THE HOUR OF PERIL is Daniel Stashower’s well-documented portrayal of a deadly plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before his inauguration in 1861. The book follows the path taken by the legendary detective Allan Pinkerton to thwart the agitators who met in secret in Baltimore to accomplish their deadly mission.
Part One deals with both the euphoria and the trepidation in the United States following Lincoln’s election. In those days, the custom prevailed that the Electoral College delegates would meet to certify the election shortly before the inauguration. Lincoln plans to board a train in his native Springfield, Illinois, and from there will ride through various cities on his way to the nation’s capital where he will take the oath of office. He feels strongly that the populace who has elected him should share in his joy and have the right to meet him. To that end, the plan is to travel on a special Lincoln express train, make speeches at most locations, and shake thousands of hands. Those in Lincoln’s inner circle have grave reservations about his safety, given the strong talk from Southern sympathizers about secession and the fact that his election polarized people on either side of the slavery question. But at the time, there are no known threats that can be substantiated.
“History has given us a multitude of stories about Lincoln’s actual assassination at Ford’s Theater, but Stashower has written the compelling true story of dastardly events that, if carried out, would have changed history forever. History buffs in particular will love this fascinating read.”
Stashower next introduces his readers to Pinkerton, the self-made detective from Chicago. Pinkerton’s background is a fascinating tale in itself. We see a struggling young Scottish immigrant living in Dundee who makes beer kegs. He barely makes ends meet but is unafraid of hard work. Now married and a father, the 27-year-old sets up his own shop as a cooper. Sympathizing with the downtrodden, he becomes an active participant in the Underground Railroad, the secret means by which black slaves are set free, given safe passage to northern states, and eventually into Canada to live as free men. Pinkerton’s house often serves as a safe place for many of these travelers. His heart and his politics lean toward the abolitionists; knowing that the South depends on the practice for livelihood and commerce, he still feels that the moral issue is its downfall.
His reputation growing, Pinkerton is called upon to perform a service for some wealthy town gentlemen — to uncover a counterfeiting operation in the area. He has misgivings but takes the job, is successful and finds himself a new career as a detective. Factual and entertaining, this portion of the book uncovers details about Pinkerton, his persona, moral code of ethics, and uncanny ability to solve crimes.
In the months prior to Lincoln’s election, the abolitionist cause increases in intensity; tempers flare at the mention of men such as John Brown. The secessionist cause flares like a tinder pot, with but a spark taken to ignite a full-blown forest fire that will consume everything in its wake. Lincoln’s train trip to D.C. may be that tiny spark to set the Union on fire. Samuel Morse Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, receive a visit from Southern activist Dorothea Dix, who confides knowledge of a very real threat to prevent Lincoln’s inauguration. If successful, armed men will then march on Washington, with chaos the result and the fall of the government inevitable. Her sources appear legitimate, and Felton wastes no time in hiring Pinkerton to protect both his railroad and Lincoln.
THE HOUR OF PERIL is a well-researched account of a little-known facet of American history. Intrigue, undercover detective activities, tarnished reputations, philandering politicians from both the North and South, roguish ruffians of questionable purpose, gentlemen, military men and coquettes — all play major roles in the drama. History has given us a multitude of stories about Lincoln’s actual assassination at Ford’s Theater, but Stashower has written the compelling true story of dastardly events that, if carried out, would have changed history forever. History buffs in particular will love this fascinating read.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on February 15, 2013