The Baltimore Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln

The Baltimore Plot was an alleged conspiracy in late February 1861 to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln en route to his inauguration.

Allan Pinkerton, eponymous founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, 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.

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. President-elect Lincoln survived the alleged assassination attempt in Baltimore, Maryland. On February 23, 1861, he arrived secretly in Washington, D.C. But 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.


Allan Pinkerton was commissioned to provide security for president-elect Lincoln on his journey to Washington, D.C., through Baltimore.
Whether or not there was a plot, Maryland was a slave state with strong Southern sympathies and was considered dangerous territory through which to travel for such a controversial politician.

Lincoln's actions: appropriate, unnecessary, or cowardly

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 convince 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 Capital 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. As a result, 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 him. 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 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.

Quote - Source: Harpers article

The veil of mystery has never yet been lifted from the evidence disclosing the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, on his contemplated passage through Baltimore, on the 23d of February, 1861. Considerations affecting the personal safety of those by whom the conspiracy was detected prevented a disclosure at the time. The subsequent assassination of Mr. Lincoln, and the disclosures connected with the trial and conviction of Booth’s associates, removed any doubt in regard to the real existence of the plot.

The truth may now be disclosed, and the public desire to know the exact facts upon which Mr. Lincoln acted may now be gratified. The circumstances detailed in this article are taken from the records of Allan Pinkerton, the Chief Detective, and are selected from the reports written out daily at the time, by those engaged in the investigation, and they are believed by the writer of this article to be true.