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The Lincoln Conspiracy

The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President – and Why It Failed

By Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
16-minute read
Audio available
The Lincoln Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The Lincoln Conspiracy (2020) tells the story of the first assassination attempt on America’s 16th president – before he was even president. Organized by a secret cabal of pro-slavery Southern secessionists, the plot was foiled by famous private detective Allan Pinkerton, as well as one of his agents, the first female detective in America.

  • Civil War fanatics
  • Lincoln geeks
  • Anyone interested in the story of abolitionism

Brad Meltzer is the author of eleven best-selling thrillers. Josh Mensch is a television documentarian. Together, they also wrote The First Conspiracy, about the plot to kill America’s first president George Washington.

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The Lincoln Conspiracy

The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President – and Why It Failed

By Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Lincoln Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
Synopsis

The Lincoln Conspiracy (2020) tells the story of the first assassination attempt on America’s 16th president – before he was even president. Organized by a secret cabal of pro-slavery Southern secessionists, the plot was foiled by famous private detective Allan Pinkerton, as well as one of his agents, the first female detective in America.

Key idea 1 of 10

In the debates with Douglas, Abraham Lincoln established himself as a persuasive speaker – and an abolitionist.

It was the dog days of summer, August 1858, and the town of Ottawa, Illinois was packed with visitors. Thousands of people had been streaming in for days, from all over the state. Now, on the day everyone had been waiting for, Ottawa was hosting more than twice its usual population.

The mood was festive, but this wasn’t a county fair: it was a policy debate between Illinois’s two candidates for United States Senate.

Stephen Douglas was heavily favored to win. A wealthy landholder, slave owner and Washington insider, Douglas had already served two terms in the Senate. His opponent was an upstart country lawyer from Kentucky whose name recognition was so poor that the papers kept calling him Abram Lincoln.

The key message here is: In the debates with Douglas, Abraham Lincoln established himself as a persuasive speaker – and an abolitionist.

The two opponents weren’t just different in terms of background. They looked like physical opposites, almost to the point of comedy. Douglas was short and stubby, with chubby cheeks. Lincoln was tall, a foot taller than Douglas, with a body the newspapers called gawky, and a startlingly angular face.

Their politics were also in fierce opposition, especially on the question of slavery, the hot button issue of the day. Douglas was a staunch pro-slavery advocate, and dedicated white supremacist. “I do not regard the negro as my equal,” he said. “He belongs to an inferior race, and must always occupy an inferior position.”

Lincoln, for his part, used folksy humor to win the crowd. He only became animated on the issue of slavery. The “zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate,” he said. “I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.”

Illinois was a swing state, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates were closely watched. Lincoln lost the election, but the fact that he had almost unseated an incumbent was widely noted. Lincoln’s star, as an abolitionist and persuasive speaker, was rising.

Two years later, in 1860, Lincoln was selected as the Republican presidential nominee for Illinois at the Illinois State Republican Convention. He had become so popular that he literally had to crowdsurf to the stage. He ultimately rode the wave to become the national Republican party’s nominee. Lincoln was running for president.

In New York, though, the newspapers were still getting his name wrong.

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