Posted byat 19th January, 2009
As I sit before the Mighty Mac composing this week’s history lesson, I am once again awestruck by this nation’s near-total lack of perspective. Anderson, Keith, Wolf, and the rest have been telling us about how President-Elect’s train trip into Washington parallel’s that of Abraham Lincoln’s wonderful journey as he travelled from Illinois to the District of Columbia to begin his new job.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The comparison is totally artificial, and therein lies an important lesson.
Obama and Biden are making a nice giveback to the people, giving those along the short Amtrak line between Philadelphia and Washington a glimpse of our incoming hopes for salvation (I say this without any sarcasm whatsoever). They’re in a beautifully equipped restored classic train coach; the entire Amtrak has been retrofitted with the latest in security and telecommunication in order to make this journey safe and productive, to reduce the barriers between the Commander-in-Chief and the population.
For Abraham Lincoln back in 1861, well… it was a bit more hairy.
A well-known abolitionist who, nonetheless, was willing to negotiate with the southern states who were about to quit the Union because of his election, Lincoln was the subject of a great many death threats. As the federal government had no facilities for protecting the man outside of its armies, Lincoln was served by a friend, a local detective named Allan Pinkerton. His train schedule had already been well-advertised; the Pinkerton Detectives ferreted out the information that an assassination attempt would be made in Baltimore – indeed, even the local police chief was in on it.
Pinkerton convinced Lincoln to change his plans and charter a private train from Harrisburg. This train would run tits-to-the-wind straight to Baltimore and arrive after midnight, hours ahead of the train that was publically advertised. In Baltimore, Pinkerton would switch Lincoln to another chartered train to take him into Washington. Pinkerton’s agents blanketed the route, covering every station and every overpass.
It was agreed that Mr. Lincoln, already sporting beard stubble from travel, would continue to grow out his beard, not that a beard would disguise his 6’4” frame. The train arrived at 6 in the morning, and the President-Elect was met by the very, very few outsiders who knew what was happening. Lincoln later said “I was never so glad to see anyone in my life.” No press, no public welcome.
He maintained his well-publicized suite of hotel rooms, but was spirited away to private lodgings to await his inauguration.
Three weeks after Lincoln took the oath of office, the Confederate States of America fired upon Fort Sumter, and the bloodiest war in our nation’s history was underway.
That was 1861. This is 2009.
Yes, we have come a long way. That’s another reason to celebrate tomorrow’s festivities.