Monday, October 14, 2013

The Plot To Kill Lincoln, No Not That One, The Other One.

Now everyone knows about the Lincoln assassination. We all know the story of John Wilkes Booth along with Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell and John Surratt. The plans they hatched and acted out that fatefully April night in 1865. But what a lot of people don't know about is about the 1861 plot to assassinate Lincoln, The Baltimore Plot. Now of course, no one really talks about this because, first, it never happened and second, no one is really sure how much of a threat the plot was to Lincoln. However, what it did do was give critics of Lincoln a good amount of .

Now I don't know about you but this is exactly how I picture a Presidential assassination plotting session to look like in the 1860s. Now the plan was simply, Lincoln would hop on a train in his home state of Illinois, get to D.C and then deliver a kick ass inaugural speech. But there were others who had an alternate plan, a more sinister plan. Lets go back a bit before  all this came to light. Right before the Civil War broke out Maryland was an iffy border state. At the time it was still a slave state and home to many southern sympathizers. The state was also a hot bed of activity being stuck literally in the middle of a dividing nation. Due to this uncertainty of the President's safety the railroad company hired Allan Pinkerton, of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to provide security before and during the trip. As Pinkerton began his study of the train route he became increasingly convinced an attack on the train would happen. He felt the attack would come between the Northern Central Railway's Calvert Street Station and the B&O Railroad's Camden Street Station as the train passed through Baltimore on February 23, 1861.

So, Pinkerton went to Lincoln and his people and pleaded his case. He claimed that when the President stopped at, oddly enough, at the President Street Station, several armed assassins would be able to get close enough to the train to attack the President as he did his wave by. Of course due to lack of solid evidence, the President really didn't see a need for worry, but after much discussion, and the disapproval of Ward Hill Lamon, a plan was hatched as a safety precaution. On a side note though Lamon wanted to arm Lincoln, with a revolver and knife but Pinkerton was much against the idea of an armed President on the eve of a Civil War entering the capital. So the night before Lincoln's train reached Baltimore, all the telegraph lines to the city were cut, while at the same time Lincoln switched trains in Harrisburg and arrived in Baltimore in the middle of the night. this was the tricky part and most unsettling for Lincoln. Due to a city ordinance, trains had to be pulled through the city after dark by horse, Lincoln's train would be no exception. As we know, Lincoln made it through the city that February night. To let those in D.C. know everything went according to plan, Pinkerton sent a one line telegram, "Plums delivered nuts safely."

The next morning Baltimoreans crowded the train stations only to be disappointing to find there was no Presidential train passing through town, or at least learned they missed it while it secretly crept through town while they were asleep. So, was there a reason to disappoint all these 1860s Lincoln-manics, even though they were most likely there to boo him. Looking back not really. There was never any actually evidence and most believe it was Pinkerton's fear of something bad happening on his watch. However, this overprotective move caused President Lincoln's image to take a serious blow. Papers on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line blasted Lincoln. Papers ran wild stories about how Lincoln slipped through the city, all exaggerated of course. From the President wearing numerous disguises to him hiding under seats or in trunks. In short the Lincoln was painted as a coward, and in most parts of the country he was the butt of many jokes.

When we look back at this decision it seems like it made sense to do it. Think about the way the President has traveled since WWII, always private and always under strict security. I know in my life time when Preseident have visited New York City it is a nightmare to get around, if a President visits the Empire State Building, don't even think of getting anywhere in midtown, let alone downtown or well any other part of the city in a reasonable time. Ok, I got a little off track there, but you get my point. Sure, now we know Pinkerton was wrong, but at the time he was convinced something would happen to the President and made a call to protect Lincoln. Not a lot of people know about what happened that February, like I said before, because nothing happened. Lincoln went on to become President with no assassination attempt, well at least that night in 1861. He led the country through the Civil War, perhaps the greatest threat to the United States in history. Cemented himself in the Top 5, maybe Top 3 POTUS of all time. The event was such an at the moment event, that top when Lincoln is discussed it is never even brought up, but now you can bring it up next time you talk about President Lincoln's presidency. Yet in defense of Pinkerton, when we look at Baltimore during the Civil War, we have the Pratt Street Riots, the constant argument of secession, the imposing of martial law on the city, Union Troops occupying the city and southern sympathizers, Baltimore was basically a city on a hot plate. So when looking back at the event, Pinkerton should not be viewed as an overcautious hired gun, but as a hero, a man who saw a city that was ripe for trouble and knew that with Lincoln passing through, it could have been the spark that ignited the city, with the President of the United States trip within in.

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