On this day 150 years ago Abraham Lincoln snuck into Washington DC amidst the turmoil of another Fourth Turning in US history. He had been elected in November and the Southern states had begun to seceed. His election was the spark that ignited a terrible bloody Crisis. Below is a description of his secret trip into Washington DC to avoid a potential assassination in Baltimore.
We now sit here 150 years later at the beginning stages of another Fourth Turning with the world in turmoil, confusion and anger. The time for compromise and civility had ended by February 23, 1861. Only all out war would settle the issue.
There will be no compromises today either. People are choosing sides. Union versus non-union. Cost cutters versus spenders. The middle class versus the rich elite. Citizens versus despots. Muslims versus Christians. There are surely dark days ahead. Pretending everything will be alright is a fools game.
If you can’t see the writing on the wall, you just aren’t looking hard enough.
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, a Republican, and the first to be elected from that party. 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.
On February 11, 1861, President-elect Lincoln boarded an east-bound train in Springfield, Illinois at the start of a whistle stop tour 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 and the Camden Street Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. 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, 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, 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 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.”