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History Mysteries

December 2023
1min read

One of your “mysteries” is not a mystery at all but the product of a rather severe historical fraud.

Jacques Barzun of Columbia University wanted to know why Secretary of War Stanton kept Maj. Thomas Eckert from accompanying President Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre. Presumably Eckert might have prevented John Wilkes Booth from assassinating Lincoln that night. Barzun also suggests that Stanton likewise dissuaded General Grant from joining the Lincoln party.

 

One of your “mysteries” is not a mystery at all but the product of a rather severe historical fraud.

Jacques Barzun of Columbia University wanted to know why Secretary of War Stanton kept Maj. Thomas Eckert from accompanying President Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre. Presumably Eckert might have prevented John Wilkes Booth from assassinating Lincoln that night. Barzun also suggests that Stanton likewise dissuaded General Grant from joining the Lincoln party.

The major source for these suggestions, together with their implication that Stanton was connected with the Lincoln assassination, is Otto Eisenschiml’s book Why Was Lincoln Murdered? Eisenschiml was a professional chemist who wrote several books on Civil War topics. His thesis was that the Radical Republicans were behind the assassination because they knew the President would oppose their views on Reconstruction.

Eisenschiml’s scholarship never let the truth get in the way of the point he was trying to make. The details are given in William Hanchett’s book The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies, but, in broad outline, Stanton had no ulterior motive; he just didn’t want Lincoln to go out in public yet, because he felt it wasn’t safe. So he told Eckert to refuse to go, in hope that the President would then cancel the trip. Stanton’s intercession with Grant was along the same lines and was not necessary anyway since Julia Grant couldn’t abide Mary Lincoln and had persuaded her husband to go with her to Burlington, New Jersey, where their children were staying.

Instead of a sinister desire to leave the President unprotected, we have a clumsy attempt to persuade Lincoln not to go out at all.

Eisenschiml’s book was a notorious popular success when published in the late thirties, despite the fact that most professional historians derided it. Consequently, much of it has found its way into secondary writings and thus has gained a measure of legitimacy, especially in today’s climate where conspiracies are seen behind every crisis.

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