Baltimore Plot

Baltimore Plot

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The Baltimore Plot was an alleged conspiracy in late February 1861 to assassinate President-elect
President-elect
An -elect is a political candidate who has been elected to an office but who has not yet been sworn in or officially taken office. These may include an incoming president, senator, representative, governor and mayor.Analogously, the term "designate" An -elect is a political candidate who has been...

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 en route to his inauguration. Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.-Early life, career and immigration:...

, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency
Pinkerton National Detective Agency
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, usually shortened to the Pinkertons, is a private U.S. security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired...

, played a key role by managing Lincoln's security throughout the journey. Though scholars debate whether or not the threat was real, clearly Lincoln and his advisors believed that there was a threat and took actions to ensure his safe passage through Baltimore, Maryland.

On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, a Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

, and the first to be elected from that party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

. Shortly after his election, many representatives of Southern states made it clear that secession was inevitable, which greatly increased tension across the nation. A plot to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore was alleged. On February 23, 1861, he arrived secretly in Washington, D.C. For the remainder of his presidency Lincoln's many critics would hound him for the seemingly cowardly act of sneaking through Baltimore at night, in disguise, sacrificing his honor for his personal safety. However, the efforts at security may well have been prudent.

Background


Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.-Early life, career and immigration:...

 was commissioned by the railroad to provide security for the president-elect on his journey to Washington, D.C., through Baltimore. Maryland was a slave state
Slave state
In the United States of America prior to the American Civil War, a slave state was a U.S. state in which slavery was legal, whereas a free state was one in which slavery was either prohibited from its entry into the Union or eliminated over time...

, and was considered a border state with strong Southern sympathies and was considered dangerous territory through which to travel for such a controversial politician. Two months later, Baltimoreans attacked Union Army soldiers
Baltimore riot of 1861
The Baltimore riot of 1861 was an incident that took place on April 19, 1861, in Baltimore, Maryland between Confederate sympathizers and members of the Massachusetts militia en route to Washington for Federal service...

 marching to Washington. When Virginia joined the Confederacy, it was necessary to travel through Maryland to reach Washington.

Feelings were running high in the other direction as well, and the U.S. government was not about to take risks. Later the same year, many civil liberties were effectively suspended. Pinkerton, in particular, was a very careful man.

Lincoln's actions



On February 11, 1861, President-elect Lincoln boarded an east-bound train in Springfield, Illinois
Springfield, Illinois
Springfield is the third and current capital of the US state of Illinois and the county seat of Sangamon County with a population of 117,400 , making it the sixth most populated city in the state and the second most populated Illinois city outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area...

 at the start of a whistle stop tour
Whistle stop train tour
A whistle stop or whistle-stop tour is a style of political campaigning where the politician makes a series of brief appearances or speeches at a number of small towns over a short period of time...

 of seventy towns and cities ending with his inauguration in Washington, D.C. Pinkerton had been hired by railroad officials to investigate suspicious activities and acts of destruction of railroad property along Lincoln's route through Baltimore. Pinkerton became convinced that a plot existed to ambush Lincoln's carriage between the Calvert Street Station of the Northern Central Railway
Northern Central Railway
The Northern Central Railway was a Class I Railroad connecting Baltimore, Maryland with Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Completed in 1858, the line came under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1861, when the PRR acquired a controlling interest in the Northern Central's stock to compete with the...

 and the Camden Street Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was one of the oldest railroads in the United States and the first common carrier railroad. It came into being mostly because the city of Baltimore wanted to compete with the newly constructed Erie Canal and another canal being proposed by Pennsylvania, which...

. This opportunity would present itself during the President-elect's passage through Baltimore on February 23, 1861. Pinkerton tried to persuade Lincoln to cancel his stop at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, and to proceed secretly straight through Baltimore, but Lincoln insisted upon keeping to his schedule.

Pinkerton famously clashed with Lincoln’s friend and escort, Ward Hill Lamon
Ward Hill Lamon
Ward Hill Lamon was a personal friend and self-appointed bodyguard of the American President Abraham Lincoln. Lamon was famously absent the night Lincoln was assassinated, having been sent by Lincoln to Richmond, Virginia....

, over the President-elect's protection. Lamon offered Lincoln "a Revolver and a Bowie Knife" but Pinkerton protested that he "would not for the world have it said that Mr. Lincoln had to enter the National Capitol armed."

On the evening of February 22 telegraph lines to Baltimore were cut at Pinkerton's behest to prevent communications from passing between potential conspirators in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Meanwhile, Lincoln left Harrisburg on a special train and arrived secretly in Baltimore in the middle of the night. The most dangerous link in the journey was in Baltimore, where a city ordinance prohibited night-time rail travel through the downtown area. Therefore, the railcars had to be horse-drawn between the President Street and Camden Street stations.

According to Pinkerton, a captain of the roads reported that there was a plot to stab the President-elect. The alleged plan was to have several assassins, armed with knives, interspersed throughout the crowd that would gather to greet Lincoln at the President Street station. When Lincoln emerged from the car, which he must do to change trains, at least one of the assassins would be able to get close enough to kill him.

Once Lincoln's rail carriage had safely passed through Baltimore, Pinkerton sent a one-line telegram to the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad: "Plums delivered nuts safely."

On the afternoon of February 23, Lincoln's scheduled train arrived in Baltimore. The large crowd that gathered at the station to see the President-elect quickly learned that Lincoln had already passed by. Even though the rest of the Lincoln party, including Mrs. Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Ann Lincoln was the wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865.-Life before the White House:...

 and the children, had been on this train as originally scheduled, they had already alighted from the train in an unscheduled stop several blocks north of the President Street station.

People associated with the alleged plot

  • Cipriano Ferrandini
    Cipriano Ferrandini
    Cipriano Ferrandini was a hairdresser from Corsica who emigrated to the United States, and established himself as the long-time barber and hairdresser in the basement of Barnum's Hotel, in Baltimore, Maryland. There he practiced his trade from the mid 1850s to his retirement long after the close...

     - a hairdresser from Corsica
    Corsica
    Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

     who emigrated to the United States, and established himself as the long-time barber and hairdresser in the basement of Barnum's Hotel, in Baltimore. There he practiced his trade from the mid 1850s to his retirement long after the close of the Civil War
    American Civil War
    The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

    . He was accused, but never indicted, for plotting to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on February 23, 1861.
  • Allan Pinkerton
    Allan Pinkerton
    Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.-Early life, career and immigration:...

     - Head of the Pinkerton Agency
  • Kate Warne
    Kate Warne
    Kate Warne was the first female detective in the United States.-Early career:Described by Allan Pinkerton as a slender, brown haired woman, there is not much else known about Kate Warne prior to when she walked into the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1856. Born in New York, Warne became a widow...

     - female Pinkerton agent who is credited with gathering and supplying information which helped convince Allan Pinkerton that there was a plot to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore.
  • Ward Hill Lamon
    Ward Hill Lamon
    Ward Hill Lamon was a personal friend and self-appointed bodyguard of the American President Abraham Lincoln. Lamon was famously absent the night Lincoln was assassinated, having been sent by Lincoln to Richmond, Virginia....

     - personal friend of Lincoln who accompanied him through Baltimore.
  • George Proctor Kane
    George Proctor Kane
    George Proctor Kane was Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, from November 5, 1877, to his death on June 23, 1878. He is best known for his role as Marshall of Police during the Baltimore riot of 1861 and his subsequent incarceration in Fort McHenry and Ft. Warren prisons without benefit of habeas corpus...

     - Baltimore's Marshall of Police who protected Mary Todd Lincoln
    Mary Todd Lincoln
    Mary Ann Lincoln was the wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865.-Life before the White House:...

     as she passed through the city. He escorted her to the home of John Gittings.
  • John Gittings - hosted Mary Todd Lincoln
    Mary Todd Lincoln
    Mary Ann Lincoln was the wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865.-Life before the White House:...

     in Baltimore.
  • Hattie Lawton
    Hattie Lawton
    Hattie Lawton, also known as Hattie H. Lawton, Hattie Lewis Lawton was an American detective. She may have been born around 1837, although most details of her life before and after the Civil War are unknown...

     - also known as Hattie H. Lawton, Lawton was part of Pinkerton's Female Detective Bureau, formed in 1860 to ‘worm out secrets’ by means unavailable to male detectives.

Aftermath—The public's perception of Lincoln's courage



Many historians believe that Pinkerton’s perception of an assassination plot was incorrect and Lincoln came to regret that he had slipped through the city unannounced.
Many years after the fact Ward Hill Lamon would publicly argue that there had been no plot to assassinate the president in 1861. "It is perfectly manifest that there was no conspiracy—no conspiracy of a hundred, of fifty, of twenty, of three; no definite purpose in the heart of even one man to murder Mr. Lincoln in Baltimore."

In Lincoln and His Administration, Chittenden argues that there was no need for any precautions, such as a disguise, because Lincoln “entered the sleeping–car at Philadelphia, and slept until awakened within a few miles of Washington.” This account contradicts other first-hand accounts, which state that Lincoln spent a sleepless and anxious night with Lamon and Pinkerton, during which he “spoke in a quiet voice to avoid being noticed.”

Legitimate or not, many sources report, “There is little doubt that the feeling and sentiment of the people of Baltimore is very bitter against Mr. Lincoln, so much so, indeed, that violence might have been attempted.”

Whether or not the President-elect was ever in any real danger of being assassinated, Lincoln's efforts to reach Washington, D.C., safely instantly became a humiliating cause célèbre
Cause célèbre
A is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases. It is a French phrase in common English use...

across the nation, much to his chagrin.

Several elements of the initial New York Times article of February 23, 1861, were especially damning. Primarily, the fact that such a negative report came from an ardently Republican newspaper gave it instant credibility—much more than it would have enjoyed if it had come from a Copperhead
Copperheads (politics)
The Copperheads were a vocal group of Democrats in the Northern United States who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. Republicans started calling anti-war Democrats "Copperheads," likening them to the venomous snake...

 or Southern source. When The New York Times published Joseph Howard, Jr.'s account of the President-elect disguised in a scotch-cap and long cloak, the nation "rocked with laughter, bringing abuse and ridicule down on Lincoln.". Substantively, the Howard article was a direct assault on Lincoln's manliness. The article states that Lincoln was reluctant—too scared—to go and was only compelled to go by Colonel Sumner's indignation and by the insistence—shame—of his wife and several others.

The newspapers relentlessly lampooned Lincoln for slipping through Baltimore in the dead of night. Adalbert J. Volck
Adalbert J. Volck
Adalbert J. Volck was a dentist, political cartoonist, and caricaturist born in Bavaria. He was known for supporting the Confederacy during the American Civil War, doing so through his political cartoons , smuggling items for the Confederate army, and personally assisting President Jefferson Davis...

, a Baltimore dentist and caricaturist, was inspired to pen his famous satirical etching "Passage through Baltimore". Volck's image of a startled Lincoln in his nightshirt peering out of the side of his rail car as it passes through Baltimore has become part of the Lincoln iconography. "In the nineteenth century, when pictures were less common and more prized, the scotch-cap symbol remained a prop in Confederate graphics, and some Northern-made prints as well, for years—the reminder of Lincoln fleeing in disguise an automatic accusation of his supposed lack of character."

For the rest of his presidency, the story of his sneaking like a coward through Baltimore would be told and retold by his enemies, with particular effect by cartoonists of the day. He was drawn with many variations of Scottish headwear, which eventually morphed into a Scottish balmoral
Balmoral bonnet
The Balmoral is a traditional Scottish hat that can be worn as part of formal or informal Highland dress. Dating back to at least the 16th century, it takes the form of a knitted, soft wool cap with a flat crown...

 cap and very short kilt
Kilt
The kilt is a knee-length garment with pleats at the rear, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century. Since the 19th century it has become associated with the wider culture of Scotland in general, or with Celtic heritage even more broadly...

. The absurd disguise was often accompanied by a terrified expression on the President-elect's face, to further undermine the public's image of his courage and manliness. Images such as a comic strip in Harper's Weekly
Harper's Weekly
Harper's Weekly was an American political magazine based in New York City. Published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916, it featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects, and humor...

plagued Lincoln throughout his presidency.

Newspapers of all parties mocked Lincoln's actions. In a Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair (magazine, historical)
Vanity Fair has been the title of at least five magazines, including an 1859–1863 American publication, an 1868–1914 British publication, an unrelated 1902–1904 New York magazine, and a 1913–1936 American publication edited by Condé Nast, which was revived in 1983.Vanity Fair was notably a...

cartoon, the kilt was traded for a dress the president had borrowed from his wife. By the time Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington, he was the laughing stock of the entire country.

The New York Tribune was nonetheless forced to admit "It is the only instance recorded in our history in which the recognized head of a nation [...] has been compelled, for fear of his life, to enter the capital in disguise." More blunt was the denunciation by the Baltimore Sun:
Had we any respect for Mr. Lincoln, official or personal, as a man, or as President-elect of the United States [...] the final escapade by which he reached the capital would have utterly demolished it. [...] He might have entered Willard's Hotel with a "head spring" and a "summersault," and the clown's merry greeting to Gen. Scott, "Here we are!" and we should care nothing about it, personally. We do not believe the Presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors than it has by him, even before his inauguration.

Pratt Street riot


The Pratt Street riot
Baltimore riot of 1861
The Baltimore riot of 1861 was an incident that took place on April 19, 1861, in Baltimore, Maryland between Confederate sympathizers and members of the Massachusetts militia en route to Washington for Federal service...

 in Baltimore on April 19 and the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of many prominent city residents did little to endear Baltimore to the Union.

Hollywood recreations


In 1951, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of films and television programs. MGM was founded in 1924 when the entertainment entrepreneur Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer...

 released a fictional re-creation of the alleged plot against Lincoln, The Tall Target
The Tall Target
The Tall Target is a 1951 thriller film starring Dick Powell as a detective who tries to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on a train taking the newly-elected president to his inauguration...

. Its story generally follows what is known about the Baltimore Plot, with some differences. It is a New York Police Department detective named John Kennedy, played by Dick Powell
Dick Powell
Richard Ewing "Dick" Powell was an American singer, actor, producer, director and studio boss.Despite the same last name he was not related to William Powell, Eleanor Powell or Jane Powell.-Biography:...

, who contacts the administration about the conspiracy, and who boards the train hoping to discover whether any of the plotters are on board before they reach Baltimore. Kennedy discovers a plot that involves a riot to distract police protection away from Lincoln and a sharpshooter armed with a rifle with a telescopic sight to shoot the President-elect. Through Kennedy's efforts, the attempt is aborted and key members of the conspiracy are identified. There actually was an NYPD officer, John Alexander Kennedy
John Alexander Kennedy
John Alexander Kennedy was the superintendent of police for New York City.-Biography:He was born in Baltimore, Maryland on August 9, 1803. His father was a native of Ireland who became a teacher in Baltimore. John moved to New York City and worked with his brother...

, who claimed to have been the one who uncovered the Baltimore Plot; but, unlike Powell's movie character, he was not actually on scene. Moreover, in real life, Kennedy was the Superintendent
New York City Police Commissioner
The New York City Police Commissioner is the head of the New York City Police Department, appointed by the Mayor of New York City. Governor Theodore Roosevelt, in one of his final acts before becoming Vice President of the United States in March 1901, signed legislation replacing the Police Board...

 of the entire force. In the film, he is depicted as a mere detective sergeant.
"The Death Trap", an episode of the 1966–1967 television series The Time Tunnel
The Time Tunnel
The Time Tunnel is a 1966–1967 U.S. color science fiction TV series. The show was created and produced by Irwin Allen, his third science fiction television series. The show's main theme was Time Travel Adventure. The Time Tunnel was released by 20th Century Fox and broadcast on ABC. The show ran...

, includes the 1861 Baltimore plot, although it also depicts a brief difficulty with the time machine that caused the showing of (an enactment of) the 1865 shooting of Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. The episode depicts a bomb being used in the 1861 Baltimore plot, and has the attempt being plotted by Abolitionists who hope to plunge the nation into a war in which slavery will be ended; the plotters are apparent sympathizers with John Brown, who had already been hanged. (The Civil War actually began in April 1861, with the attack on Fort Sumter.)

See also

  • American Civil War spies
    American Civil War spies
    Tactical or battlefield intelligence became very vital to both armies in the field during the American Civil War. Units of spies and scouts reported directly to the commanders of armies in the field. They provided details on troop movements and strengths. The distinction between spies and scouts...

  • Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
  • Charles Van Wyck
    Charles Van Wyck
    Charles Henry Van Wyck was a Representative from New York, a Senator from Nebraska, and a Union Army Brigadier general in the American Civil War.-Early life and political career:...

  • List of United States presidential assassination attempts and plots