Allan Pinkerton started out as a police detective for the
Chicago Police Department. After doing that he
would start his own private detective business.
Times were tough in the late 1800's.
He would later capture major railroad and bank
robbers, would find and capture counterfeiters, and
got involved with guarding factories and such. His
business is still going under his original name, and
you can often see Pinkerton guards in malls, at
factory gates and other places.
He also was instrumental in starting the Secret
Service for the U.S. military in the Civil War.
That involved spying on Confederate troops and
This story is about when Pinkerton, who knew
Abraham Lincoln in Illinois from railroad business,
got wind of a plot to kill the new president-elect.
The story tells of how the event was stopped and
Pinkerton got his man. He wouldn't sleep until the
job was done.
. . . Guarding Abraham Lincoln
"On a cold February morning in 1861,
Allan sat at
his desk reading a letter from one
of his clients.
It said there was talk of an assassination plot in
Baltimore, Maryland. Some group was planning to kill
Abraham Lincoln, newly elected president of the
United States, when he passed through Baltimore on
his way to Washington, D.C., to take the oath of
Allan’s face grew grave at the ugly news.
“It would be no use to tell Mr. Lincoln of the report,”
he thought. “He would not believe he is in danger.
He lets people crowd around him all the time, and he
has no protection since there is no government
police force to look after him.”
Allan understood how Abraham Lincoln would feel because
he knew the president- elect. Years earlier Allan
had worked on a robbery case for a railroad for
which Mr. Lincoln had served as lawyer.
''I'll send some of my very best men to Baltimore, and
I'll go there myself," Allan decided. "If there is a
plot, we'll find proof that will convince Mr.
Lincoln he needs to have a guard."
He hurried home to tell Joan of the trip, and she packed
a suitcase for him. She was used to being left
alone with the children when he was away on a case.
There three Pinkerton children now— William and
twins Robert and Joan. Allan planned to teach his
sons the detective business when they were old
enough. A few days later a pleasant, well dressed
gentleman rented an office in Baltimore. His name,
he claimed, was " John H. Hutcheson," and he came
from South Carolina.
Soon he became friendly with other business men,
especially Mr. Luckett who had an office down the
The pleasant gentleman with the southern accent was Allan
Pinkerton, playing another part. Mr. Luckett was one
of the names had been in the assassination report.
Allan believed him to be a the murderous gang.
It wasn’t an easy role for Allan to play, because he was
horrified by what he saw and heard in Baltimore.
Deep trouble had spread through the nation. The
North and South were split over the question of
slavery and the right of each new state to decide
whether or not it would have slaves.
Abraham Lincoln thought that slavery was wrong. The
slaveholding South was afraid that as president he
would free the black people. Southern states were
threatening to leave the Union. Some were already
arming for war. Feeling was especially bitter in
Maryland, a border state between North and South.
Allan hated slavery. He called it a curse to the American
nation. Now he had to pretend to be a Southerner who
approved of slavery and feared Abraham Lincoln. It
was the only way to win Luckett’s trust and learn
the details of any plot.
Time was short. The president-elect had already left his
home in Springfield, Illinois. The train on which
he traveled was moving across the North, stopping at
many cities for speeches and celebrations. It drew
closer to Baltimore every day. Allan knew he would
have to work fast.
"Mark my word, Luckett, Abraham Lincoln will be the
downfall of the South," Mr. John H. Hutcheson told
Luckett one day. “If only something would happen
to before he ruins us all. .."
Mr. Luckett looked wise. "Many people agree with you."
Then he invited his pleasant new friend to go to a
meeting that night.
It was the break Allan needed. That night they went to a
dimly lit room crowded with people who were talking
wildly. Here Allan met the ringleader of the plot
to murder the president-elect. His name was
“Murder is right if it will save the Southerners!”
Ferrandini shouted loudly. “Lincoln must die— and
die he shall!”
The plot, Allan learned, was to shoot Abraham Lincoln
when he stopped in Baltimore to make a speech. The
plan had been carefully worked out to the last
detail. Allan did not doubt that it could succeed.
The thought made his blood run cold, but he sat quietly
and nodded agreement that Lincoln must die. Then he
handed Luckett $25 to "help the cause."
Once away from the plotters, Allan hurried to find out
what information his men had uncovered. It backed up
his own. Then he traveled to Pennsylvania where he
was to meet Mr. Lincoln's train. He arrived there on
Late that night the detective was given his first chance
to talk to Mr. Lincoln in in private. The weary
president-elect listened quietly as Allan explained
the Baltimore plot.
Then a look of great sadness spread over his tired face.
It was hard for Abraham Lincoln to believe that some
of his own countrymen wanted to kill him. Yet he
did not doubt Allan's word. He knew that his old
friend was a wise and honest man. “I place myself
in your hands,” he told Allan.
For a moment Allen was shaken. The life of the
president-elect in his hands!
They called in a few of Mr. Lincoln's most trusted
advisers, and a plan was made. Mr. Lincoln would
continue his trip earlier than people expected. The
program published in the newspapers said that, en
route from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington,
D.C., Mr. Lincoln would stop in Baltimore during the
afternoon of February 23. Allan advised that,
instead, Mr. Lincoln should travel to Washington
secretly late at night on February 22. Nobody except
Mrs. Lincoln was to be told.
"Secrecy is all-important," the detective warned. "The
fewer people who know about this, the better."
It was arranged to have the Harrisburg telegraph wires
cut as soon as Mr. Lincoln left. Then if spies saw
him leaving early, they could not wire their fellows
in Baltimore. In those days there were no
The next night Abraham Lincoln and two of his advisers
slipped out of his hotel in Harrisburg and got on a
train to Philadelphia. Everybody else thought the
president-elect was tired and had gone to bed early.
In Philadelphia they met Allan Pinkerton and a few
of his men. There, in the dark night, they all moved
quietly through the train shed to where the puffing
locomotive stood, ready to depart for Baltimore and
Mr. Lincoln wore a black overcoat, and instead of his
usual tall stovepipe hat, he wore a soft felt one.
He leaned on Allan's arm, stooping to hide his great
height and pretending to be ill. Allan's woman
operative, Mrs. Warne, had already bought tickets
for seats at the far end of the last car. She had
said they were for her "sick brother and party ."
As the newcomers took their seats in the car, none of the
other passengers gave them more than a glance. Who
would have expected the president-elect of the
United States to be on that train! Then bells rang,
wheels began to grind, night. and the train moved
Allan stood on the rear platform of the car where he
could watch for signals. He had operatives hiding
along the route at every bridge and crossing, for
the plotters had talked about destroying bridges and
tearing up tracks. If this secret journey had been
discovered, there could be some trouble.
Allan's men were to signal by lanterns if all was well
ahead. If they failed to signal, Allan planned to
step inside the car and pull the emergency cord that
would warn the engineer to stop the train. Through
the cold night the detective stood on the platform,
peering through the blackness for those important
signals. Two flashes-all's well.
They passed through Baltimore at midnight. The depot was
empty, the city sleeping. As the morning sun came
up, they arrived safely in Washington, D.C.
Afterward Allan would remember how cool and unafraid
Abraham Lincoln had been through that long night.
Nobody slept, but the president-elect told some
jokes. He acted as though he'd forgotten that if the
secret leaked out, he might soon be dead.
Allan Pinkerton went back to Baltimore to close up his
office. There he met Mr. Luckett.
"We were betrayed," Luckett told him angrily. "Rotten
spies betrayed us. We had 20 men armed with guns and
knives at the depot, but when the afternoon train
came through, Lincoln wasn't on it. Now we're going
to catch those spies and give them the fate we meant
As he walked away, there was
a grim smile on John H. Hutcheson's face. Mr.
Luckett didn't see that smile, but if he had, he
wouldn't have known what the joke was about."