The Almost-Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Allan Pinkerton

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 is one of the most infamous events in American history, one that undoubtedly changed the course of history as far as Reconstruction in the South is concerned.

Few realize, however, that the assassination that took Lincoln’s life was not the first attempt on his life; the first attempt to assassinate Lincoln was intended to prevent him from ever becoming president, and came shortly before he took office in 1861.

The election of Lincoln to the presidency had literally split the country in two. Despite the fact that Lincoln was much more moderate on the subject of slavery than the abolitionist candidates that had campaigned in the North, even the moderate Lincoln’s election to the presidency was seen as an affront to slavery’s supporters in the South, and almost as soon as the election was decided, what would become known as Secession Winter began as southern states, first South Carolina, seceded from the Union like falling dominoes.

Nowhere was the split between Lincoln’s supporters and those who opposed him more divisive than in the area around the nation’s capitol, Washington D. C. Despite its position as the capitol of the United States, and therefore the Union, Washington and the area that surrounded it – including Baltimore, Maryland – were decidedly southern in nature; a large number of slaves were held in the area around and including Washington D. C.

As the date of Lincoln’s inauguration and arrival in Washington neared, so did the discord among the proslavery factions who believed that abolishment of slavery would follow Lincoln into the capitol.

According to the CIA’s website:

One rumor in particular reached devout Lincoln supporter Allan Pinkerton, a private detective who’d been hired to derail some of the plots to thwart the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad. At least one these plots was apparently to sever ties between Baltimore and Washington by destroying bridges and railroad lines, a plot hatched by Baltimore secessionists, possibly members of the infamous Plug-Uglies gang, who’d terrorized Baltimore for years, assassinating local politicians and inciting riots during elections.

Meanwhile, Lincoln was enroute to Washington from his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. He planned to stop in Baltimore for a speaking engagement, and according to the CIA, the intelligence Pinkerton uncovered revealed that during Lincoln’s visit:

While secessionists. . . whipped up a riot, a barber who called himself Captain Ferrandini would kill Lincoln, vanish into the mob, and slip away to the South. Baltimore police would have only a small force at the scene, under orders from the mayor and chief of police, both Southern sympathizers.

Pinkerton, convinced that the plot he’d learned of was a serious threat, met Lincoln at a stop in Chicago, and insisted that he bypass Baltimore altogether, arriving instead in Washington ahead of scheduled, disguised, just in case there were any planned attempts awaiting him in Washington, as well.

At first Lincoln dismissed Pinkerton’s warning, stubbornly refusing to abandon the stop in Baltimore. However, Lincoln was later informed that other detectives, working for Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, commander-in-chief of the U. S. Army and Charles Pomeroy Stone, had also uncovered the same plot, independently of Pinkerton. With this knowledge, and at his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln’s, urging, Lincoln finally agreed to go instead to Washington.

Disguised with a beard that he’d later become known for, walking hunched-over with a cane, Lincoln arrived in Washington and decamped to the Willard Hotel, where observers gazed in wonder at the bearded, bent figure that many would later be surprised to discover was their new president. Ignominious arrival or not, Lincoln successfully evaded any of those who would have prevented him from taking office.

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln, surrounded by bodyguards and a number of federal regiments, gave his inaugural speech in front of the U. S. Capitol building. Addressing his supporters and secessions alike, Lincoln declared that, “I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments, ” and reminded listeners that the purpose of the Constitution was to “form a more perfect union. “

In conclusion, Lincoln said, perhaps acknowledging the attempt on his life:

every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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