Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2011 Issue

Lincoln Forgery Revealed

Lincforgeddate

The "5" in 1865 was written in 1998, and obviously not by Lincoln.

A forgery on a Lincoln document came to light last month twelve years after the document's "discovery" in 1998. The forgery does not alter history in any major way, nor will it change our view of a man many consider America's greatest president. What it does throw light on is an amateur historian's apparent attempt to build a reputation for himself at the expense of historical accuracy, with countless people being fooled by the details if not the substance. Many may see this incident as a tempest in a teapot, but for those who believe in the sanctity of historical accuracy and truth, this incident is a painful reminder of how easily history can be distorted when people willfully deceive to advance their own interests.

 

The document was a pardon Lincoln signed for an army deserter, one Patrick Murphy of California. He had been convicted in a court-martial and sentenced to be shot. It was also apparent that Murphy suffered from mental illness, and the mentally ill were generally discharged from service rather than shot. President Lincoln agreed with this procedure, so on Private Murphy's appeal he wrote, "This man is pardoned and hereby ordered to be discharged from the service." He then added his customary "A Lincoln" signature. There was nothing very unusual here, and the forgery was small, a simple change in one number, a "4" partly erased with a "5" superimposed on top.

 

That changed digit appeared in the date. What had originally been dated April 14, 1864, was changed to read April 14, 1865. That change seems insignificant until you remember what happened on that day, April 14, 1865. That was the day Lincoln was assassinated as he watched a play in Ford's Theater. This would make it one of the last, if not the last order Lincoln ever signed. A change in one digit converted this from a routine, ordinary document, to one of historical significance. Indeed, after its "discovery," the document became part of several Lincoln exhibitions, a final piece to one of the greatest careers in American history.

 

Why would someone have made this forgery? Certainly it would have greatly increased the value of this otherwise ordinary document, but no one stood to make a financial gain. The document belonged then and now to the National Archives, which has no intention of ever selling it. The answer is that it brought great recognition to its finder, an amateur historian from Virginia named Thomas Lowry. Lowry spent time pouring over Lincoln documents at the National Archives, but his amateur status left him in obscurity in Lincoln circles. However, with the "discovery" of what might have been the last order Lincoln ever signed, he became a celebrity in the field, even if the rest of us who don't study Lincolniana in such detail never heard of him. He became a big fish in a small pond, recognized for his finding something of importance in his research. He then went on to author a couple of books about Lincoln.

 

After several years on exhibition, one of the archivists for the National Archives, Trevor Plante, noticed something odd about the date. The number "5" seemed to be in a slightly darker ink than the "186." There also appeared to be shades of something else underneath the "5." That led to some more digging and the determination that Murphy had not been pardoned on the day Lincoln was assassinated, but exactly one year prior to that date. That in turn led to an interview with Mr. Lowry and a confession on January 12, 2011, that he had taken a fountain pen into the archives and altered the date. Mr. Lowry has since recanted his confession, saying he was pressured into it, and that someone else had made the change. The National Archives are not buying into this story. Mr. Lowry is safe from prosecution as the Statute of Limitations on the crime has expired. However, the 78-year-old accused forger has been permanently banned from all facilities of the National Archives.

 

Some people considered this pardon on the last day of his life a sign of Lincoln's humanity. Actually, the date would only have mattered if Lincoln had known this would be the last day of his life, which obviously he did not. Nonetheless, as anyone with only a passing familiarity with the man already knows, he had a deep streak of compassion and humanity. He was a fierce leader in the Civil War, a man so dedicated to preserving the Union that he was willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent its dissolution, though he knew it would result in great human sacrifice. Still, his presidency is filled with pardons such as this. He had no desire to punish, and fully understood the pressures of army life. He was quick to forgive transgressions, while being unbendingly determined to preserve the Union. Regardless of the date, this pardon is a display of the great leader's compassion. He died way too soon.

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Case Antiques: Historic Summer Auction. August 5, 2017</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> John Hunt Morgan Signed <i>Vidette</i> Extra, 1862. Ex- Coyne Collection, extremely scarce. $1,400 to $1,200
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> President Abraham Lincoln signed military appointment. $4,000 to $4,500
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> President Andrew Johnson Impeachment Archive, 9 items. $1,400 to $1,800
    <b>Case Antiques: Historic Summer Auction. August 5, 2017</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> S. Houston & J. Buchanan Signed Letter and 2 prints. $1,200 to $1,400
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> 25 Signed Documents by Tennessee Governors, 1820-1923. $1,800 to $2,200
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> Latour, Major Arsene Lacarriere. <i>Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-1815. With an atlas.</i> Philadelphia, 1816. $1,200 to $1,500
    <b>Case Antiques: Historic Summer Auction. August 5, 2017</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> Early Andrew Jackson Signed Letter to Richard K. Call during the War of 1812. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> Mid-19th C. Bird's Eye View of Univ. of Virginia and Charlottesville from Lewis Mountain in graphite. $1,200 to $1,400
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> Stearns, Samuel. <i>The North-American's Almanack, and Gentleman's and Lady's Diary, For the Year of Our Lord Christ 1776.</i> $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Case Antiques: Historic Summer Auction. August 5, 2017</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> Audubon, John J. <i>Trumpeter Swan (Young) - Cygnus Buccinator</i>, plate CCCLXXVI. Havell edition aquatint etching. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> Spalding, Albert G. <i>America's National Game </i>, 1911. First edition, signed by author with personal inscription. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Aug. 5:</b> 7 Africa related archival items of Don Hunt, a founding member of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, including correspondence from the photographer and artist Peter Beard. $4,000 to $6,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Keep Calm and Carry On</i>, designer unknown, 1939. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, <i>Le Journal / La Traite des Blanches</i>, 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>"Let Us Go Forward Together,"</i> designer unknown, 1940. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, <i>Babylone d'Allemagne</i>, 1894. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Frank Beatty, <i>Out of the Running</i>, 1929. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Wake Up America Day</i>, 1917. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Danté / Sim • Sala • Bim!</i>, designer unknown. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>[Zodiac]</i>, 1900. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Rick Griffin, <i>Jimi Hendrix Experience / John Mayall</i>, 1968. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Abram Games, <i>Join the ATS</i>, 1941. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Aldo Mazza, <i>Torino / Esposizione Internazionale</i>, 1911. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Robert Motherwell, <i>Julliard School / Dedication - Lincoln Center</i>, 1969. $3,000 to $4,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions