22nd February 1861

Scottish detective Allan Pinkerton saves Abraham Lincoln’s life

Born in Glasgow in 1819, Allan Pinkerton emigrated to the United States in 1842 and seven years later was appointed a police detective. In 1850, he founded the agency that would eventually become today’s Pinkerton National Detective Agency and, later that decade, was engaged to solve a series of train robberies. 

This helped him gain a thorough knowledge of the railways which would have been very useful when, in 1861, he was tasked with getting Abraham Lincoln safely to Washington DC for his inauguration.

Security for the President

Although the American Civil War was still some weeks away, trouble was already brewing, and Lincoln’s route would have taken him through confederate territory. Lincoln himself was on the side of the Union and he opposed slavery. This would have put him in grave danger as he journeyed through Maryland, which supported slavery, and the danger would have been heightened if he set foot in  Baltimore, where an apparent ‘Baltimore Plot’ had been formulated with a view to killing him in that city.

Lincoln’s schedule was well known, which Pinkerton saw as a problem. He advised the President Elect to skip his planned stop in Harrisburg so that his train could pass through Baltimore ahead of time, in the hope the assailants would miss him. Lincoln refused.

So, Pinkerton did the next best thing, and, on 22 February, he cut the telephone lines to Baltimore, and put Lincoln on a second train that arrived in Baltimore unannounced.

Lincoln delivered safely

Whether there actually was a plot to assassinate Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore remains a matter of debate, and the president received some criticism for not having met with the city’s residents on his way to Washington DC. However, history records that he made it safely to the capital the following day – 23 February – in time for his inauguration on 4 March.

Lincoln was assassinated on 15 April 1865, around five weeks into his second term of office, when shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathiser.



Other events that occured in February

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.