abraham lincoln had to be hidden -- 3/30/16

Today's selection -- from Washington by Tom Lewis. When the newly-elected Abraham Lincoln took his train south to Washington, D.C., in 1861, he had to pass through the pro-slavery city of Baltimore, Maryland, where there were known to be plots for his assassination. Maryland had cast a mere 2000 votes for Lincoln in the election, against 42,000 for his pro-slavery opponent. Lincoln had to assume the disguise of a sick man, abandoning his stovepipe hat for a slouch hat and shawl:

"Washington's location would place it at the center of the [American Civil] war; its geog­raphy, as the country had learned in 1814, made it vulnerable to attack. And what a prize it would be for the Confederates to capture the capi­tal of the United States. From the start Lincoln understood the tenuous position of the city, surrounded as it was by two slaveholding states. Virginia had seceded in April. That state had 491,000 slaves -- more than any other; the port of Alexandria continued to thrive on human trafficking. Marylanders, including the state's governor, owned 87,000 slaves. In the presidential election of 1860 they had cast more than 42,000 ballots for the south­ern, proslavery Democrat John C. Breckinridge; they cast barely 2,000 for Abraham Lincoln.

March 4, 1861, inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in front of
U.S. Capitol Building

"That February, Lincoln had even encountered difficulty entering Washington for his inauguration. He had boarded a railroad car in Springfield, Illinois, for a serpentine progress that took him past large and enthusiastic crowds in big cities -- Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Pitts­burgh, Columbus, Cleveland, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany -- as well as small villages, mere dots on the landscape -- Tolono, Illinois; Thorn­ton, Indiana; Willoughby, Ohio; and Westfield, New York.

"When Lincoln and his entourage arrived in Philadelphia, however, telegraph wires from the South were humming with ominous reports that secessionist gangs in Baltimore were plotting his murder. As the tracks from the North did not connect directly with those to the South, railroad cars had to be disconnected from their engine at one depot and pulled by horses through Baltimore's streets to the next. Lincoln's friend and self-appointed bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon determined that the danger was too great for him to publish the time of his trip through the city. Disguised as a physician attending a sick man, Lamon boarded the 10:50 evening train at Philadelphia with Lincoln wearing a slouch hat and a shawl about his shoulders. As dawn broke on the morning of Saturday, February 23, 1861, the president-elect stepped onto the platform at Wash­ington's B&O station at Sixth Street and New Jersey Avenue."


Tom Lewis


Washington: A History of Our National City


Basic Books


Copyright 2015 by Tom Lewis


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