“The plot my agents have uncovered,” detective Allan Pinkerton explained, by that time speaking directly to Mr. Lincoln, “involves the police and Police Marshal, George Kane. Marshal Kane has agreed to send only a small detail to guard you, sir, when your train arrives. The radicals are planning a diversionary disturbance. All of Kane’s policemen will investigate the disturbance, purposely leaving you totally unguarded. At that point, the radicals will attack you.”
Mr. Pinkerton continued, wiping the perspiration from his brow with a handkerchief. “My agents report that the rebels are willing to give their lives, if necessary, to keep you, sir, from becoming president. Captain Fernandina, one of the lead conspirators, has boldly told my men ‘Lincoln shall never, ever be president. My life is of no consequence. I am willing to give it for his. I will sell my life for that of the abolitionist.’”
“Another conspirator told my undercover agent, ‘I will kill Lincoln before he reaches the Washington depot; not that I love Lincoln less, but my country more. I am ready to do the deed, and then I will proudly announce my name, and say ‘gentlemen, arrest me, I am the man.’ And then I will be called one that gave his country liberty."
“Conspirators,” Mr. Pinkerton explained, “working with the Baltimore group, have been monitoring this train, and sending telegrams as to whether the train is on time at each stop. For the most part, the train is following the published schedule. The rebels are using ciphers to communicate without the telegraph operators knowing what they are doing.”
“The plot,” the detective told us, “also involves a swift steam boat and crew, hired for the assassin and waiting in the nearby Chesapeake Bay, to facilitate the killer's escape. The boat will convey the killer to a southern port where he will be treated as a hero.”
“In the final meeting, just last week,” detective Pinkerton reported, “twenty conspirators met in a dark room. The men pulled ballots from a hat. It was determined that the man who pulled the red ballot would be designated as the killer. The conspirators were sworn to secrecy to not reveal what color ballot they had drawn. My agents learned that in order to insure that the deed would be done and the assassin wouldn't lose his nerve at the last minute, eight red ballots were placed in the hat. Each man who drew a red ballot thought that he alone was chosen to kill Mr. Lincoln. This insured them Mr. Lincoln would be killed even if one or two of the assassins missed or lost his nerve. The choice of deadly weapon was left solely up to each assassin.”
Mr. Pinkerton paused, to let the news sink in. No one spoke. In fact, I don’t think anyone was even breathing at that point. We were all stunned.
“You must change your plans, Mr. Lincoln,” Mr. Pinkerton insisted. “You cannot go into Baltimore at the time that has been published.” Mr. Pinkerton’s face grew redder and redder as he built up to the crescendo of delivering the “doom and gloom” of his message. Looking directly at Mr. Lincoln he finally said, “Sir, you have no choice.”
While Mr. Lincoln thought about what the detective had said, I signaled for Mr. Pinkerton to come out into the hallway. He followed me out of the room.
Pinkerton’s information, along with the report I had received earlier from Colonel Sumner, both gathered independently, had convinced me that something was amiss in Baltimore. I needed to let him know what other information I had.
“Colonel Sumner and General Winfield Scott have also come up with information of a sinister plot involving Mr. Lincoln’s safety as the train approaches Baltimore,” I informed him. The detective, who seemed not too interested in whatever I had to say, tapped his finger on the window ledge he was leaning on as I continued. “I will try to convince Mr. Lincoln that we need to change our plans. But, Mr. Pinkerton, I must tell you. As a man who knows Mr. Lincoln better than most anyone, he is very unlikely to be persuaded to accept any change in plans. His schedule allows him to be seen by anyone who wants to. He is adamant about not disappointing the people. And he is not trusting of anyone who he does not know. That means he certainly does not believe you.”
“Listen mister,” he shouted, moving toward me and shaking his fist at me. “Don’t think for a minute you have any say in this matter. You’re just a thug who is riding on the president’s coat tails. I am the professional here — and don’t you forget it.”
My ire was rising by the minute, as this so-called detective got a little too close for my comfort. “Back off, Pinkerton,” I insisted, pulling my six foot two frame to its highest extensions and dwarfing him. I puffed out my chest for good measure. I let my coat fall open so he could see my Colt 44 pistols. I cocked my fist and aimed squarely at his face. He backed off.
“You could be fabricating this whole story to make a name for yourself and to insure that your detective service gets more business in the future,” I continued. “But I don’t have time to check you out. I am in a position that I have to believe you. And I don’t like to be in a position, ever, where I have no choice. We will alter the plan — but it will be my plan and Mr. Lincoln’s plan — not your plan, Mr. Pinkerton! If you value your face, you will march back into the room and follow my lead.” And with that I walked back into the room with Mr. Pinkerton following behind like a little puppy who had just been spanked.
Mr. Pinkerton spoke directly to Mr. Lincoln again, urging him to change the route of the train or its schedule. The detective further argued that no one outside the room be told of the plan in Baltimore, as he did not trust it to be shared with anyone else.
Mr. Lincoln asked “What would the nation think of its President if I missed a scheduled visit to Baltimore?” But then he held up his hand, not allowing anyone to answer the question.