The Life, Public Services and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln

By Henry J. Raymond

Letters on Sundry Occasions

Warnings Against Assassination

ALLUSION is made in the preceding pages to warnings which reached  the Government at various times, of plots on foot against the lives of  the President and other eminent officials. In reply to a letter of this  kind from Hon. John Bigelow, then American Consul at Paris, Mr.  Seward, the Secretary of State, wrote as follows:--


* * * There is no doubt that, from a period anterior to the  breaking out of the insurrection, plots and conspiracies for the purposes  of assassination have been frequently formed and organized, and it is not  unlikely that such a one as has been reported to you is now in agitation  among the insurgents. If it be so, it need furnish no ground for anxiety.  Assassination is not an American practice or habit, and one so vicious  and so desperate cannot be engrafted into our political system. This  conviction of mine has steadily gained strength since the civil war begun.  Every day's experience confirms it. The President during the heated  season occupies a country house near the Soldiers' Home, two or three  miles from the city. He goes to and from that place on horseback night  and morning unguarded. I go there unattended at all hours, by daylight  and moonlight, by starlight, and without any light.

At a later date, very soon, indeed, before the assassination of the  President and the horrible attempt upon his own life, Mr. Seward received the following communication from our consul in London. It was  upon the strength of these letters that the consultation was held to  which allusion is made in the preceding page:--


MY DEAR SIR:--I herewith enclose for your perusal two private letters  received this week from "B," my secret agent in France. On receiving  the first, dated March 12th, I immediately wrote to him for a more full  statement of all he knew about its contents. I stated to him that the  story seemed very improbable; that if they intended to resort to such  diabolical modes of warfare, they could find instruments enough near  at hand to serve them in such a capacity, and have their work done or  attempted more speedily than it could be by sending assassins from  Europe; that the assassins would be sure to forfeit their own lives, &c.  At the same time I could not shut out from my mind the idea that the  starving of our prisoners, shooting and torturing them, the hotel burnings, the piracies, the hanging of Union men in the insurgent States, the  murdering of prisoners of war in cold blood after surrendering, and  their manifold acts of cruelty, rendered the purposes named not only  probable, but in harmony with their character and acts. My letter  brought the further explanation contained in the second letter of the 14th  inst. You perceive the statement of B. rests on the declaration of -----,  or a man who now goes by that name. He is a business agent of the rebels,  and has the confidence of the leaders to as great an extent perhaps as  any one employed by them, or any one under their direction. He  travel's most of the time from place to place, giving directions and super intending the purchase and shipment of war material. B. has travelled  much with him, and seems to have his entire confidence. I do not think  ----- would make such a revelation to B. unless he believed it well  founded. If they are to come out openly as professional assassins,  it is not at all probable that the distinguished persons named are the  only ones selected for their vengeance, or that our Chief Magistrate, or  General Grant, are left out of their rôle. The dangers they see to them  in the calm forbearance, the inflexible justice and firm determination of  President Lincoln, will not be overlooked by them.

According to my request, a full description of the man calling himself  Clark is given in the second letter. Johnston is unknown to "B." If  Clark has really set forth on such a mission, he will probably attempt to  make his way into Sherman's camp as a private soldier, and attempt the  deed during an engagement when Sherman is under fire.

Whether there is any actual foundation for what is set forth in the  letters or not, I think it not my duty to withhold them, for fear it may be  only another added to the thousand false rumors which have got into  circulation. I send you all I have been able to learn on the subject,  that you may act as you deem expedient in the case. Permit me to ex press my earnest desire, whatever may be the wish of the rebels in regard to you, and I dare say they are the worst that fiendish brains can  entertain, that your valuable life may long be spared to your friends and  the service of the Republic.

I remain, dear sir, most truly yours, F. H. MORSE.

Hon. WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

P. S.--Please regard B.'s letter as strictly confidential, I mean as far as  the name of the writer is concerned.

PARIS, SundayMarch 12, 1865.

MY DEAR SIR:--I wrote you on Friday eve late, in hopes it would  reach you at your hotel last evening. I have learned only an hour since,  that on Tuesday or Wednesday a steamer will be in waiting at Belisle,  or the island of Oleron (the last named some forty miles off the mouth  of Bordeaux Erie) with war material and supplies for the rams; most  of the stuff is from Hamburg, reshipped on board of an English steamer,  which has been chartered for the purpose. She is a Newcastle steamer,  and said to be very swift. I must communicate at once with Walker  at Ferrol. Two desperate characters have just left here (on Wednesday, I believe, but not sure), one for the North and the other for  the South; one of them I know; he has been loafing here for some time,  hard up. His name is Clark, the other Johnston, but to the best of my  knowledge I had never seen him, he having been here only a few days.  Their object is the assassination of Sherman and Mr. Seward. Clark is  to join Sherman's army and accomplish his deed. The other goes direct  to Washington, and the first opportunity that offers kill Mr. Seward.  Their expenses are paid, and if successful in the accomplishment of their  murderous designs, are to receive five thousand dollars each. Here is a  pretty state of affairs; and I fear those are not the only ones that they  intend wreaking their vengeance upon, and you must take immediate  steps to convey this to Mr. Seward and General Sherman, as I feel positive it is true, for the party that divulged to me has the greatest confidence in me, and would not have said such a thing to me were it not  true. They think by getting rid of Mr. Seward that it will be utterly  impossible to get another as able to fill his place, as they say, so rabid  for the utter annihilation of the Southern cause. And Sherman being  the only real General that we have got, if he could be got rid of, the  task is an easy one, as there is no Yankee, to use their expression, to be  found that can fill his place. And only see the ingenuity of the rebels  here; they have caused to be circulated, and it is quite current, that  General Sherman is dead. This is done for the sole cause to prepare the  public mind to receive his death beforehand, so as that they may not be  taken by surprise. It is from beginning to end a deep laid plot, and the  Devil himself is no match for them. I have given you all the facts so far  as I know, and at once, as I considered it my duty so to do as soon as  possible, so that you may convey it to Washington with all dispatch. I  don't know this Johnston, or I would describe him, so that he might be  arrested at once, but to my knowledge I have never seen him. Cooper  came last night, and to-day spent an hour with me. On leaving he said  he would return and dine with me, but about an hour since I learned  that he went off in haste to Cherbourg. I don't know what's up  there, as I have heard nothing from them; but there must be something  in the wind. Friday a courier was sent off as I stated to you, as I was  asked to go; but being ill I could not, and to-day, Cooper leaving so suddenly, looks suspicious. I can give you a full description of Clark at  once if you wish it. I am better, and quite able to undertake the journey to Bordeaux or Ferrol, but as yet keep myself in doors, so that I  may not be called on to go anywhere for them before I hear from you:  then I can excuse myself for a few days in the country, so as' to be able  to get to Bordeaux. I hope you have received my note on Saturday eve,  and written me to-day, If I am to go to B----- there is no time to be  lost. If you have not written me before you receive this, send me twenty  pounds, so that I may be prepared for any emergency. Hoping that all  of the first of the note will be received at Washington in time to frustrate  the hellish designs, I am truly yours, B.

PARIS, March 14, 1865.

DEAR SIR:--Yours of yesterday came duly to hand this morning, and I  answer in as brief a manner as possible to its contents in every particular,  as you request.

The ram, at Bordeaux, leaves that port to go to Germany, where re port says she is to be sold to the Prussian Government. So did the other  --now the Stonewall, in Confederate hands, laying at Ferrol, Spain- leave Bordeaux, for the use of the Danish Government. They must use  strategy to get them out of a French port--once out, they can do as they  please with her. I am perfectly satisfied, and I believe it beyond a question of doubt, that the ram now at-Bordeaux belongs to, and is intended  for the use of the rebels, and will go into their hands, if not directly, in directly, especially if there is any pressure used by the French Government. But my opinion is, this Government will only wink at her departure. I have repeatedly (being one of the order of the Sons) heard the  above things discussed, from time to time, by McCullochDeLeon, Heustis,  Macfarlan, and others of the secret order. The captain of the Stonewall,  Captain Page, is here, and has been for some days (I forgot to mention  this in my last), as well as several of the officers of the late rebel steamer  Florida, and I believe they leave to-day. The Stonewall is lying at  Ferrol, and the Niagara is at Corunna--two different harbors, but not far  apart. I hear nothing as to when they intend to leave Ferrol, but this  much I have learned--that when they are ready to go to sea, they will  run one to Corunna where the Niagara is, and demand of the Spanish  Government twenty-four hours' detention of the Niagara, so as to enable  them to put to sea. But if Commodore Craven adopts the plan I suggested when I last saw him, this plan of theirs will be easily evaded.  Clark I believe to be the real name of the party of whom I wrote you in my  last; he has been hanging on here for some time. They could have no  possible object in imposing on me in this particular. That's his business,  and both he and Johnston have gone, for the avowed purpose, as I have  before stated to you, of taking the lives of Mr. Seward and General  Sherman. I have not the least doubt but that there are others watching for the same opportunity. The opinion is with many of them here,  that Mr. Seward is de facto the President, and does just as he pleases, and  were it not for him, they could come to some amicable arrangement. It  would be useless for me to repeat to you all that I hear on the subject, and  the arguments pro and con. This Clark, I believe, has some other mission as well as that of seeking the life of General Sherman. He is in height  about five feet nine inches, rather slender, thin in flesh, high cheek-bones,  low forehead, eyes dark and sunken, very quiet, seldom or ever speaks  in company unless spoken to, has a large dark-brown mustache, and  large, long goatee; hair much darker than whiskers, and complexion  rather sallow. While here wore gray clothes and wide-awake slouch hat. He is a Texan by birth, has a very determined look, and from all  appearances, I should judge, would, if possible, accomplish whatever he  undertakes. The other man, Johnston, I know nothing of, as he was  only here some three or four days--he came from Canada, viâ Liverpool- nor would it be prudent for me to make any inquiries concerning him,  under the circumstances, as, if any thing ever transpires, and he was  taken, suspicion from that fact might point to me. And I beg that on no  occasion will you ever make use of my name, so that they could get any  clue to me; if you did, from that moment my fate would be sealed, especially as I have bound myself to their cause, under so fearful an oath. I  once entertained a very high opinion of the Southerners, but from recent facts and events I have changed those opinions, and now my firm belief  is, that they would stop at no act, if necessary to accomplish their dear,  cherished Confederation. The offer, five thousand dollars, is a good one,  and there is to be found plenty who would gladly catch at it. You can not for one moment have the slightest idea of their feelings towards the  North, and it increases as their struggle becomes more desperate. The  heads here are in daily consultation, and what is there discussed I have  no means of ascertaining. It was Cooper who told me of these two men  going out on their diabolical mission, or I perhaps should never have  heard of the matter at all, and I considered it my duty to convey to you  the facts as I got them, at once, so that, if possible, their designs might  be thwarted, and every precaution taken that was necessary; for I repeat  again what I have already done to you before: they are bent on destruction, and will not stop at any object, even to the taking of life, so as to  attain their ends--and mark me, Mr. Seward is not the only one they  will assassinate. I have heard some fearful oaths, and it's war to the  teeth with them. I feel confident that there is some secret understanding  between them and the Emperor of this Government; at least I am given  to understand so. The death of the Duke de Morny has deprived them  of an interview with the Emperor, which was to have taken place, if I am  rightly informed, on Sunday last. My sickness has prevented me from  being fully posted to all recent movements, bat I am in hopes that my  health will in a short time be fully re-established, and after my return  from Bordeaux, I shall be in possession of all movements. I have written  at some length, but required, as you requested a full explanation of the  foregoing facts. Be kind enough to see that my name is not used at  Washington, for there are plenty on the sharp lookout there, and it  would be heralded back here, and it might prove fatal for me. I believe  I cannot add any thing more at present. You did not send me all I re quested; please send it at once to Bordeaux by return of mail. I leave  for Bordeaux to-night, and will do as you request.

Believe me truly yours, B.



Book Navigation Title Page Preface Illustrations Memorandum Table of Contents   ► Chapter I.   ► Chapter II.   ► Chapter III.   ► Chapter IV.   ► Chapter V.   ► Chapter VI.   ► Chapter VII.   ► Chapter VIII.   ► Chapter IX.   ► Chapter X.   ► Chapter XI.   ► Chapter XII.   ► Chapter XIII.   ► Chapter XIV.   ► Chapter XV.   ► Chapter XVI.   ► Chapter XVII.   ► Chapter XVIII.   ► Chapter XIX.   ► Chapter XX.   ► Chapter XXI. Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln.   ► Mr. Lincoln's Sadness   ► His Favorite Poem   ► His Religious Experience   ► His Sympathy   ► His Humor, Shrewdness, and Sentiment   ► The Emancipation Proclamation Appendix. Letters on Sundry Occasions.   ► To Mr. Lodges, of Kentucky   ► To General Hooker   ► To John B. Fry   ► To Governor Magoffin   ► To Count Gasparin   ► The President and General McClellan   ► Warnings Against Assassination Reports, Dispatches, and Proclamations Relating to the Assassination.   ► Secretary Stanton to General Dix   ► The Death-Bed   ► The Assassins   ► Reward Offered by Secretary Stanton   ► Flight of the Assassins   ► The Conspiracy Organized in Canada   ► Booth Killed. Harold Captured   ► Reward Offered by President Johnson   ► The Funeral Official Announcements   ► Acting Secretary Hunger to Minister Adams   ► Acting Secretary Hunter to his Subordinates   ► Orders from Secretary Stanton and General Grant   ► Orders from Secretary "Welles   ► Order from Secretary McCulloch   ► Order from Postmaster-General Dennison   ► Proclamation by President Johnson of a Day of Humiliation and Mourning.   ► Secretary Stanton to Minister Adams   ► Important Letter from J. Wilkes Booth   ► Indictment of the Conspirators   ► The Finding of the Court