Lincoln and Baltimore

December 27, 2008

When President-elect Barack Obama arrives in Baltimore by train next month, he is expected to be greeted by an enthusiastic throng, thrilled to see and hear a man on his way to be sworn in as America's first African-American president. A Bible first used to swear in President Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves and saved the union, is expected to be used by Mr. Obama, who greatly admires the Civil War president.

For Baltimore and America, it has been a remarkable political and social journey from the day Lincoln passed through this city on the way to his first inauguration and the anticipated triumphant visit of Mr. Obama.

As Lincoln made his way by train toward his inauguration in 1861, seven states had already seceded from the Union, and America's first private detective, Allan Pinkerton, believed he had uncovered evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln during his stop in Baltimore, the largest city of a border state with secessionist sympathies. The death of the president-elect would, it was supposed, throw the nation into chaos and allow the South to establish a new nation and claim Washington as its capital.

Concerned about the potential danger of violence in Baltimore against the president-elect, the editors of The Sun published an editorial on Feb. 23 (at right) that left no doubt about their hostility to Lincoln's political views but urged readers not to allow "the slightest personal disrespect" to mar his passage through the city. But by the time most of The Sun's readers had read the editorial, Lincoln had come and gone.

Warned of the possible threat, Lincoln had left a Feb. 22 function in Harrisburg, Pa., to take an earlier than scheduled train and slipped through Baltimore undetected, reportedly bundled into a military cloak and tam-o'-shanter cap.

Lincoln paid a steep price for his quiet passage. Ridiculed by the press for "cowardice" and the fact that no conspirators were charged, Lincoln would never hide from the public again. Four years later, when he sat unprotected in the balcony of Ford's Theatre, a conspiracy against his life finally succeeded.

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