Read CHAPTER I of The Spy of the Rebellion, free online book, by Allan Pinkerton, on

Many years have elapsed since the occurrence of the events which I am about to relate. Years that have been full of mighty import to the nation. A bitter, prolonged and bloody war has laid its desolating hands upon a once united country. For years the roar of cannon and the clash of steel reverberated through the bright valleys and the towering hills of the fruitful South. In those years when brother arose against his brother, when ties of kindred and association were broken asunder like frail reeds, glorious deeds were wrought and grand results have been accomplished. America has taught the world a lesson of bravery and endurance; the shackles have been stricken from the slave; an error of a century has been crushed, and freedom is now no longer an empty name, but a beautiful and enduring realism.

To-day peace spreads her broad, sheltering arms over a reunited and enlightened nation. The roll of the drum and the tramp of armed men are now no longer heard. North and South have again clasped hands in a renewal of friendship and in a perpetuity of union.

But a short time ago a Republican President elected by but a slight majority of the voters of this great community, left his peaceful home in the West and journeyed to the capital of the nation, to take the oath of office and to assume the high duties of a chief magistrate. As he passed through the towns and cities upon his route a general plaudit of welcome was his greeting, even noted political foes joining in the demonstrations. His road was arched with banners and his path was strewn with flowers. Everywhere he found an enthusiasm of welcome, a universal prayer for success, and the triumphal train entered the capital amid the ovations of the populace, which reached almost a climax of patriotic and effervescing joy.

Twenty years ago witnessed a different condition of affairs. The political horizon was dark and obscured. The low mutterings of the storm that was soon to sweep over our country, and to deluge our fair land with fratricidal blood, were distinctly heard. Sectional differences were developing into widespread dissensions. Cherished institutions were threatened with dissolution, and political antagonism had aroused a contented people into a frenzy of hate.

On the twenty-second of May, 1856, an American Senator was assaulted in the Senate-house by a political opponent for daring to give utterance to opinions that were hostile to the slave-holding interests of the South. Later in the same year a Republican candidate, with professed anti-slavery views, was nominated for the presidency, and although defeated, gave evidence of such political strength that Southern leaders became alarmed.

At this time the Hon. Stephen A. Douglas was a prominent leader of the Democratic party, but through his opposition to what was known as the Lecompton Bill, he incurred the displeasure of his political friends of the South, who vainly endeavored to enact such legislation as would practically lead to his retirement from the party.

In 1858 the famous contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas for the United States Senatorship from Illinois took place, and during its progress absorbed public attention throughout the country. The two candidates indulged in open discussions of questions of public policy, which were remarkable for their brilliancy and for the force and vigor with which their different views were uttered. It was during this canvass that Mr. Lincoln made the forcible and revolutionizing declaration that: “The Union cannot permanently endure half slave and half free.” Mr. Lincoln was defeated, however, and Mr. Douglas was returned to the Senate, much against the wishes of those Democrats who desired the unlimited extension of the institution of Slavery.

In the following year occurred the slave insurrection in Virginia, under the leadership of that bold abolitionist, John Brown. The movement was frustrated, however, and John Brown, after a judicial trial for his offense, was sentenced to be hung. Up to the day of his execution he remained firm in the belief that he had but performed his duty toward enslaved humanity, and he died avowing the justice of his cause and the hope of its ultimate success.

All of these occurrences tended to engender a spirit of fierce opposition in the minds of the Southern leaders. The growing sentiment of abolitionism throughout the North, and the manifest disposition to prevent its increase or extension, aroused the advocates of Slavery to a degree of alarm, which led to the commission of many actions, both absurd and unjustifiable.

The year of 1860 opened upon a scene of political agitation which threatened to disrupt long united associations, and to erect sectional barriers which appeared almost impossible to overcome.

In April, 1860, the Democratic National Convention assembled in Charleston, South Carolina, for the purpose of nominating a candidate for the presidency. During its session loud and angry debates occurred, in which the Southern element endeavored to obtain a strong indorsement of the institution of Slavery, and of the right to carry slaves into the Territories of the United States. They were met by the more conservative portion of the party, who desired to leave the question to be decided by the States themselves. After a prolonged discussion the majority of the Southern States withdrew their delegates from the convention, and the remainder proceeded to ballot for a candidate of their choice.

After a protracted sitting, during which several ballots were taken and no decided result obtained, the convention adjourned, to meet in the city of Baltimore on the eighteenth day of June succeeding. Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, received a large percentage of the votes that were cast, but failed to obtain a sufficient number to secure his nomination.

The withdrawing delegates organized a rival convention, but, without transacting any business of a decisive character, also adjourned, to meet in Baltimore at a date nearly coincident with that of the regular body.

On the nineteenth day of May, the Constitutional Union (being the old American) party held their convention in the city of Baltimore, and nominated John Bell, of Tennessee, for President, and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, for the Vice-Presidency.

The Republican Convention was held on the sixteenth day of May, in the city of Chicago, and upon the third ballot nominated Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, for the office of President, and Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, for the second office.

This convention also adopted a platform very pronounced upon the subject of Slavery, and which was calculated to give but little encouragement to the extension or perpetuity of the slave-holding power.

On the eighteenth day of June the regular Democratic Convention assembled, pursuant to adjournment, in the city of Baltimore, and named Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, and Herschel V. Johnson, of Georgia, as their standard-bearers in the political conflict that was to ensue.

On the twenty-eighth day of the same month the seceding delegates met in the same city, and after pronouncing their ultra views upon the question of Slavery, nominated John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky (then the Vice-President of the country), and General Joseph Lane, of Oregon, as the candidates of their choice.

The lines of battle were now drawn, and from that time until the election, in November, a fierce contest was waged between the opposing parties. Never before in the history of parties was a canvass conducted with more bitterness or with a greater amount of vituperation. The whole country was engrossed with the gigantic struggle. Business interests, questions of finance and of international import were all made subservient to the absorbing consideration of the election of a national President.

The Southern “Fire-eaters,” as they were called, fully realized their inability to elect the candidates they had named, but strove with all their power to prevent the success of the regular Democratic nominees, and when at last the day of election came, and the votes were counted, it was found that the Republican party had been victorious and that Abraham Lincoln had been elected.

In many portions of the South this result was hailed with joyful enthusiasm. The anti-slavery proclivities of the successful party was instantly made a plausible pretext for secession and the withdrawal of the slave-holding States from the Union was boldly advocated.

The same power that threatened in 1856, in the words of Governor Wise of Virginia: “That if Fremont had been elected, he would have marched at the head of twenty thousand men to Washington, and taken possession of the capital, preventing by force Fremont’s inauguration at that place” was again aroused, and an open opposition to the Republican inauguration was for a time considered.

The absorbing and exciting question in the South was: “Would the South submit to a Black Republican President and a Black Republican Congress?” and the answer to the question was a loud and decisive negative.

Among the bolder advocates of secession the election of Mr. Lincoln was regarded with pleasure, and meetings were held in Charleston, rejoicing in the triumph of the Republican party. Secession and disunion were loudly advocated, and the slave oligarchy of South Carolina regarded this event as the opportunity to achieve her long-cherished purpose of breaking up the Union, and forming a new confederacy, founded upon the peculiar ideas of the South.

Says Horace Greeley: “Men thronged the streets, talking, laughing, cheering, like mariners long becalmed upon a hateful, treacherous sea, when a sudden breeze had swiftly wafted them within sight of their looked for haven, or like a seedy prodigal, just raised to affluence by the death of some far-off, unknown relative, and whose sense of decency is not strong enough to repress his exultation.”

Open threats were made to withdraw at once from the Union, and these demonstrations seemed to find sympathy among other nations than our own, and soon foreign intrigue was hand and glove with domestic treason, in the attempt to sap the foundations of our government, and seeking peculiar advantages from its overthrow.

It is unnecessary to detail the various phases of this great agitation, which, firing the Southern heart with the frenzy of disunion, finally led to the secession of the Southern States. Various compromises were attempted, but all failed of beneficial result. The “masterly inactivity” of the administration contributed in no small degree to the accomplishment of this object, and in the end the Southern Confederacy was organized and Jefferson Davis was elected as its President.

The Palmetto waved over the custom-house and post-office at Charleston; government forts and arsenals were seized by the volunteers to the Southern cause, and on February 1, 1861, the Federal mint and custom-house at New Orleans were taken possession of by the secessionists.

The removal of Major Anderson from Fort Moultrie to the more secure stronghold of Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, had been accomplished, and as yet no measures had been taken by the government to prevent further demonstrations of a warlike character on the part of the Southern Confederacy. The administration remained passive and inert, while every effort was being made to calm the public fears of hostilities, and the organization of an open revolt.

The city of Baltimore was, at this time, a slave-holding city, and the spirit of Slavery was nowhere else more rampant and ferocious. The mercantile and social aristocracy of that city had been sedulously and persistently plied, by the conspirators for disunion, with artful and tempting suggestions of her future greatness and advancement as the chief city of the new government.

If a Confederacy composed of the fifteen slave-holding States was organized, Baltimore, it was urged, would naturally be the chief city of the new Republic. In time it would become the rival of New York, and occupy to the Confederacy the same relations which New York does to the Union, and would be the great ship-building, shipping, importing and commercial emporium.

These glittering prophecies had not been uttered without effect. The ambition of the aristocracy was aroused. Already they saw the ocean whitened with her sails, and the broad domain of Maryland adorned with the palaces reared from her ample and ever-expanding profits. Under these hallucinations, their minds were corrupted, and they seemed eager to rush into treason.

Being a border State, Maryland occupied a position of particular importance. Emissaries were sent to her from South Carolina and elsewhere, and no effort was spared to secure her co-operation in these revolutionary movements. It is to be regretted that they were too successful, and the result was that the majority of the wealthier classes and those in office were soon in sympathy with the rebellion, and the spirit of domestic treason, for a time, swept like a tornado over the State.

Added to the wealthier classes was the mob element of the city of Baltimore reckless and unscrupulous, as mobs generally are and this portion of her community were avowedly in full accord with the prospective movement, and ready to do the bidding of the slave power. Between these, however, there existed a great middle class, who were loyally and peacefully inclined. But this class, large as it was, had hitherto been divided in their political opinions, and had as yet arrived at no common and definite understanding with regard to the novel circumstances of the country and the events which seemed to be visibly impending.

The government of the city of Baltimore was under the control of that branch of the Democracy who supported Breckinridge, and who had attained power under a popular cry for reform, and it was soon learned that these leaders were deep in the counsels of the secessionists.

The newspaper press was no small factor of this excitement their utterances had much to do in leading public opinion, and though their efforts “to fire the Southern heart,” many were led to sanction the deeds of violence and outrage which were contemplated.

Especial efforts had been made to render Mr. Lincoln personally odious and contemptible, and his election formed the pretexts of these reckless conspirators, who had long been plotting the overthrow of the Union. No falsehood was too gross, no statement too exaggerated, to be used for that purpose, and so zealously did these misguided men labor in the cause of disunion, and so systematically concerted was their action, that the mass of the people of the slave States were made to believe that this pure, patient, humane, Christian statesman was a monster whose vices and passions made him odious, and whose political beliefs made him an object of just abhorrence.

This was the condition of affairs at the dawning of the year 1861.