Evading Baltimore assassins earned vitriol, and the chance to fight another day.
By Geoff Brown (U.S.News & World Report, 2/26/2009)
When president-elect Barack Obama walked down the steps of Baltimore’s War Memorial on Jan. 17, 2009, to deliver a speech to a crowd of tens of thousands of cheering supporters, he achieved a remarkable feat that another president-elect, Abraham Lincoln, had been unable to manage 148 years earlier: Obama could show his face in Baltimore.
What kept the newly-elected Lincoln from speaking during his February 1861 trip to the city was hatred and fear: hatred of his political party (he was the first GOP president), his Northern leanings, and his antislavery views, and fear that he would be assassinated before he had even taken office.
Lincoln had become an instantly divisive figure following his election in 1860; his opinion ratings in the Southern states probably hovered between “I hope he gets tuberculosis” and “I’ll kill him myself.” As vicious as the criticism of the executive office has been for the past decade, the words of today’s pundits and talking heads are mewls compared to the calls for rebellion, secession, and even assassination that greeted the new President Lincoln.
Such was the state of the union that Lincoln traveled, by train, in February 1861, heading to Washington, D.C., for his March 4 inauguration (the Civil War would begin one month later, on April 12). Still, in the North, Lincoln had plenty of fans. Huge crowds had greeted the president-elect’s train in places like Buffalo, the excited throng even injuring a member of Lincoln’s meager corps of bodyguards. (There was no Secret Service at the time: Why would such a thing be needed? No one had ever attempted to kill an American president.)
Yet as the Lincoln Special wound its way toward Baltimore, concerns about safety began to grow, based in part on the city’s Southern sympathies and the vagaries of the U.S. railway system of the mid-19th century. Baltimore, one of the nation’s largest cities at the time, was utterly unreceptive to the incoming president (neither the mayor nor Maryland’s governor ever extended an invitation to Lincoln to visit the city). Talk of Lincoln “not leaving Baltimore alive” was not uncommon.
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