George Washington

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155 Years Ago: Tuesday, February 19, 1861

In Baltimore, Maryland, representatives from each county have gathered for a second day of discussing the possibility of secession. In the end, they fall short of planning any action. The final recommendation is that if Virginia secedes, then Maryland should follow.

Pinkerton detective Harry Davies is officially invited to join his new Southern friend Otis Hillard in the meeting of “Southern patriots,” led by Cypriano Ferrandini. In return, Davies must swear an oath of loyalty, which he agrees to. That evening, Hillard takes Davies to the home of one of the members. They are taken into a large drawing room, where twenty men are waiting. Ferrandini is dressed in black from head to toe, and leads Davies in swearing an oath to the cause of Southern freedom.

As the men discuss plans for Lincoln’s stop in Baltimore, Ferrandini draws a long, curved blade from beneath his coat and brandishes it high above his head. “Gentlemen, this hireling Lincoln shall never, never be President!” The men roar in approval. As the cheers subside, Ferrandini asks his followers: “Who shall assume the task of liberating the nation of the foul presence of the abolitionist leader?”

Paper ballots have been placed into a wooden chest on a table in front of Ferrandini. One ballot is marked in red to designate the assassin. The room is darkened, so that no one except the person who draws the marked ballot knows who the chosen one is. Everyone pledges to secrecy. Ferrandini tells his followers that the identity of the “honored patriot” will be protected until the last possible instant.

When Davies and Hillard leave the meeting, Davies confides in Hillard that his own paper is blank, and he feigns disappointment. Davies expresses concern that whoever did have the marked ballot will lose his nerve. Hillard explains that a safeguard has been put in place: Ferrandini had anticipated this possibility, and had put in not one, but eight, red marked ballots. This way, even if one or two men choose not to act, at least one of the others will be certain to strike the fatal blow.

After parting with Hillard for the evening, Davies immediately goes to detective Allan Pinkerton’s office and gives his account of the evening’s activities. After careful surveillance these past few weeks, Pinkerton declares that “My time for action has now arrived.”

The man Pinkerton is determined to protect, U.S. President-elect Abraham Lincoln, makes his way by train from Albany to New York City, New York. It is another day of multiple train stops, short speeches, greetings, and other events. He and his family will spend the night in the Astor House. It is next door to St. Paul’s Church, where George Washington attended service after he was sworn in as the first President of the United States.

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