by Frederick Hatch
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Pp. vi, 200.
Illus., appends., notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 978-0-7864-6362-6
Lincoln’s assassination has attracted extensive attention from historians, novelists, and even pundits, but the broader subject of threats to and the security of, the 16th President has been a neglected topic, until now.
In Protecting President Lincoln, former justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Frederick Hatch, an “amateur” Lincoln historian of considerable note, gives us a look at various threats against the president from the time he first became a national political figure, in the mid-1850s, until his murder in April of 1865. In the past, most of the reported plots have been dismissed as overreaction by the president’s friends to rumors or overreaction to bloviation by Confederate sympathizers. A good example is the plot to kill Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore en route to his, inauguration in1861. Hatch marshals convincing evidence that not only was the Baltimore plot real, but that there were in fact a number of conspiracies to kill the president, and reminds us of a very underreported incident in which Lincln was definitely shot at while riding through Washington.
Hatch also examines the president’s security arrangements, which at the time were thought onerous or inappropriate for a democratic leader, but are now seen a extremely inadequate. In addition, there are useful looks at the presidential "security team", notably the famous detective the people who managed Allan Pinkerton and Lincoln's friend William Hill Lamon, as well as many of the plotters, most famously John Wilkes Booth.
Compiling the evidence on which Hatch based this work was not easy. Documentation is fragmentary. Much seems to have been destroyed by time, accident, or carelessness, and some deliberately, even by Lincoln himself, who usually dismissed threats. Nevertheless, Hatch amasses enough evidence to demonstrate that there were several serious plots against Lincoln, culminating, of course, in the successful attempt to kill him at the end of the war.
Although while Hatch’s treatment is necessarily spotty due to the fragmentary evidence, and he occasionally digresses, such as when he discusses the health problems of Lincoln and his family, he has produced a book of great value to anyone interested in the death of Lincoln and in the evolution of presidential security.