The Lincoln Conspiracy cover

The Lincoln Conspiracy - Book Summary

The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President – and Why It Failed

Duration: 32:29
Release Date: November 26, 2023
Book Authors: Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
Categories: History, Politics
Duration: 32:29
Release Date: November 26, 2023
Book Authors: Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
Categories: History, Politics

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we unravel the thrilling historical account presented in "The Lincoln Conspiracy." Immerse yourself in the suspenseful narrative of an uncovered assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln before he ascended to the presidency. Orchestrated by vehement pro-slavery advocates, this conspiracy sought to prevent the rise of the man who would steer the nation through its pivotal Civil War and towards the abolition of slavery.

Our guide through this intricately woven tale is Brad Meltzer, a renowned author of eleven best-selling thrillers, and Josh Mensch, an accomplished television documentarian. Their combined expertise brings to life a story deeply rooted in historical significance, echoing their previous collaborative work, "The First Conspiracy," which delves into a plot against George Washington.

"The Lincoln Conspiracy" reveals a lesser-known chapter of American history, spotlighted by the extraordinary efforts of Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne, the nation's first female detective. This book is for Civil War enthusiasts, Lincoln aficionados, and anyone captivated by the enduring fight for freedom and justice. Join us for a riveting exploration of courage, duplicity, and the relentless quest for truth amidst the most tumultuous times of American history.

Dive into a tale of danger and deception during Lincoln's rise to power.

An ominous air of hostility clouded the United States as 1861 dawned. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860, the fiery abyss of civil conflict edged closer, fueled by divisive views on slavery and states' rights. As Lincoln prepared to take the presidential oath, his very presence became a lightning rod for outrage, particularly in the Southern states, where his anti-slavery stance was seen as a direct attack on their lifestyle and economy.

The aristocracy in the South grew zealous to protect their institution of slavery, the very cornerstone of their agrarian wealth. But as the newly elected Lincoln set off to assume office, a sinister plot stirred below the surface, threatening not just his presidency but his life.

This gripping narrative uncovers the perilous journey Lincoln faced on his way to the White House, as conspirators lay in wait with a deadly trap set in the politically turbulent city of Baltimore.

As Abraham Lincoln's train meandered toward the heart of the nation's capital, a web of conspiracy tightened its grip. Southern sympathizers were seething, their contempt for the President-elect unabated. Amidst this brewing storm, Baltimore emerged as the focal point for the looming threat.

This port city, where North meets South, was fraught with political tension, making it fertile ground for anti-Lincoln sentiment. Sworn enemies of the incoming president schemed, obsessed with the notion of stopping him from ever taking the oath of office. It was within the volatile confines of Baltimore that they believed their best opportunity for assassination awaited.

As you become engrossed in this narrative, discover the intricate details of a deadly plot, one that involved more than just brute force. It was about timing, secrecy, and the ability to strike when least expected. Learn of cryptic messages and desperate measures taken in the shadows to keep a beacon of hope alive for a nation on the brink.

Within the heart of this conspiracy, an unexpected act of generosity and a peculiar threat involving a 'spider' unfold. Amid the tension gripping the nation, moments of human kindness and oddity revealed the complexity of the times.

Lincoln, a figure attracting both reverence and vehement opposition, had to be shielded from the malicious intent lurking in the shadows. Often, the protection he received came from unforeseen allies, as individuals on both sides of the ideological divide wrestled with the implications of their actions on the future of the United States.

With a blend of danger and intrigue, understand how Lincoln evaded mortal peril in an episode that could be characterized as nothing short of a daring escape. Delve into the harrowing circumstances that forced him to adopt methods befitting a spy, including a code-name arguably unfit for a president — yet these were desperate times calling for extraordinary measures.

Follow along as you experience a riveting historical trek through darkness, where the fate of a leader — and the trajectory of a country — hung precariously in the balance. In a narrative where fact rivals fiction for sheer suspense, 'The Lincoln Conspiracy' is an odyssey into the heart of American history, revealing the fragility of democracy and the relentless grit of those who sought to preserve it.

Witness the rising star of an underestimated country lawyer on the debate stage.

In the sweltering summer of 1858, Ottawa, Illinois, buzzed with an energy that surpassed any typical small-town gathering. This unprecedented influx of people from all over the state had nothing to do with seasonal festivities; they were here to witness a showdown — a clash of ideologies represented by two starkly contrasting individuals vying for a coveted United States Senate seat.

At this pivotal moment, the favorite was Stephen Douglas — a wealthy, influential senator with deep ties to political machinations in Washington, and a known advocate for the pro-slavery cause. Challenging him was a relatively unknown figure, a gangly, earnest lawyer from Kentucky often misnamed Abram by the press. Yet, it was this underdog, Abraham Lincoln, who would captivate the assembly and etch his convictions into history.

The physical juxtaposition between the two candidates was as stark as their beliefs. Douglas, short and portly, emanated an aura of the establishment. In stark contrast, Lincoln towered over him. His lanky frame and severe features painted the picture of a man set apart — a visual metaphor for his divergent political stance.

The crowd that gathered under the Illinois sun knew they were about to witness more than a political sparring; slavery, the era's most contentious issue, was on trial. Douglas, a die-hard supremacist, openly proclaimed his belief in the inherent inequality of races. Lincoln's approach was different. He combined affable humor with a visceral disdain for slavery. His condemnation of the institution was unwavering. He witnessed it not just as a political wrong but as a fundamental moral injustice.

Though Illinois was a battleground state, rife with divergent opinions, the debates cast a spotlight on Lincoln's oratory prowess and his unyielding stance against slavery. While he may not have won the election, his impact resonated beyond Illinois's borders. The debates were a turning point; Lincoln had made his mark and his voice began resonating on a national scale.

Fast forward to 1860, and that once-obscure lawyer had risen to such prominence that his name, although still mangled in some New York periodicals, was the rallying cry at the Illinois State Republican Convention. Shouldering the weight of his newfound popularity, Lincoln rode a wave of support that would eventually see him contend for the highest office in the land.

In the end, blueprints for greatness aren't found in name recognition alone but in the conviction and ability to sway a nation's heart. Delve into this gripping narrative and learn how a lanky lawyer from the prairies won the admiration of his peers and the nomination for a presidency that would test his resolve and shape the course of American history.

Unrest in the South sets the stage for Lincoln’s presidency amid ominous forecasts.

The South was a tinderbox, ready to ignite at the slightest provocation. When word of Abraham Lincoln's Republican nomination reached Southern ears, the flames of outrage and fear blazed high. In a Baltimore barber shop, the very embodiment of Southern resistance, a Corsican immigrant by the name of Cypriano Ferrandini welcomed the city's staunchest defenders of slavery and white supremacy. Among the perfumed scents of pomade and the snip of scissors, they saw Lincoln's ascendancy as nothing short of a catastrophe.

In the North, a movement against slavery gained momentum, while the South's plantation owners viewed this shift as an existential threat. Their entire society was woven around the forced labor of enslaved people, a structure they believed Northern politicians aimed to dismantle. The tension was palpable nationwide; it had even spilled into violence in Congress itself, with a Southern congressman attacking an abolitionist senator.

At this crucial juncture, the sprawling ranks of the Knights of the Golden Circle echoed with the sounds of firearms and the glint of Bowie knives. This militant group, swollen with Confederate sympathizers like Ferrandini and his comrades, swore to defend their dominion by any means necessary, their numbers rivaling an army's.

Yet not all who lived below the Mason-Dixon line were driven by secessionist fury. The Democratic party itself was a house divided — part secessionist firebrands, part moderate Unionists. Their 1860 convention erupted into a theater of chaos — brawls broke out, debates grew venomous, and the rift was so deep that a unified Democratic ticket became an impossibility, resulting in a split that handed Lincoln a much clearer path to victory.

For many in the South, such a victory foretold an apocalyptic future. Their dread was encapsulated in the fervent declarations of Southern newspapers, refusing to accept the outcome. As Lincoln tallied the incoming results on election night, it appeared the nation had indeed cast its lot with him.

But in the silence of the early hours, as revelry gave way to reflection, Lincoln encountered an eerie, spectral vision of his own countenance in the looking glass. It was a duality that disturbed his rest — one that he and his wife would ponder over in the dark, tension-filled days following his win. They concluded that the spectral portent spoke not of triumph, but of an impending doom.

Take a glimpse into the soul of a nation divided and a leader burdened by the weight of immeasurable expectation and foreboding. Join us on a journey through a chapter of history where the shadow of conflict loomed large, and prophetic visions in the night whispered of trials and tribulations to come for the newly elected President Lincoln.

Lincoln's presidential dawn triggers a storm across a divided nation.

In 1860, while Abraham Lincoln made his stance against the expansion of slavery clear, he assured that he wouldn't interfere with its practice in existing states. Regardless of his reassurances, his ascension to presidency was seen as a harbinger of doom across the cotton fields of the South — a grim portent that their way of life was at stake. Lincoln's victory was interpreted not as a mere political defeat but as the North's triumph over the South.

In the aftermath, a flood of correspondence poured into Lincoln's mailbox – amassing up to seventy letters a day. Among the notes of support, there lurked sinister threats, peppered with vitriol and menacing promises. Some letters cursed the president-elect in the foulest terms, while others bizarrely foreshadowed putting "a spider in your dumpling."

This ominous climate only intensified when, in December following the election, South Carolina executed a decision that had been trembling on the brink of action since Lincoln's victory – secession. Swiftly, a cascade of Southern states followed, a chain reaction set off by the fear of what Lincoln's presidency might mean.

The air of jubilation in the South contrasted starkly with the shock gripping the North. As the nation's eyes turned expectantly towards Lincoln, he remained publicly silent, adhering to the custom of allowing the incumbent's term to gracefully conclude. Privately, however, his letters echoed his long-standing loathing for slavery.

Meanwhile, the president-elect had a plethora of administrative and logistical hurdles to surmount – not the least of which was planning a triumphant tour from Springfield, Illinois, to the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Complexity added to complexity as his itinerary filled with train schedules, political engagements, and safety considerations.

Security arrangements drew a particular focus, especially given the voracious hostility swelling in certain Southern pockets. As the whistle of Lincoln's inaugural journey blew, so too did the winds of conflict stir, signaling a treacherous passage ahead for America's future leader as he ventured into the lion’s den.

Amidst swirling chaos, a detective steps up to untangle a deadly conspiracy.

In the political cauldron that was Washington, whispers of shadowy plots thickened the air with paranoia. Suspicion touched every corner — from rumors of clandestine factions obstructing Lincoln's path to power, to the fear of a surprise assault by Southern militants nestled within the city's confines. Washington seemed a city on the edge, its vulnerability to secessionist Virginia and Maryland increasing its alarm.

The troubling murmurs reached far beyond D.C., finding their way to Philadelphia and the attentive ears of Samuel Felton, the head of a major railway company. Felton’s lines formed the crucial arteries between Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the capital — and there were harrowing reports that saboteurs planned to destroy them, hindering Lincoln’s inauguration journey.

Perhaps more disturbing was the reaction of Baltimore Police Marshal George Kane, known for his secessionist leanings, who met Felton’s concerns with a dismissive trifling that only served to heighten Felton's unease.

Felton understood that these threats couldn’t be navigated by chance or good faith — he needed a master of intrigue. Enter Allan Pinkerton, the nation's premier private eye, whose past was littered with outsmarted felons and foiled heists. To him, Felton sent an urgent petition for aid.

Pinkerton, a self-made sleuth hailing from Chicago, was renowned for his intellect, unorthodox methods, and resilience against the darker designs of the criminal underworld. At his side stood a trailblazing woman, Kate Warne, who carried the distinction of being the first female detective in America.

Beyond his prowess in investigation, Pinkerton was a man driven by convictions that ran parallel to Lincoln's — an ardent foe of slavery and a covert supporter of the Underground Railroad. When Felton's call for assistance arrived, it found a ready champion in Pinkerton, who swiftly made his way to the railroad mogul's Philadelphia office.

Together, they pieced together the peril that ensnared the future president's route. Pinkerton's investigation exposed a labyrinth of threats — belligerent secessionists, audacious plots against the railroads, all magnified by Lincoln's forthcoming tour, a public itinerary that could serve as a blueprint for malice.

With the clock ticking and the stakes immeasurable, Pinkerton faced a race against time. Lincoln's crusade for the Union — and against the scourge of slavery — rested precariously in his hands. The challenge was immense: safeguard the beacon of emancipation on his way to the highest seat of power.

Undercover agents dive into a den of secessionists to unravel an assassination plot.

Amidst the turmoil and tension that gripped the nation, Allan Pinkerton and his trusted team prepared to embark on a daring mission. Armed with polished Southern accents, fabricated back stories, and an array of disguises, they readied themselves for the treacherous streets of Baltimore. Their goal was audacious: to penetrate the ranks of angry secessionists and derail any scheme plotted against Lincoln's life before his presidency could even begin.

Upon entering Baltimore, a city ablaze with resentful fervor against Lincoln, the investigators encountered a ticking bomb of hatred. Pinkerton adopted the guise of John Hutcheson, posing as an Alabama stockbroker dwelling within the same building as Thomas Luckett, a known secessionist and figure of interest.

As the operatives fanned out across the city, Harry Davies, a detective with the charm of a Southern gentleman, targeted Otis Hillard, a local socialite whose loose tongue was rumored to spill secrets after a few rounds of whiskey. Davies’s nightlife escapades, littered with Confederate cheers, gradually bore fruit. After earning Hillard’s trust, he was ushered into the epicenter of secessionist plotting — Cypriano Ferrandini's barber shop, the hub for Baltimore's elite antagonists of Lincoln's cause.

Simultaneously, Pinkerton — alias Hutcheson — cozied up to Luckett, sharing in vitriol against the future president. A well-timed financial gift opened the door to the inner circles of rebellion, introducing Pinkerton to the instrument of the conspiracy.

At the heart of this dark undertaking was Ferrandini, the Corsican barber whose passionate vitriol for Lincoln bordered on maniacal. In a fervent declaration over drinks, he exposed the underpinnings of their nefarious objective — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The gravity of Ferrandini's confession rattled Pinkerton. The president-elect was to journey through Baltimore very soon, and there, among the chorus of barbershop razors and the bitter whispers of treason, a plan to murder him was being forged. The clock ticked audibly as Pinkerton grappled with the enormity of the challenge before him: to save Lincoln from his impending doom in a city that seemed all but ready to erupt.

The rail tour to the White House turns into an unforeseen frenzy and a mounting security concern.

On a chilly February morning, Abraham Lincoln began a journey from his home in Springfield that would take him towards history. Amidst a cacophony of warning whispers, Lincoln set off without the solemnity of a military escort. His entourage was an assortment of muscle-bound guardians: veterans of tavern tussles and the battlefield, prepared for unforeseen threats.

At every whistle stop, Lincoln was greeted by throngs of inhabitants eager to lay eyes on the man chosen to lead the divided nation. With every handshake and humorous quip, Lincoln's appeal swelled, as did the masses waiting to see him. The tour's organizers had sorely misjudged the public's fascination with the president-elect, and the throngs were only getting denser.

Cincinnati presented an imposing spectacle, with an ocean of humanity crashing against the procession. Each encounter, each speech exposed Lincoln to potential danger, with not a single barrier between him and the crowd. Lincoln's popularity was his susceptibility personified—anyone could have hidden a fatal intent behind a façade of adoration.

The news from Pinkerton reached Lincoln's camp at a hotel in Cincinnati, delivered by a stubborn courier insisting on reaching Norman Judd. The letter he bore was a missive of warning that had traveled all the way from Chicago — cryptic words hinting at a mortal conspiracy. Judd absorbed the content with skepticism, wary of the numerous threats that had been dismissed before. He requested ongoing updates from Pinkerton without alarming Lincoln or his closest aides.

As if to underscore the growing concern, the clamor in Buffalo, New York, served a harsh lesson. Even as they were greeted by former President Millard Fillmore, the surge of bodies turned exuberant reception into dangerous chaos. The security detail reeled, passersby swooned, and Lincoln himself was nearly crushed by the sheer weight of his own celebrity.

With each passing day, the specter of threat loomed larger, even in territories aligned with Lincoln's antislavery stance. But it was the next leg of his tour that held a foreboding edge — the upcoming arrival in Baltimore. Unbeknownst to Lincoln and his team, the city held more than just supporters—it was the stage for a deadly plot, a whisper away from tragedy.

The race against time to secure Lincoln's safe passage becomes a covert operation.

As the president-elect's train continued on its appointed rounds, elsewhere Kate Warne, a key operative of Pinkerton's agency, raced against time. With the urgency of the situation mounting, she carried a message laden with peril to Norman Judd — a message that would further cement the reality of the threat awaiting Lincoln in Baltimore.

Under an alias as cryptic as the plot itself, Lincoln — now codenamed 'Nuts' — was the subject of urgent, secretive discussions. When Judd arrived in New York, anticipation met him in the form of Warne, whose appearance as a messenger was as startling as the grave tidings she bore. With only a short span until the Baltimore leg of the tour, every moment to coordinate a response was precious.

The wary Judd found himself persuaded only after meeting with Pinkerton and railroad executive Felton in Philadelphia, where a thorough briefing pieced together the looming assault. This was no eccentric warning; the conspiracy was tangible and imminent.

Their solution? A feat of clandestine transportation — escorting Lincoln through Baltimore ahead of his publicized schedule, under the veil of darkness, before the conspirators struck.

It was time to confront Lincoln with the dire news — a disclosure that proved challenging as they navigated the throngs of admirers and well-wishers. In the relative tranquility of a hotel room, the startling revelations were laid bare. The stark description of Baltimore's ferment and the plan to ensnare Lincoln in a fatal trap left the room hanging in silence.

Presented with an option to sidestep disaster by departing immediately, Lincoln paused and then declined. His commitments for the next day would be honored, he insisted. But thereafter, he would acquiesce to their protective strategy. The decision was made, setting the stage for a risky nighttime journey that would test the ingenuity and nerve of all involved in this clandestine safeguarding of the president-elect.

A harrowing night unfolds as Lincoln evades an assassin's bullet by the thinnest of margins.

The threads of conspiracy had been woven tightly around Lincoln's impending visit to Baltimore. Harry Davies, now enmeshed within the cabal’s inner sanctum, witnessed the eerie ritual led by Ferrandini, cloaked in somber garb. Their intentions were clear: as Lincoln maneuvered between stations the next Saturday, a bullet would seek to silence the hope of a divided nation. Baltimore Police Marshal George Kane was complicit, ensuring no line of blue would shield the president-elect from harm. The group's method for choosing the assailant was chillingly democratic — a lottery where the draw of a red ballot meant becoming an instrument of murder.

As these dark preparations unfolded, elsewhere a race against time commenced. Pinkerton and Warne worked with feverish urgency to thwart the assassins' plot, crafting a perilous escape through the network of railways that entwined the nation's cities. Evading detection was a formidable task, given Lincoln's lanky frame and unmistakable countenance.

The escape operation launched at dusk on the eve of Washington's Birthday. Lincoln, now in disguise, forwent his signature stovepipe hat for a less conspicuous cap. With a compact entourage —Judd and a single stalwart guardian — he embarked on a serpentine path that would lead him from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia's shadowed streets, the tension was palpable as Pinkerton and Warne reunited with Lincoln's group. With meticulous care, they presented Lincoln as nothing more than an infirm sibling in need of Warne's sisterly care, his true identity shrouded by the night and a carefully curated passenger list.

The real test came in the dead of night, as the train carriage, now hauled by horses, crept through Baltimore's sleeping streets. Each hoofbeat was a heartbeat, each moment a brush with potential doom. Lincoln's party passed precariously close to the very den of his would-be assassins.

As they reached the security of the second station, the dawn's early light had not yet fractured the horizon. The train, with Lincoln secretly in tow, chugged out of Baltimore, the city of conspiratorial shadows, and into the safety of the journey's final leg. The specter of assassination had been narrowly averted, the sleepless vigilance of Pinkerton, Warne, and their unlikely charge had borne fruit.

President-elect Lincoln, unbeknownst to the barbershop plotters, had slipped through the net of treachery. His train hastened toward Washington, carrying with it the future of the Union, snatched from the jaws of death in the quiet hours of an anxious night.

Lincoln's triumph over conspiracy only ushers in a presidency shadowed by strife and a legacy of greatness.

Exhaustion marked the faces of both Abraham Lincoln and Allan Pinkerton as they arrived in Washington, the capstone of their perilous subterfuge. The endgame of their stealthy operation required one last act of concealment in the bustling Washington station — one that nearly went awry as an acquaintance of Lincoln's burst through the crowd, compromising his incognito arrival.

With a quick intervention and an even quicker clarification from the president-elect, Pinkerton's zealous defense eased into relief. As they left the station, a sense of reprieve blanketed Pinkerton — the burden of safeguarding the president-elect during this clandestine ordeal was at last lifting.

Lincoln's undercover arrival in Washington didn't stay under wraps for long. The news swept through the capital like wildfire, igniting a media frenzy. Cartoonists and critics alike renounced the audacity and alleged timidity of his secret journey. Yet this scandal would soon be eclipsed by the far more dire headlines that emerged in the wake of his inauguration.

Barely over a month into his presidency, the country was jolted by the bombardment of Fort Sumter. The Civil War had irrevocably begun. The specter of death cast a long shadow over Lincoln's tenure, reaching into the White House itself with the demise of his beloved son Willie.

While the intricate details of the Baltimore Plot faded into the annals, its actors — the Knights of the Golden Circle and their ilk — remained a corrosive element in the nation. Their ideology persisted, permeating the ranks of the Confederate forces and poisoning minds against the Union's resolve. Embedded in this grim fraternity was a young actor, John Wilkes Booth, whose infamy would become inseparable from Lincoln's final chapter.

Despite his violent end, Lincoln's presidency remains a beacon of progressive transformation. The emancipation of millions of enslaved individuals stemmed directly from his leadership. The roar of liberty that the Emancipation Proclamation unleashed resonated across a fractured nation, enshrining Lincoln not as a victim of conspiracy, but a vanguard of freedom and human dignity. His legacy, born in a time of division and sealed in his blood, continues to inspire the promise of equality and justice for all.

Unveiling the shadowy plot against Lincoln and the securing of an enduring legacy.

In the tumultuous days preceding Abraham Lincoln's rise to the presidency, the United States found itself gripped by a crisis that threatened the core of its democratically elected leadership. As secessionist fervor reached a fever pitch in the South, a determined group of individuals — led by seasoned detective Allan Pinkerton — banded together in a clandestine operation to safeguard the president-elect from looming assassination.

The convergence of ingenuity, subterfuge, and fortuitous alliances allowed Lincoln to slip through the grasp of traitors determined to derail his presidency before it could begin. Through subterfuge, disguises, and a relentless commitment to preserving the upcoming administration, this disparate band defied the odds.

Their success did more than simply deliver Lincoln to the White House; it paved the way for a presidency that would confront and overcome the agonies of civil war and division — a presidency that would drastically reshape the very fabric of the nation with the Emancipation Proclamation. Though Lincoln would ultimately pay with his life, the efforts made in those precarious days ensured that his vision for a united country, free from the bonds of slavery, would be realized. This single act of preservation ensured that Lincoln's preliminary journey to the capital would lead to a monumental journey toward equality and freedom for all Americans.

The Lincoln Conspiracy Quotes by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

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