The Baltimore Plot

The Baltimore Plot was a perceived assassination attempt against President-elect Abraham Lincoln. A trial was never held charging any conspirators, and the only evidence commonly cited was a report and undercover investigation by well-known detective Allan Pinkerton. Nonetheless Lincoln was eventually convinced to act upon the information, a decision he eventually came to regret.

Following an unusual election victory in November of 1860, Lincoln faced the difficult task of traveling to Washington D.C. for his inauguration on March 4th, 1861. By the time he made plans to travel, seven states had seceded from the Union, with others likely to follow.

Worried that secessionists would destroy parts of his railroad to prevent Lincoln’s inauguration, Samuel Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad hired Allan Pinkerton to investigate any threats. Since nearly all trains ran through Baltimore, and Maryland’s legislation was considering secession, Pinkerton started his investigation there.

The anti-Northern attitude among many border states made travel tenuous, but nevertheless Lincoln left his hometown of Springfield, Illinois on February 11th 1861 aboard an eastbound train, without a military escort. Lincoln had every intention of traveling in an open fashion along a detailed list of stops to greet the public. One of these stops was to be Baltimore, the only slave owning city on his list except for Washington itself.

In Baltimore Pinkerton went undercover and quickly heard disturbing tales that Lincoln would not make it out of Baltimore alive. According to Pinkerton’s report a group of men would create a distraction luring away the small police presence around Lincoln allowing a gunman to get close enough to shoot him. Pinkerton, learning of this news on February 20th, rushed to meet with Lincoln in Philadelphia and warn him of the plot. At Pinkerton’s urging Lincoln agreed to pass through Baltimore during the night, ahead of schedule thus avoiding any attempts.

While the subterfuge was successful in keeping Lincoln alive, the press and cartoonists ridiculed him. Some historians have claimed this ridicule is partially what motivated him to continue his presidency in an open fashion, including sitting in an unprotected theater balcony.

If you are interested in other failed Presidential assassination attempts, please check out this list:

The Baltimore Plot

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of St. Louis Public Library