The Hour of Peril

There is an abundance of books about Abraham Lincoln this year, both fiction and non-fiction, to take your pick from. Most rehash the same events of Lincoln's life. The Hour of Peril by Daniel Stashower deals with the time when Lincoln leaves Springfield, Illinois to travel to Washington D.C for his inauguration. But the book is really about Alan Pinkerton, the founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and the plot to murder Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore on his way to Washington.

Born in 1819, Pinkerton was a hard working man from Glasgow. He was connected with the "Chartists" a working class labor movement seeking equitable pay and democratic reforms for the working man. During one of the protests, the group was met by a contingent of police men who used force to end the demonstration. People were killed and Pinkerton fled, hoping to survive to protest another day. This is interesting because later in his life, Pinkerton was known as a strike-breaker. Pinkerton was aggressive and had a hot temper, traits that he exhibited his entire life. Pinkerton married a bar singer and moved to America. She was 15 at the time and there was a bounty on him from the demonstration.

By 1847 Pinkerton was living in Dundee, Illinois and working as a cooper. He was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown and his house was a stop on the underground railroad. His first detective experience was finding a group of counterfeiters who had descended on the town. Because of this success he was asked to help out with other investigations for the town. A new career was born.

Within a few years Pinkerton had moved to Chicago as the deputy sheriff and then within a year he was appointed the city's first detective. His reputation was that he could not be bought and he had a very strict personal code of ethics. The criminals loathed him and he survived a shooting. While working for the US postal service, Pinkerton developed his undercover techniques. He would change his looks by altering his hair or growing a beard and he would insinuate himself into the very criminal element he was investigating. At this time no FBI or Secret Service existed.

Pinkerton knew Lincoln from the time he and Lincoln both worked for the railroad. Once Lincoln was elected, Pinkerton became concerned that all the hostile talk and press would turn into real violence against Lincoln. Tensions were high in the southern states and several had already declared their intention to secede. He was right, there were plans being discussed in Baltimore to murder Lincoln as he passed through the city. As the information was being collected (by different individuals and agencies) it became clear that the threat was real and changes to the schedule would have to be made. Lincoln was already in progress toward Washington on a train.

This book was very interesting. While there are numerous books about Lincoln's assassination, this is the first on I've read on the plot to kill him before the inauguration. The book is mostly about Pinkerton with Lincoln as  a side character. Pinkerton was an very interesting man and the book brings all that out. There are some "fun" facts in the book as well: the term "private eye" comes from Pinkerton's business card. It had a single eye on it with the slogan "We never sleep." I recommend this book.

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