Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Monday, February 23, 2009

Looking back at Lincoln: On February 23, 1861

On this day in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. by night (a change from the announced and publicized visit to Baltimore that had been scheduled for the following day.) He boarded a different train than planned in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and passed quietly and secretly through Baltimore, Maryland at around 4 a.m.-- possibly in disguise -- and accompanied by detective Allan Pinkerton, who feared a plot against Lincoln's life.

Maryland on 1861 was a slave state and a hotbed of rebel sympathizers, in spite of it's close proximity to Washington and the fact that it never seceded from the Union. Pinkerton apparently believed that there was at least one credible plot against Lincoln's life; perhaps even a plan to derail the train on which the Lincoln's were riding.

When news of the change was printed in the papers, Lincoln-detractors mocked him in cartoons (like the one above) portraying him as a coward. As paper after newspaper picked up accounts that Lincoln had worn a Scottish plaid cap and a long military cloak as a disguise, portrayals of Lincoln dressed in a Scottish hat and cape morphed into caricatures of Lincoln wearing a short kilt... and finally into a dress borrowed from his wife.

These lampoons plagued Lincoln for the remainder of his presidency and undoubtedly caused him great chagrin, as they were a direct attack on his courage and leadership. I sometimes wonder if the sting of the Baltimore ridicule contributed to his refusal of guards and escorts when traveling around Washington and the surrounding countryside, and his often determined rebuffs when offered additional personal security.

The Baltimore Sun was especially harsh:

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.

Ironically, Maryland (and famous Maryland resident and actor John Wilkes Booth) would yet play a role in the very real plot to assassinate Lincoln in 1865. And for some reason Lincoln shrugged off warnings from Secretary of State Stanton and even the misgivings of his wife on the night of April 14th, 1865 when he attended 'Our American Cousin' at Ford's Theater (sans the Scottish attire... and with only one guard posted outside the presidential box entrance.)

The following appeared in the March 9th edition of Harper's Weekly:


The city was startled on Saturday by the intelligence that the President-elect, instead of proceeding on his journey to Washington from Harrisburg, in accordance with the published programme, on Saturday morning, had left the latter city secretly, on a special train, on Friday night, and returning to Philadelphia, had passed thence, unrecognized, through Baltimore, and was already in the Federal Capital. This step, it appears, was induced by the desire to avoid threatened trouble in Baltimore, and was taken at the earnest solicitation of his friends and leading Republicans in Washington, who had received authentic information that an organized demonstration would be made against him in Baltimore—if, indeed, he were allowed to reach there alive' for it was also feared that an attempt would be made to throw the Presidential train from the track on the Northern Central Railroad. This information, it appears, was imparted to Mr. Lincoln on Thursday night at Philadelphia, and he consented, after considerable hesitation, to the private arrangement which was subsequently carried into effect. He reached Washington early on Saturday morning, and proceeded quietly to his hotel, his arrival being known to but few. He soon afterward, in company with Senator Seward, paid a visit to President Buchanan, and interchanged civilities with him and with other gentlemen of distinction.

Harper's Weekly went on to describe various versions of events that led to the change of route and schedule:


The Herald correspondent says: It appears that the plot was concocted in Baltimore, and, being discovered by a detective officer, was by him communicated to two or three leading Republicans, including Mr. Seward and Thurlow Weed. Afterward it was made known to Mr. Judd, of the Presidential party.

"On Thursday last, tile intelligence having been privately forwarded to New York, several detectives were at once sent from that city to confer and cooperate with those who had the matter originally In charge. Mr. General Superintendent Kennedy and Commissioner Acton were also on hand. Together they succeeded in ferreting out the details of the conspiracy, and enough. has been made known to give it, in the minds of these men, a rank by the side of the most infamous attempts ever made upon human life.

" The exact mode in which the conspirators intended to consummate their designs has not yet transpired; but enough is known to be satisfactory that either an infernal machine was to be placed under the cars or railway, like the Orsini attempt upon Napoleon, or some obstruction placed upon the track whereby the train would be thrown down an embankment at some convenient spot; and that if these failed, then, on the arrival at Baltimore, during the rush and crush of the crowd, as at Buffalo, by knife or pistol, the assassination was to be effected.

"It has also been ascertained that two or three of the conspirators were in New York on Wednesday, the 20th inst., watching the course of events while the President-elect was there."


The Times correspondent says: On Thursday night after he had retired, Mr. Lincoln was aroused and informed that a stranger desired to see him on a matter of life or death. He declined to admit him unless he gave his name, which he at once did. Of such prestige did the name carry that while Mr. Lincoln was yet disrobed he granted an interview to the caller.

"A prolonged conversation elicited the fact that an organized body of men had determined that Mr. Lincoln should not be inaugurated, and that he should never leave the city of Baltimore alive, if, indeed, he ever entered it.

"The list of the names of the conspirators presented a most astonishing array of persons high in Southern confidence, and some whose fame is not to this country alone.

"Statesmen laid the plan, bankers indorsed it, and adventurers were to carry it into effect. As they understood Mr. Lincoln was to leave Harrisburg at nine o'clock this morning by special train, and the idea was, if possible, to throw the cars from the road at some point where they would rush down a steep embankment and destroy in a moment the lives of all on board. In case of the failure of this project, their plan was to surround the carriage on the way from depot to depot in Baltimore, and assassinate him with dagger or pistol-shot.

"So authentic was the source from which the information was obtained that Mr. Lincoln, after counseling his friends, was compelled to make arrangements which would enable him to subvert the plans of his enemies.

"Greatly to the annoyance of the thousands who desired to call on him last night, he declined giving a reception. The final council was held at eight o'clock.

"Mr. Lincoln did not want to yield, and Colonel Sumner actually cried with indignation ; but Mrs. Lincoln, seconded by Mr. Judd and Mr. Lincoln's original informant, insisted upon it, and at nine o'clock Mr. Lincoln left on a special train. He wore a Scotch plaid cap and a very long military cloak, so that he was entirely unrecognizable. Accompanied by Superintendent Lewis and one friend, he started, while all the town, with the exception of Mrs. Lincoln, Colonel Sumner, Mr. Judd, and two reporters, who were sworn to secrecy, supposed him to be asleep.

"The telegraph wires were put beyond the reach of any one who might desire to use them."


The Tribune says : " The facts, as given by Superintendent Kennedy. are substantially as follows- The police authorities of Baltimore had come to the conclusion that there would be little demonstration of any kind during Mr. Lincoln's passage through the city. Indeed, as firmly had they become convinced of this, and that there would be no riotous proceedings, that they had determined to employ a force of only twenty men for the special duty of attending to the route of the Presidential cortege through Baltimore. The reason alleged for this course was, that they wished to demonstrate to the country and to the world the law-and-order character of the city.

"This coming to the ears of General Scott, he at once declared that one of two things must be done: either a military escort must be provided for Mr. Lincoln at Baltimore, or there must be a coup de main by which he should be brought through the city unknown to the populace. Under the circumstances, it was thought that the employment or a military escort might create undue excitement, and the cause of its being brought into requisition misinterpreted. The alternative of employing stratagem was therefore determined upon. A messenger—a civilian, and not a military man—carrying three or four letters from men high in position, and one from General Scott, was therefore immediately dispatched to Philadelphia. He had an interview, and delivered his letters sometime toward midnight of last Thursday. It is not known that the fact was communicated to any other person than Mr. Lincoln on that night. Mr. Lincoln, therefore, was apprised of the deviation from the published plan of his journey before he left Philadelphia. The messenger then went on to make arrangements for the special train which conveyed Mr. Lincoln from Harrisburg the next morning."

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