tv The Civil War Abraham Lincoln and 1860-61 Presidential Transition CSPAN February 14, 2021 10:00am-11:11am EST
the honor now of introducing our first guest. ted widmer ted has worked at the intersection of presidential politics and history for many years making him perfectly positioned to contemplate the idea of presidential transitions a subject on which we're all focused in 2020 as we meet. ted is a distinguished lecture at the macaulay honors program at the city university of new york and has been a contributor to such publications as the washington post and the new yorker and well as the new york times for the times he edited
the collection of online civil war cesquare centennial essays called disunion. and just two weeks ago. he wrote a beautiful times op-ed essay on the indirect number between james buchanan and abraham lincoln in 1860 and 1861. that op-ed was drawn from his new book lincoln on the verge 13 days to washington, which you i hope you see over one of my shoulders. i this one i'm not gonna try to guess which one that is. it's a riveting account of the great succession winter. focusing not only on lincoln but on his surroundings. kind of a railroad passenger. i view of the north as lincoln slowly made his way from springfield and washington to become the most looked at president in american history up to that time. so it ted i'm going to lead the conversation and then in around.
at around 11 11 15. we will we will go to the q&a, but we'll have a good long tongue time to talk. and i guess the obvious question which we alluded to a few minutes ago is picture us in the midst of a presidential transition that feels different because a big block says the election is illegitimate. there are threats coming out from demonstrators. there's anger. those indignation and of course i'm talking about 1860. not anything else you might imagine. so what can we learn? from abraham lincoln and indeed from james buchanan if there was to learn about transitions well, i should begin by saying i did not anticipate 2016 or 2020 when
i started this book. so it was 2011. and as you mentioned i was deeply involved in the disunion project of the new york times, which you participated in. and many people on this call. i bet participated in as writers and and so as readers and so we were just trying to reach new audiences through new tools the internet until good until good history online. and so 2016 was five years away and barack obama was actually still in his first. term but even then there was a feeling that there were two very different americas and that that feeling has deepened a lot since 2011 2012, but that there there were people who didn't like each other and that's a feature of all of american history, but it was crystallizing in some very
ugly ways into a non-acceptance of the other side's right to govern and i believe the birtherism was already happening in 2011. and you know, that wasn't something i was paying that much attention to but in retrospect it was important it was a significant number of americans denying the right of someone to someone who had clearly been elected to be the president. and so as i wrote this book over nine years that was an important part of the beginning of the book is the the shock of the election of lincoln in 1860 shock among many northerners as well as southerners shock that a person who a year earlier was relatively unknown to all northerners despite the lincoln douglas debates that he had actually managed to win over much more famous rivals for the nomination and then a different kind of shock spreading out
across the south after the news of the election had settled in which was seething anger preparations for war if it came to that and and for secession and really a lot of just incredulity of feeling expressed in newspapers and in correspondence that this could not have happened and if we just pretend that it didn't happen, maybe the whole thing will will go away. and as you describe in lincoln president-elect, there were a lot of people exploring. alternative solutions the son of alexander hamilton is wondering if northern and southern delegations might sort of rethink their electoral votes and and put it into the house of representatives for a new vote. which had happened it had happened in 1824 that the house took over the right to pick the president. and there are plans that seem wacky now but they were really
talked about very seriously about maybe a three-part presidency with the south represented in some new kind of presidency to come and new york city in its mayor. fernando wood is flirting with some kind of non-participation in lincoln's government. that was a model that was known to exist in europe. a lot of the former hanseatic cities of germany like hamburg and bremen with self-governing mechanisms, and and so, you know the wasn't at all certain that the constitution. and the idea of all these states participating in a single government led by a president of the united states. it wasn't at all certain that that would survive the the transition and we're seeing a whole lot of that today. so we're now 11 days after the election. there will be a major demonstration in washington dc
today by trump's supporters who are saying stop the steal. apparently a lot of that is being driven by roger stone who's sentence was recently commuted by president trump. and so there is the same feeling that there are two realities in conflict. there are a whole lot of trump supporters. who do not believe that he lost the election in also believe there are a lot of legitimate ways that he can fight back whether in the courts. it's not going very well for him. or i hope i hope it doesn't come to this but through increasingly belligerent tactics. standing near state capitals on the days that electoral votes are going to be counted and certified. and just sort of standing. aggressively on sidewalks in southern towns western towns much as they were doing in the fall and winter of 1860 and 61
so we don't quite know the end of this story yet. you know, i i was reminded when you save your answer that when i did president-elect. i decided well, of course, we know that there was a threat against the reading of the electoral votes on february 12th. i guess it was. lincoln's birthday. um, he was in columbus, ohio and it been rumored that. they would be a kind of a demonstration from the senate gallery. of course the vice president southerner who had lost the election had to read the results much like al gore did in a right 2000 but i think the advantage of the electors themselves didn't go i like the of electors staying home. not causing a tumble. they they met in their states. as i track the springfield vote where everybody voted for lincoln and then they just sent
i've examined. i don't know if you had a chance to look at this in the national archives, but there are actually envelopes each one is sealed with a wax seal and they're the very ones that breckenridge opened. we must say faithfully read aloud. wow. yeah, i'm so impressed. you've seen them. i i emailed someone at the archives and she sent me an image of ohio. so i've only seen one i'd love to see the seal because yeah, they're all apparently they sent one by mail. this was the system sent one by mail with a wax seal. and sent one with a messenger. but since they were not sure that the messenger would not disappear somewhere. they also mailed them well. there's another analog. i just thought of that. i hadn't thought of. but lincoln who rarely spoke about his personal life and his disappointments and sufferings did mention.
the death of his younger son and the fact that he was buried in springfield when he left springfield. that's right. and and there is something of a comparison to the fact that joe biden has already twice visited the cemetery where oh, that's our bubble is buried. that's a really good observation harold. you know just a quick story. yeah quick story when when sam waterston and i performed a piece called lincoln scene and heard it for president george hw bush in texas years ago. he came backstage afterwards with tears in his eyes, and we asked him we had we did this before several presidents over a period of time. we asked him what moved him the most about the the speeches that waterston had read we thought he would say the gettysburg address or the second inaugural as everyone does variably and he said the the depart the springfield the departure from springfield.
farewell address really we said why and he's began to cry and he said because no one knows what it's like. to leave your home. to become president and leave the grave of your child behind. wow. and that's amazing story harold ted this is as good good a time as any you could have done any number of projects when you started this book and you chose to do this. so what was why did you decide to do it? well part of the answer is a lifelong fascination with lincoln that i'm sure i share with every person on this call oh, and i want to thank my fellow rhode islanders chief. justice frank williams. and ed acorn who wrote a beautiful book about lincoln's second inaugural that i strongly urge everyone to read. he may not technically be a rhode islander he lives about one or two miles over the border
and we're very conscious of borders in rhode island because we have so little land. but anyway, it's nice to be a part of the lincoln community in in, rhode island. so i grew up in rhode island and i read. the kinds of childhood biography for young americans that many of us i suspect devoured fourth fifth grade. and i read a book by a woman named augusta stevenson. it was part of a childhood series of you know for for 10 year olds 12 year olds, and it got me hooked on lincoln at a young age. and like you and tom horrocks i had lincoln paraphernalia on the walls of my room growing growing up, but i never you know, he's intimidating. i never dared to write about him. i did do a couple 19th century books. i was part of a series of short presidential biography and i got martin van buren.
and there is one memorable encounter between van buren and and lincoln in the early 1840s that i described in in my van buren book but then a lot of years went by and i i became a white house speech writer somewhat to my surprise because i was already mainly in academic and and yet i was doing a little bit of freelance journalism. so i was a writer with several different voices. i was always fighting a little bit against my academic voice and and i'm happy to say i think that i i finally with this book was able to tell more of a story unless of an academic history which not everyone wants to do that. but i i did want to do that and it took me a long time to figure out how to do that and the way that happened was the disunion series we were talking about that was the brainchild of a couple young editors at the new
york times who were given some? permission from the senior editors of the paper to explore new content ideas online because back then around 2010 11. the online paper was like the minor leagues it wasn't as important as the printed paper now, it has almost become the opposite. i still get the daily new york times, but most of us get it in our phones and our laptops and we're checking it all all day long. so they got permission to do a history feature and they decided they wanted to do the beginnings of the civil war. it was only scheduled to be six months. it ended up. going for years. they covered the entirety of the war, but in the early months, they just wrote to a couple historians they knew and i happen to know them socially, i'd done a couple op-eds for the times, but they certainly did not write to me for my
distinction as a lincoln person. they did write to you for your distinction as a lincoln person, but i helped them i i helped them find adam goodheart who many of you will know his book? 1861 and he had finished the writing of that book, but it was not yet published. so he was the perfect kind of. lead kind of stalking horse to write a lot of essays in a six-month period from november 2010 to april 2011 covering the time from lincoln's election to fort sumter but 150 years ago and we we began thinking it would be about what happened on this day 150 years ago. that was the conceit. we later got away from that because there were so many good historians who just wanted to write in and what was on their their minds and and there was a kind of flood that began to come in of great writing. and so i i was a little bit
involved as an editor been more involved as a writer. and i in late february began to i'm sorry early february. i began began to follow lincoln's train ride. and that felt great and i'm sure you've had this feeling and many people out there that we do some projects out of a sense of duty and then others just become fun. and this had a feeling of fun from the very beginning. fun and danger i should add because of the assassination plot in in baltimore. so i really put a lot into the writing of my 13 posts and so only 13 days went by and i'd written the backbone of this book and then it took me nine years to finish it. so go figure how i had almost finished it in half a month and then it took me nine years to actually complete it, but writing it online helped keep it loose and flowing. and less didactic than my
earlier academic work. so i think that helped me a lot. it's interesting my old boss in politics mario cuomo was a great advocate for writing outlines before you submitted speeches and you've just told us the way that you constructed an outline even if you did it publicly around which right exactly here you could layered the book so lincoln had been silent for really except for kind of an accidental talk a state fair. he was silent from the cooper union new england tour even managed to get to providence right yeah and until february 11th 1861 really a year of silence and they always said he said gettysburg. we always say this every year when we meet meet he'd like to avoid. saying foolish things. he did not trust himself to speak extemporaneously as great.
jury summarize summarize our we know he was and we know we prepared some speeches in springfield to deliver along the route at state capitals and such but he made a hundred speeches along the route. did he gain confidence in his ability to save just the right few things. how do you account for the the you know the extravagant number of talks that he was willing to do after so many months of saying nothing well, that's one of the great dramas of the book for me. i mean part of it is just looking out the window at america part of it is the sense of encroaching danger as lincoln goes into the seed of danger as baltimore was called and and then washington was also dangerous but then there is this feeling of a personal journey of fair amount of growth for lincoln over only 13 days.
and as you said, he'd hardly spoken at all except for that accidental speech in springfield. when mainly he said he didn't want to speak that was the thrust of his message. and it's great. paradox that this greatest order in american history is silent. throughout his nomination and campaign and then the weeks after. his his victory and his silence was held against him as you know, very well and people thought he was. inarticulate and and kind of small town lawyer with nothing of great interest to say to anyone. but being the punctilious person that he was he's writing out longhand speeches. one per day usually the speech he would give in a state capital and inside the legislature of a
state house. and so those are serious moments where he's speaking to the elected representatives of a state. that was a very important for an incoming president-elect. including for the reason that he might need governors to call up troops if if washington were either attacked or if he needed to raise an army to compel the south to come back into the country but then as soon as the within minutes of leaving springfield after delivering the incredible farewell address it is clear that the minute to minute reality of a train journey requires him to go out all the time and say a few words to people gathered outside of the track either just in you know a crossroads. in farm country. we went through a lot of farm country or in a small town where invariably the largest crowd that had ever assembled in a small town would be there.
requiring a few minutes of a talk or then in a large city like indianapolis or cincinnati or columbus where he really had to give a significant kind of a speech or special as he's going along the ohio river and can see kentucky on the other side. so these are fairly fraught moments of political theater, which he really had to think through and in general he did extremely well there were a couple flubs he had a kind of a flub in indianapolis his first night when he gave a kind of funny but undignified speech about how the south theory of union was like a free love. match between a man who didn't really want to marry a woman. he was sleeping with basically. and then a couple other speeches that didn't hit their mark all that well. boring economic speech in pittsburgh in in the rain but
overwhelmingly he was finding his footing he was funny as he was before juries he could be profound. he often spoke movingly about where he was including looking over the ohio at the south at the state where he was born or seeing veterans gathered. in near cleveland, he's seeing veterans of the war of 1812 and then as he comes closer to philadelphia beginning in trenton, new jersey and then in philadelphia talks with great beauty and grace and historical insight and and some personal memory of his childhood which as you know the small amounts we ever get we cherish because he spoke so little about the person he was as a pretty un-lettered and impoverished youth so at the end of the trip he's talking about what the american revolution meant to him when he
was a childhood reader of history and then giving these beautiful remarks in in and next to independence hall that to me foreshadow what he will say in the same state two years later at gettysburg. point yeah it i agree with you that something about being in the sights of revolution animate him. yeah has before i wish i could say he was equally adroit in albany. he did okay in a hostile place, but the how seriously did you just a quick question how seriously do you take his rumblings about going making a stop in what he called the place of mind nativity which is either amusing or arrogant. i'm not sure which kentucky did he ever really contemplated doing that? you know, i never thought about that until this second, but that's a really precise.
perceptive observation that using the word nativity is kind of a charged word. i think so especially for someone who was so compared to jesus after his after his martyr job. that's that's interesting harold. well, we we have that letter in 1860 where he? expresses his you know, wondering whether he could even go into kentucky for fear of being lynched he did write out long hand. it's in his manuscripts at the library of congress an undelivered speech to kentuckians. very interesting and keep you know he kind of gave some of it in his track side remarks along the ohio in southern indiana and then, southern, ohio. and says allowed what he would say to kentuckyans and he would say to them you are as good as we are. and we would be much the same as
you if in your circumstances and so he's got a good message to the south. it's a message curiously similar to the one joe biden is saying a lot right now, which is i want to be a president for all americans and and just you know respect everybody's rights. so i think by the time the train trip is underway. there's no great expectation. he will go into kentucky including for the fact that as i found in you know, what? well, it's about to say i wasted except i don't think it was a waste but i i dawdled for at least a year of my nine years doing intricate railroad research probably of small interest to lincoln biographers, but i was interested in where the roots actually went and were their options to go into the south and there were very few's hard to get off a northern train and get into the south. well, don't please don't think
that you wasted our time because it all of that stuff was so new to me and vivid so i will have seared in my mind the image of a of a one of lincoln's trains in the dead of winter going downhill with the brakes on on us an leaf strewn track. that was a pretty scary you wrote that so beer was yeah into pittsburgh. yeah. yeah. so, um actually, i think you know, i think his speeches were. the formal speeches and i agree with you. that's the tariff speech is boring. but at least it shows up some of his base along the way that's for sure immigrant and they and they and the big tariff guys and i i think the free love thing was than some people. give acknowledge because people had charged that anti slavery people were also proponents of free love. so they were free love advocates and if you look at the period
cartoons you see women who advocate free love with black people and abolitionists they're all part of a radical loony right so when he turns it on disunionist i think it's a it's kind of oh that's really a good point maybe tax maybe silly and frivolous but i think he was making it was making it was making a point so i'm gonna leave the last 15 minutes to talk about the assassination plot we have a little bit of time before but so ted this is a hard one but i'm gonna ask you to put yourself in lincoln's head for a minute and i'm going to recite a number of goals for the trip that i survise and i want you to know if you agree on whether you would choose one as his principal go tell me if i've left any out of here. so his chief goals on route to washington. getting to washington alive. nipping secession in the bud
winning over northerners who hadn't voted for him principally democrats. introducing himself so people who didn't know him or all of the above or something else that that's pretty comprehensive harold. that's that's very good. might add one. that became extremely important to me and i'm a little embarrassed to talk about it as i think he was but i also think it's important and it's suddenly i would say in the air in 2022. which was sprinkling over his listeners a kind of mystical attachment to the union to the idea of american history as something very special that it happened in human history, and we we also know that lincoln was the first to poke fun at himself. and had a side of him that was
anecdotal and even you know kind of course in certain ways, but there was also something quasi mystical and spiritual in him which seward observed. it was a nice comment. i remember i think seward might have said it to to the addams family where he often went for dinner that there was a kind of spiritual quality or mystical i can't remember the exact word. it's a lincoln's. attachment to the union which may be his greatest attribute and i think alexander stephens said something like that too and you and i have emailed a bit. really interested in their friendship their friendship and rivalry. but lincoln is to further all the goals. you just mentioned including winning over democrats in the north and keeping border states extremely important and i by the
way over the course of writing this book. felt that it was incredibly important that virginia had not yet seceded by the time virginia even more than kentucky and missouri and maryland. it was really important that this state of presidents was still part of the united states when he was inaugurated. at that to further all those goals. to retelling the history and he's a master. retailer and that might be the right word because there were a lot of floating competitive ideas of american history, you know, we're all in the history business. we all retell it all the time and we're seeing a really interesting retelling over the last two years with the 1619 project. and donald trump's attempt to come back with the 1776 commission and for most of us were wondering where we fit in. in this landscape of competing
narratives and lincoln was also putting out a competing narrative and throughout the 1850s the south had. every year minimize the declaration of independence a little bit more as a document. that was no longer convenient to their way of looking at things and lincoln is lifting it up more and more and more even before the lincoln douglas debates and then very much during the debates and then it just keeps coming out and so it's not there at the beginning of this train trip, but it really is there at the end and it's really there at gettysburg. so i think this mystical attachment to the union. which may have been something he developed as a you know, eight year old reading. talking with people out in you know on the front here in southern indiana, but something that was above and beyond a normal grasp of american history in the facts was a love of the
idea of equality expressed in jefferson's second paragraph of the declaration. i love that you also mentioned the retelling aspect of it. he was not. originating the story because when people came to him during his presidency and asked things like mr. president, how do you how do you write all these amazing? stories and jokes, and he said well, i'm not i'm not a humorist. i'm a retailer of other people's. oh, that's great. so he was a retailer of the union story and admittedly humor and reverence for the union will sort of part of his complex. character right but sustained him, you know you mentioned early and i you know, we don't we don't dwell on on current events at the forum. although we have to acknowledge the reality and you mentioned. the demonstrations that will be occurring today to give a contrary view or to suggest the contrary view to the election results. um, mean contrary to reality.
but abraham lincoln had to contend with something quite different. so during his inaugural journey. there was a counter inaugural journey by jefferson davis. and do we have any record of whether he i mean you've poured through all of the newspapers much more than i ever did small town papers and such. are there references in northern papers about this? other inaugural journey yes, there are. what i really wanted to get i i failed to get which were the words of speeches jefferson davis was giving it's really hard to get those. yeah, but the the telegraph was sending the reports that you know, he's he's in northern alabama tonight. or he's going to be in atlanta tomorrow night. so they knew where he was and they did get the words of his inaugural address in in montgomery. but yeah, i was fascinated by
that that story you have it in lincoln president-elect two, but even the nature of that train trip was interesting and and revealed. to my way of looking at it a lot of the bankruptcy of the confederacy that you know i don't want to offend any trump admirers on this call, but it resembled the situation in some ways resembles the situation now that they were. much clearer on their right to govern then they were on their actual governing. they weren't that interested in governing. they were very focused on their right to govern. and so davis to get from well, he lives. on a plantation on the mississippi near louisiana, mississippi boundary has to get to to well first of vicksburg then jackson. from jackson to montgomery is
not very far but to do that he can't do it because there's no train that goes between those two so he's got to go in this wild roundabout route. up to memphis, which is still in tennessee, which is still in the united states of america across, tennessee and then down into georgia and it's slow and uncomfortable and it just to me brought out the the great difficulty the confederacy would have and actually working out a government and an economy that served its people in any any way so he lincoln knows where davis's is and and so to answer your question. yes. northerners are aware, but davis's words are i mean there are there as difficult for northern readers then to get as they are now and when i was talking about lincoln retelling american history davis had a better. point of purchase onto america is his family and his wife's
family had served in the american revolution with much more distinction than lincoln's but somehow lincoln out foxed him and claimed the american revolution which davis never never did and it might have helped his cause if he had that's really good point that davis did not do that. i've seen a couple of speeches of his they're very angry and belligerent. they're about southern right and i couldn't agree with you more that any idea that a southern military with all of the talent that it had from west point that you know remained or became loyal to the confederacy. they should have known abraham lincoln. is taking an oriole journey that goes sort of like this and then this and davis is going like this this and this exactly never going to be able to move supplies by rail exactly. they should have figured that out. but it really interesting the confederate government of course used george washington on the seal of the confederate states
of america. and as james mcpherson has pointed out there. there are illusions to the fact that they're rebellion is as sacred as the american revolution, but lincoln crystallized the thoughts better, right? that's a great point. so we do we need to spend the last 15 minutes of our discussion. i'm sure they'll be there will be questions about this as well on. the assassination plot because so much of your book is wrapped around the the constant threat and you talk about more near misses than i ever knew about. i mean a something exploding and shattering windows at a train station innocuous accidents that must have brought terror to the family when they happen, but i think you're one of your major contributions with this book is that historians have tried for a long time to figure out when the news of a baltimore plot reached lincoln and how credibly and i
did know better than to trace it to to philadelphia on february 21st with perhaps some some leaks to lincoln about it when he was in new york city. but you have done of just a fabulous job of identifying new sources for the story. so i just want you to go through your discoveries here and and telling everyone about how this the threat was really with lincoln almost from the time. he left springfield. well, thank you harold. you know again your book was the springboard for so much of this for me. i also got a lot from a strange book that you know very well that we've talked about which is victor searchers 1960 book lincoln's journey to greatness, which is on the same topic as my book, right? but it's it's strange. it has no footnotes. and so you don't know where he got anything and that's that's
frustrating. and he was i think i don't know very much about him. he was a kind of pr man in new york. i i think yeah. well the some of the best lincoln scholars are prnn from new york. yeah. that's funny. well lincoln was a pretty good pr man for himself in a lot of ways too. so but it's it's a wonderful book too. so, i mean i had frustrations and not knowing where he got things but some of those stories about bombs going off. in or near the train i got probably from victor searcher the first time. but then i was able to corroborate it some with deep reading of newspapers which thank you for noticing that and and i just want to pause for a second to say very specifically where i did most of that work and it was in this incredible database. called chronicling america i'm sure many of the lincoln historians on this called know
it but if you don't it's a database co-hosted by the library of congress and the national endowment for the humanities and michelle crowell is is the great keeper of the lincoln manuscripts at the library of congress and and was on the prize jury, and i've always grateful to her. before during and after i actually worked at the library of congress. but with that database you can it takes a little time to get to know how to search through it and you have to search by state and by year and once you have figured that out you get this incredible cornucopia of local newspapers. and so by getting closer to the train and looking in the cincinnati papers, i found the story of a kind of grenade that was left in a car that lincoln was going into and in the ohio papers, although actually, there's still a little bit of
doubt about which small town in, ohio. the incident happened where the glass was shattered by the exploding of guns and artillery near the train that the class fell on mary todd lincoln even having access to those newspapers. sometimes they contradict each other and another incident in upstate, new york where guns were fired off and welcome way too close to the train. so even the people welcoming lincoln were sometimes causing him a lot of danger. so on the subject of finding the the first warnings of baltimore you've identified a new source, obviously a woman. so there were what was known as you know as the the various writings of alan pinkerton who? and he's a little confusing too. i must say because he he told
this story many times there are the original notebooks that he was keeping as he was brought in to to protect lincoln not unlike the secret service, but he actually worked for a railroad. not not the government and then he retold the story several times later in his life. um, it gets confusing also because ward lemon and i'm grateful to you harold for telling me how to pronounce his name ward lammon didn't like alan pinkerton and they contradict each other a few times. but and lincoln is part of the difficulty of knowing what really happened because he minimized the assassination plot later. he hardly ever talked about it, but when he did he sort of soft pedaled it. probably because of lingering embarrassment over having to go all night. and the rumor false that he was in disguise, but where i found some really interesting source
material was in the writings of a man named samuel felton who was from massachusetts but lived in philadelphia. he was the president of an important railroad the philadelphia wilmington in baltimore, which basically joe biden's home turf it was the the train line from wilmington from philadelphia through wilmington in baltimore to washington. so the last stretch of the root lincoln was going to be on and he was approached by a woman and i was really happy to find two very interesting women in in this story and she was dorothea dix mental health advocate. who despite? restrictions common to her gender. she was a very effective political reformer traveling in southern states as well as northern. throughout the 1850s advocating for the rights for the mentally ill and coming up through the south in the fall of 1860.
she including, south carolina. somewhere she picked up hard intelligence of the plot to kill lincoln and it was it was detailed. it was about train bridges coming into baltimore or possibly the the way you transferred from one station in baltimore that took the trains from philadelphia into the that was the president street station into the camden street station, which is very near the baltimore orioles stadium. that's where you caught the train to washington in that transfer between train stations. if they didn't get him on one of the bridges coming into baltimore they were going to get them when he was in a horse and carriage going slowly through a crowd and she went to the president of this railroad samuel felton who later wrote down in his he wrote a written account of it that are in his papers in philadelphia that this woman dorothy addicts had a better information about the
threat against lincoln than anyone in washington dc or in any elected political office and he was always grateful to her so because of this intelligence he sent out for pinkerton who came from chicago they talked about what to do pinkerton brought eight detectives with him including another woman a fascinating very effective spy basically named kate worn or warnee. i'm not sure how to pronounce her name who was his most effective agent and they they got all the information by going through baltimore restaurants and bars bars pretending to be southerners. and they were able to warn lincoln and his entourage while they were on route at the same time that william seward and winfield scott are separately getting a lot of the same information and also warning lincoln. so yeah, the dark the dorothy addicts you you got to read the the papers of the railroad magnet, which is really great
research and i have no clue dorothy. --'s was in it. we know about kate warren because she's a she appears i think under a different name in the movie the tall target for those that's seen that movie. it's quite a good movie. i really bad if you like if you like the rough edge -- powell image. it's right. it's good. um, it's not a great lincoln at the very end, but it's it's no but was the plot this is i i hope john jonathan white is ready soon to come in with questions because there are so many stacked up that i don't want to take more time if we can spend. the next 20 minutes instead of 15 on questions, that would be great. but so my question is mike. i hope my final question if we can get john in is how serious was the plot i mean what was was
it a real assassination plot or a bunch of of rumors because i've always i mean the one thing that i think mitigates against seriousness is that while lincoln leaves harrisburg and makes his way overnight. he allows the presidential special. to come through baltimore as scheduled with his wife and sons in the car right and people pound if you read the newspaper accounts people are pounding on the railroad car. in you know anger so he left his family pretty exposed there true. it's true and it's a good question it's a fair question including like i just said the lincoln soft pedaled it in some ways afterwards but i still find the evidence more persuasive than not so the best of the evidence is alan pinkerton's. various tellings of the story
and he was really involved he was there in baltimore as a gatherer of the intelligence that led to the decision to send lincoln through in the middle of the night, then he's with lincoln in that dark commuter train. it's just him and and lemon going through with lincoln in the middle of the night. so i doubt pinkerton who is a reputable person in many ways later in his life would. fabricate the evidence even even if he wants to sell books. i don't think he would just lie outright about the plot. but especially dorothy dix's role who you know. she's an upright person. she did not talk about it herself, but felton is a very reputable. transcriber of the conversation he had with dorothea dix and it's right there. it's in the historical society of pennsylvania. so and there were like as you
know harold there were so many warnings including letters coming in many from baltimore. i mean of quite a few warning him of the danger. he was about to go through and a couple came from military officers in the us arm and he asked them to come on the train with him. so the same people who were warning him before the journey began he invites onto the train which makes me think they're warnings were credible and then a lot of citizens in baltimore were writing to him saying you cannot. come through town you have you have to come into skies or in the middle of the night? your point about well letting his wife and children come through the next day. it's a really good point. how could he in good conscience expose them to the same danger. all i can say is maybe our ideas about protecting women and children. we're so different than that. he didn't think anyone would
hurt them, but it's not the greatest answer but one last point is when i read, martin johnson's book writing the the gettysburg address, which i enjoyed a lot. he describes lincoln's train trip through baltimore. heading to gettysburg. and once again, it was pretty dicey that there were thugs climbing onto the side of the car trying to get at lincoln and only with bayonet. could the soldiers get those guys off the train. so baltimore stayed really tough and as you know it was it was violent when the massachusetts troops came through in april 1861. what's some of an inexplicable all of it a little bit frightening? so yeah, yeah, i see. jonathan white is on i'm going to sign off for a bit and come back. i thank you ted. thank you harold conversation. yeah, i really enjoy another couple of hours, but i know we have one and jonathan has i see
a lot of questions stacked up here. so i'm going to turn it over to him. thank you harold. thank you ted. that was wonderful. what conversation great way to start off our forum today. we've got a lot of questions in the q&a. i'll start with one from brian steinbergen and he asked how many of the places along the route were you able to visit during the process of writing the book. a great question i have a pretty disappointing answer which is only a handful i i still mean to go i mean i had a fantasy that my author tore would take me to some of those places and then all of my bookstore visits were wiped out by the pandemic. i've done zero but through the magic of zoom. i picked up. a lot of them i went to springfield. i've been once in my life probably around 2012. it was magical. i'd love to go back. i went into the the library, but i i need to go back even even
though the book is out. i i have a strong desire to go back. i've been to cleveland and pittsburgh and philadelphia for separate reasons. i've been to those. places i went to cleveland. i am a rail buff. so i once took a train to cleveland. i went all the way to chicago but through cleveland. and new york i i now live live in new york and i've i grew up in providence so i've done the last stretch from new york to washington hundreds and probably thousands of times but i need to go in a car. i'm a parent of a son in his young twenties and i need to if i can. persuade my son to go with me. i need to get to springfield and in a car go through those small towns in illinois and indiana and southern ohio and the outskirts of pittsburgh and then up to cleveland and then slowly across upstate new york, and i i
want to take like six weeks and really do it right, but i have not done it as as well as i i would like to sure. a question from mel maurer he asks whose idea was it for lincoln to take the journey to washington in this way. well, he had to get there somehow and trains were already established as the best way to go from. west to east and he had been on trains many times including a year earlier to do the cooper union speech and the new england states afterwards. so it was also almost certainly going to be a train trip, but the route was a little bit up in the air and as the planning came together. in january of 1861 it it seems that sewered and his political ally thurlow thurlow weed of new york state. we're very involved and and they
probably found. the the railroad guy they found to create the sort of create the root and and deal with the people in every station and clear the root of trains and that was a guy named william wood who later appeared to be a pretty dangerous member of lincoln's entourage he was bribe he later was bribing mary todd lincoln with expensive gifts and seeking favors and may have been in cahoots with people who wanted to harm lincoln. so even with all seward and weeds preparation. they found a guy who was kind of suspicious. yeah. this is a follow sort of a follow-up question that comes from mark kevitt, and he said he prefaced his question by saying he really enjoyed the book. and he asked who within lincoln circle and this might be wood or others was responsible for the logistics and the planning of the trip things like changing trains or arranging meals or speaking at the different state
legislatures, but that's a great question. that's the kind of thing. i i don't again. i don't want to use the word waste but i slowed down and say got into the minutiae of train travel in 1861. and fortunately there are a lot of great. books and manuscripts that have been preserved in libraries because the train was such an exciting thing to americans in the middle of the 19th century and and i believe it was exciting to lincoln himself. i think would the guy i just mentioned is the simplest and best answer so his job. he had railroad experience his job was to right ahead through letters and telegrams to make sure they were ready for the presidential special and to let everyone know where exactly it was also to deal with media so media are on the train in a way not unlike air force one and they're in the back president-elect is up in the front with his family.
it's exactly like air force one. but there are other local actors who are very interesting. so in pittsburgh, you have a gaggle of railroad executives who are just amazing movers and shakers and there's a guy named thomas scott. who's young man, but very high up with the pennsylvania railroad and then has recognized the talents in an even younger young man andrew carnegie. who is first a kind of teenage telegraph? wonderkinned he's the fastest telegraph operator thomas edison by the way also was a streamly fast telegraph operator and then carnegie it's promoted over and over again by scott to be a kind of manager of the pen, pennsylvania and those guys follow lincoln into washington and become really important in managing. the north's railroad supremacy,
which is very much a factor in the north's ultimate winning of the civil war. yeah this question comes from pete rad, and he asks did lincoln discuss or even mention slavery in any of the speeches he gave along the way and if so, what did he say? and if not, why didn't he? great question. i mean he is. writing the first inaugural en route he has completed his first draft and set it in type in springfield, but he's he's still adjusting it. and orville browning. his illinois friend is is with him on the first day of the trip and offers an important single word change which herald describes in lincoln president-elect, and i also mentioned it's a kind of a change of a verb to be more conciliatory toward toward the
south and when he's addressing southern audiences i mentioned that and in southern indiana and then in cincinnati he sort of talks aloud to the south he's saying things like we we are like you we respect you we would act as you are doing which. convey that he will not do anything to touch slavery where it exists in the southern states that are not territories that are actual states. and that is his message in his first inaugural address. so a short answer is he he's not really talking about it in most of his northern stops on the route, but when he's near the south he gives these little verbal hints that he will not touch it where it exists, but he is also resisting the attempts that are coming into him privately through his correspondence or through word of mouth that if he just agrees
to this compromise or this or this other one that somehow the crisis will go away and he isn't agreeing to those compromises. so in that important way he's rejecting the idea that so many other northern presidents agreed to that. somehow a last-minute compromise will allow slavery to spread out into the into the west and that that is the rock upon which he will not compromise at all. and and that's the rock upon which the the civil war begins. that's right. i'm gonna combine two questions here. bonnie asks how much time lincoln had for self-contemplation during this journey and then angela asks what you think was sort of the biggest impact this trip had on lincoln. not much time for contemplation. it was a harrowing journey. it was physically and mentally grueling and i came away amazed
that he could formulate his thoughts as well as he did delivering those beautiful speeches in trenton, new jersey and philadelphia at the very end and a very nice one in harrisburg, pennsylvania after philadelphia. so is his hand his arm ached. he lost his voice over and over again including halfway through the trip and miraculously it came back, but he was in a kind of physical agony especially in his hand and arm from shaking tens of thousands of of hands. but he did it, you know, he stood up and did it over and over again and that was something i was very moved by is his physical courage and his mental courage and he just showed up for every difficult job. that was expected of him the humble jobs of standing outside. an assembly room in a state house letting 2,000 people come
through in all have a piece of him. including a possible. assassin but then even with no time to write speeches. he's he's saying things ever more beautifully and that i don't know how he did that, but i imagine falling asleep at night. is going through the thoughts in his mind and he did fall asleep the last second to last night of the trip near independence hall so i'm sure he was thinking about the declaration of what it meant to him and then he shows up that dawn the next morning and says there's i've never had a political sentiment that did not originate with. the words that were written here and it's very beautiful. so, i'm sorry. can you repeat the second part of the question? what part of the trip had the greatest impact on lincoln? well, i think seeing all those faces looking up to him for leadership. gave him inspiration the way it
must for every person including. donald trump including the 45th president. there's something about the the size of the job and the size of the population of the united states that fills you with a fair amount of awe and reference and you do get the feeling of lincoln growing into the job that he's he's from springfield, illinois very much. so as he steps onto the train, and he is thinking about the totality of american history by the time he arrives in. in washington, so i think just as american saw him and were comforted and over and over again. people said in in their course correspondence or in their newspaper articles, he's not as homely as i thought and he spoke better than i him to so. seeing all those tens and
hundreds of thousands of people built him some political capital which he really needed because he has less than 40% of the vote. right, but also, i think it fills him with a sense that yes, i am the heir to washington. and to jefferson and to jackson, he's reading jackson as he's composing his first inaugural address. washington more than the others he mentions washington a lot he mentioned him in the farewell address at springfield and then over and over again. and so i think he had a growing consciousness that he had to. continue to be the captain of a ship. he talks about the ship of state also, and i wondered a few times if the the train he's on has become literally the ship of state but he's he's the captain of a vessel much as george washington had been both as a revolutionary commander and then as the first president, so seeing those hundreds of
thousands and really millions by the time the trip is done. i think filled him up with the job just as they were comforted by by seeing him. right, we have so many more great questions, but we only have about three minutes. so i think we can only ask about one more. js writes this in brad meltzer's fictional account of the conspiracy to harm lincoln in baltimore. he writes that kate warren wrote in the train car with lincoln and that he was disguised as her sickly brother. is there any truth in that and then dave wegers asks about where the story of the disguise comes from? so can you talk for just two or three minutes about that? yeah, and if you didn't get i want to just say to all the members of this wonderful organization. and and especially to frank and to herald if any of you want to email me after the fact happy to try to answer questions by email. i have one email at cuny which you can find online and i still
have an email at brown university where i used to work, which is just ted underscore widmer at brown.edu. so i'll try that way but um, i don't remember in the facts that he was disguised as her sickly brother that is in the movie that harold mentioned an early 1950s movie called the tall target that i liked a lot. so there's a kate warren like figure who talks about her sick relative. and that becomes you don't really even see him for most of the movie. it's a sort of shadow in the background, but in in the sources that i consulted that are largely at the huntington library, but published in a book called lincoln and the baltimore plot there was no reference of a sick. i want to be precise not it wasn't as specific as that the
the train was held up at philadelphia at the last minute because what was called an important package had to be given to the conductor of the train very important for delivery in washington, and that was a pile a package of meaningless paper. and as that package was being handed to the conductor in philadelphia at a station that no longer exists but in downtown philadelphia lincoln was climbing into the back of the train were a door was open kate warren had gotten onto the train and had reserved a birth by bribing a conductor and she might have said something about an invalid relative there so i want to amend what i said earlier i think she did say something there but the main excuse they gave to the railroad was the delivery of a package and that was a bogus excuse just so lincoln could climb into the back well, thank you so much ted. this has been a wonderful
conversation between you and harold. i want to remind all of our viewers that you can order ted's book lincoln on the verge and you can also order harold's book the president's versus the press from the gettysburg heritage center and we have created a very special book plate for the 25th anniversary of the lincoln forum symposium, that will be signed by the author. there is a link to the gettysburg heritage center in the chat box that you can click on it'll take you right to the store or you can my