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Posted at 10:35 AM ET, 02/14/2011

Frank Williams: How real was the so-called "Baltimore Plot' to kill President-elect Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore en route to Washington?

By Frank Williams

Chairman of The Lincoln Forum


While the President-elect was in Harrisburg for his speech to the Pennsylvania legislature, he heard from Allan Pinkerton, who ran a Chicago detective agency, that there was a conspiracy to kill Lincoln while his train switched from the Culvert Street Station to the Camden Street Station in Baltimore the morning of February 23, 1861. At first, Lincoln did not believe the threat but when Fred Seward, son of Senator William Seward, confirmed the plan, with independent evidence, the President-elect was convinced and agreed to disguise himself and take an earlier train through Baltimore to Washington. He would rue this decision as he was criticized for entering the nation’s capital surreptitiously.

The evidence does reveal that a genuine plot existed to assassinate him, thanks to Pinkerton agents and New York City detectives. The plot came from the National Volunteers, a secret group aligned with the anti-Lincoln Knights of the Golden Circle. It was they, in concert, that planned to prevent Abraham Lincoln from taking the oath on March 4th. Two of the principals were a Corsican immigrant, Cipriano Ferrandini and George Sanders – advocates of violence to achieve political gains. Agents infiltrated the group when they met at Baltimore’s City Hotel and learned of the planned attack on Lincoln. While some have discounted this conspiracy, in part because the alleged conspirators were never prosecuted, the evidence does point to the plot to murder Lincoln.

Lawyer Michell J. Kline in his "The Baltimore Plot," while believing the evidence circumstantial, believes the alleged conspirators were not prosecuted because there were over 5,000 members of the National Volunteers in the city and there would be no convictions in this pro-Southern environment.

Thomas Craughwell has a work in progress for Harvard University Press in which he is convinced of the plot to kill Lincoln. I am too. The Baltimore attack on the 6th Massachusetts Regiment as it transferred stations a few weeks later is additional evidence of the mood of the city and it’s “rowdies.”

By Frank Williams  | February 14, 2011; 10:35 AM ET
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There may have been another reason for the failure to prosecute those involved in this plot. It was critical that Maryland stay in the Union and that was by no means assured. It may well be that the decision was made not to complicate or add fuel to an already volatile situation.

Posted by: johne37179 | February 14, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

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