The Baltimore Plot: The First Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln, Michael J. Klein, Westholme Press, 2008, 520 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, $29.95.
Are you familiar with 24 a TV show that's been on for about seven seasons? Keifer Sutherland plays Jack Baurer, an action hero with a big Internet and satellite team behind him. The show runs on 'real time' which means there are sometimes three windows, a ticking clock and bursts of music like Law and Order's chun-chung. Well, The Baltimore Plot: The First Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln, is the thinking person's 24. But there is a big, big difference. The Baltimore Plot: The First Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln, is rational like a courtroom is rational.
On February 11, 1861, special train cars began their journey from Springfield, Illinois, to the City of Washington, and carried Lincoln to his inauguration as the sixteenth president of the United States. Over the next twelve days, Lincoln would speak at numerous stops, including Indianapolis, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Albany, New York, and Philadelphia. As Lincoln made his way to Washington D.C., three investigations separately concluded that in Baltimore Lincoln would be assaulted with the intention of killing him.
Allan Pinkerton, noted private detective of the era and working for a railroad president, a separate undercover operation by two New York City detectives, and Winfield Scott, chief of the army, individually uncovered startling evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln during his next-to-last stop in Baltimore. Klein reviews Baltimore's consistently history of mob violence. Robert E. Lee's father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, was nearly beaten to death in its streets by a mob of politically active Democrats.
Maryland had secessionist sympathies in its eastern seaboard region. Baltimore was the hothouse for paramilitary conspiracies. Leaders included an Italian anti-monarchist who was a barber, the chief of police, the mayor, future colonels and generals in the Army of Northern Virginia, and future Confederates agents who lived in Montreal during the war. If Lincoln died before the inauguration who would become President in March. His vice-president? The runner-up in the November 1860 election? Better consult the Constitution and make sure that Chief Justice Roger Taney doesn't offer his own side-bar interpretation of it.
If Lincoln had been killed in Baltimore, would then the first-shot of the Civil War would have been there and not Charleston, S.C.? Possibly, except for the fact that Breckinridge, future Confederate general and Secretary of War, was Buchanan's vice-president and future Confederate general Floyd was the Secretary of War. One of the great secret conspiracies in American history, the Baltimore Plot has never been fully investigated. Was evidence of a plot to murder Abraham Lincoln as he traveled through Baltimore en route to his 1861 inauguration genuine? Or was it a product of detective Allan Pinkerton’s imaginative program of self-promotion? Historians have been divided on the issue. Michael Kline, a lawyer by occupation, has made a very convincing argument for a conspiracy to murder charge based on circumstantial evidence. Kline makes it in exacting and fascinating detail. The characters are fully developed and propel the narrative forward.
Kline turns his legal expertise to evaluating primary sources in order to discover the extent of the conspiracy and culpability of the many suspects surrounding the case. Memorable characters like Timothy Webster (later to be hung in Richmond, Virginia) and Kate Warne (probably the first female professional undercover detective) and intriguing plot twists unfold the criminal conspiracy to murder. Much like a courtroom presentation in the best films and novels, the author allows the jury of readers to determine whether there was a true plot to kill Lincoln and if the perpetrators could have been brought to trial.
Relying upon his legal arguments, Kline brings the story to a narrative climax at Harrisburg. Does Lincoln have enough evidence to believe Pinkerton’s report? of Should he to alter his travel schedule through Baltimore? It was a second, independent source of intelligence from Winfield Scott and William Seward that convinced Lincoln to accept Pinkerton's plan. Gathering information, arguing its value, and re-creating the tension of the secession crisis, Kline's narrative absorbs readers.
From the whorehouses of Baltimore to the congressional committee in D.C. investigating the possibility of violence, from the paramilitary drills performed in Democratic meeting halls to the telegraph offices along the trains' route, from the railway stations where 20 assassins await Lincoln's arrival, to the Washington Peace Conference where the secretary from Vermont is witness to an amazing conversation between two Virginia delegates, Kline's narrative is as compelling as any episode of 24.
Klein clearly states which parts of his arguement are conjecture and which are founded upon a close reading of primary sources. He does not hide behind generalizations or best guesses. By the end of the book, CWL accepts Klein's arguements. Louis T. Wigfall, senator from Texas, was a conspirator. John Wilkes Booth, Baltimore native, was a conspirator. Maryland's governor, Baltimore's mayor and it's chief of police were conspirators. They and many more expected Lincoln to be dead by 2:00pm on February 23, 1861 on Calvert Street between the Calvert and Camden Street railroad stations. Killed by a bullet or blade, Lincoln would have died surrounded by 20 assasins and a compliant Baltimore police force, both having motive, means and opportunity.
Related Website: April 19 Baltimore Riot Trail
Image Source: Camden Station, Baltimore
Baltimore's Civil War Museum