in East Tennessee; ardent supporter of slavery and opponent of secession; fervently anti-Democratic Party;

–        Sarah Childress Polk – (b. 1803) – widow of James K. Polk, 11th President of these United States; slave-holder and owner of plantation in MS purchased by her husband while he was president; continuing political force in Tennessee and Washington City; resides at Polk Place, family mansion in Nashville near the Tennessee Capitol;

–        John C. Catron – (b. 1786) – Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court appointed by President Jackson on the final day of his presidency, March 4, 1832;  previously served as Chief Justice of Tennessee Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals; married to Matilda Childress, cousin of Sarah Polk; author of many opinions upholding slavery; personally opposed to secession;

–        Matilda Catron – (b. 1802) – wife of Justice John Catron and cousin to Sarah Polk;

–        Washington Whitthorne – (b. 1825) – Lawyer and Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives; childhood mentee of James K. Polk and adult friend of his widow, Sarah Polk; publicly supportive of slavery; privately opposed to secession;

–        Isham Harris – (b. 1808) – Lawyer and Democratic Governor of Tennessee; plantation owner and ardent proponent of slavery and secession;

–        George Washington Custis Lee – (b. 1832)  Lieutenant, United States Corps of Engineers; graduated first in the U.S. Military Academy class of 1854; eldest son of Captain Robert E. Lee; inherited owner of Arlington House, subject to life-estate in favor of his mother, Mary Anna Custis Lee, and now managed by his father, Rob’t Lee.

–        Harriet “Hal” Lane – (b. 1830) – niece of President James Buchanan, official hostess to the president at the executive mansion, 1857-1860;

–        John W. Head – (b. 1822) – Tennessee Attorney General, tasked with prosecuting the state’s secession petition before the U. S. Supreme Court.

–        U. S. Supreme Court Justices:  Chief Justice Roger Taney, John McLean, James Wayne, Peter Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Robert Grier, Benjamin Curtis, John Campbell, Nathan Clifford;

–        Andrew Johnson, U. S. Congressman from Tennessee;

–        Colonel John James Abert – (b. 1788) – Chief of the U. S. Topographical Corps of Engineers.

I have gotten other questions about the inspiration for this work. As a lawyer, I started with the nagging question of why the issue of secession was never litigated. I asked a few knowledgeable colleagues the question and was met with blank stares. I then began consulting a long list of books to continue seeking an answer to the question. Surprisingly, I found no discussion of the scenario – none. So I decided to create one myself, based on my own legal background and somewhat obsessive interest.

Here is a list of some of the works I consulted before publication, and those that I continue to read as I work on the sequel. I will post more information about my characters and the process of mixing fact with fiction as I continue to write.

  1. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass
  2. Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horowitz
  3. Spying on the South, Tony Horowitz
  4. We Have the War Upon Us, William Cooper
  5. The Impending Conflict, David Potter
  6. Lady First, Amy Greenberg
  7. The Unvanquished, William Faulkner
  8. Secession on Trial, Cynthia Nicoletti
  9. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  10. The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Hannah Crafts
  11. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiverina
  12. Top 100 Constitutional Law Cases, ed. AudioLegal Team
  13. We Hold These Truths, Mortimer Adler
  14. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet B. Stowe
  15. These Truths, Jill LePore
  16. Lincoln and the Chief Justice, James Simon
  17. Lincoln and the Decision for War, Russell McLintock
  18. Sarah Childress Polk, a biography, Bumgarner
  19. William G. Brownlow, Coulter
  20. San Antonio – A Tricentennial History, Miller
  21. Heart of the Valley, a History of Knoxville, Deaderick, ed.
  22. The Road to Disunion!, William Freehling
  23. Robert E. Lee, Roy Blount, Jr.
  24. Ratification, Pauline Maier
  25. We the States, VA Comm. on Const. Gov’t
  26. The Federalist Papers, James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton
  27. “John Catron and Jacksonian Jurisprudence,” Allen
  28. “Tennessee Reaction to Nullification,” Bergeron
  29. “The Use of the Federal Injunction in Constitutional Litigation,” Lockwood
  30. “Party Politics and the Debate Over the Tennessee Negro Bill,” So. Hist. Journal
  31. “When Can a State Sue the U.S., 101 Cornell Law Rev. 851
  32. History of the Supreme Court, Peter Irons
  33. “The Lost History of the Political Question Doctrine,” Grove, NY Law Rev.
  34. “Political Questions, Public Rights, and Sovereign Immunity” Note 130 Hou. Law Rev. 723
  35. “Supreme Court Justices: A biographical dictionary”, Hall
  36. “Pioneers, Patriots and Politicians: The Tennessee Militia System, 1772-1857”, Smith
  37. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  38. The Real Lincoln, Thomas DiLorenzo
  39. “John C. Calhoun and the Secession Movement of 1850”, Am. Antiq. Soc., April, 1918
  40. Letters of a Nation, A. Carroll, ed.
  41. Sweet Taste of Liberty, Caleb McDaniel
  42. Worst. President. Ever., Roberty Strauss
  43. Midnight Rising, Tony Horowitz
  44. Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss
  45. A Disease of the Public Mind, Thomas Fleming
  46. This Vast Southern Empire, Matthew Karp
  47. The Saddest Words, William Faulkner’s Civil War, Michael Gorra
  48. “Baseball and the White House in the Nineteenth Century,” http://www.whitehousehistory.org.
  49. Summoned to Glory, The Audacious Life of Abraham Lincoln, Richard Striner
  50. “The Buchanan-Douglas Feud”, Auchampaugh, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984)Vol. 25, No. 1/2 (Apr. – Jul., 1932), pp. 5-48
  51. Without Precedent, The Life of John Marshall, Joel Richard Paul
  52. Apostles of Disunion, Charles Dew
  53. “William Henry Bissell”, Journal of Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Mar., 1943)
  54. “Thematic Survey of Springfield’s African-American Community,” Mansberger and Stratton, Springfield Historic Sites Commission (2018)
  55. Calhoun, American Heretic, Robert Elder (An outstanding biography of one of the Nation’s ablest politicians and deepest thinkers, whose legacy was heretofore more tainted by his racism than was the legacies of his contemporaries, perhaps unfairly.)
  56. The War Before the War, Andrew Delbanco
  57. “The Strangely Insignificant Role of the U. S. Supreme Court During the Civil War,” Jonathan W. White, Journal of the Civil War Era (Vol. 3, No. 2, June, 2013)
  58. “A Conservative in Lincoln’s Cabinet: Edward Bates of Missouri”, University of Missouri, St. Louis, ILR@UMSL, Mark Alan Neels, Thesis (May 12, 2009)
  59. Speech of Senator Stephen Douglas, Senate Floor, January 3, 1861, Congressional Globe,
  60. “Stopping Time: The Pro-Slavery and ‘Irrevocable’ Thirteenth Amendment”, A. Christopher Bryant, U. of Cincinnati College of Law Scholarship and Publications, 2003
  61. Life and Speeches of Thomas Corwin: Orator, Lawyer and Statesman, 1896 (ed., Josiah Morrow)
  62. “Presenting the Case for the United States as it Should Be: The Office of Solicitor General in Historical Context,” Seth P. Waxman, lecture before the Supreme Court Historical Society, June 1, 1998
  63. Lincoln on the Verge, Ted Widmer
  64. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark Noll
  65. Decision in Philadelphia, Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier
  66. History of the Lost State of Franklin, Samuel Cole Williams
  67. Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner (still the greatest American novel, after at least a dozen readings)
  68. On Augustine, Rowan Williams (dense but profound in many respects)
  69. Living Wisely With the Church Fathers, Christopher Hall
  70. Summoned to Glory, The Audacious Life of Abraham Lincoln, Richard Striner (author is audacious, too)
  71. Without Precedent, The Life of John Marshall, Joel Richard Paul (predictably admiring of Marshall, and surprisingly critical of Jefferson, but Paul makes a compelling case for both opinions.)
  72. Apostles of Disunion, Charles Dew (eye-opening historical record)
  73. The Mansion, William Faulkner (my favorite of the Snopes trilogy)
  74. Calhoun, American Heretic, Robert Elder
  75. The War Before the War, Andrew Delbanco
  76. Lincoln on the Verge, Ted Widmer
  77. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark Noll
  78. The Saddest Words, William Faulkner’s Civil War, Michael Gorra
  79. History of the Lost State of Franklin, Samuel Cole Williams
  80. My Reading Life, Pat Conroy
  81. Decision in Philadelphia, J. Collier and S. Collier
  82. The Coming Fury, Bruce Catton
  83. Polk, The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America, Walter Borneman
  84. John Tyler, The Accidental President, Edward Crapol
  85. The Problem with Lincoln, Thomas DiLorenzo
  86. Break it Up, Richard Kreitner
  87. James Madison, America’s First Politician, Jay Cost
  88. Rebels in the Making, William Barney
  89. Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860, Paul Starobin