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  • Writer's picturegordonjcampbell

Douglass, Lincoln, and Pinkerton, ironically connected

There are volumes written about the courageous men listed in the title of this blog post.

Still, some might be surprised how an escaped slave, the 16th President of the USA, and the founder of the first American detective agency became connected to support, protect, and influence each other.

Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Douglass, and Allan Pinkerton were all self-educated men, yet became famous for their sophisticated oratory and writing skills.

The extraordinary scope of this last statement requires some further examination.

Abe Lincoln assisted his illiterate father in clearing their land, building their cabin, attending to crops, or earning wages while on loan to neighbors as farm labor. He was famous for reading and working on mathematical problems while on breaks from employment but had little formal education.

Frederic Douglass was a slave until he escaped at the age of twenty and, as a slave, would be punished severely for showing any interest in reading, writing, or speaking in the manner of the plantation owners.

Despite Douglass’s incredible challenges, he developed his articulate delivery of the English language and sophisticated bearing capable of charming Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He visited the royal couple as their guest for entertainment at Windsor Castle in the spring of 1860.

Allan Pinkerton's father died, forcing him to leave school at age ten to work as a cooper (barrel maker) to support his family in Scotland.

By the time he immigrated to the US at the age of 21, Pinkerton's communication skills had advanced to a level capable of establishing, running a sophisticated organization, and gaining US government contracts for his detective agency. (In later life he published numerous popular detective books.)

How were these men from extremely different backgrounds connected?

President Lincoln, Douglass, and Pinkerton were abolitionists, and their efforts resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed the existence of slavery and involuntary servitude in the USA.

Pinkerton and his agents, including America’s first female detective named Kate Warne, protected Lincoln from a real and life-threatening assassination conspiracy by infiltrating a secret society in Maryland. The Pinkerton Agency executed a stealth operation when the newly elected President traveled through Baltimore incognito. (February 23, 1861)

Pinkerton's agency also worked as a Presidential protection operation and spy network for the Union Forces throughout the civil war. The detective personally assisted the anti-slavery cause as Allan Pinkerton's home in Dundee, Illinois, was a stop on the underground railway. (The Pinkerton family supplied John Brown in his failed raid on Harpers Ferry.)

President Lincoln didn't require an introduction upon meeting Douglass as he knew the national anti-slavery leader well by his abolitionist publications. Douglass was also an energetic recruiter of black soldiers for the 5th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, where both his sons served as soldiers.

The President greeted Douglass at the Whitehouse in the summer of 1863 when Douglass arrived without an appointment to discuss the disparity of wages, equipment, and security of black soldiers and their white counterparts. (Black soldiers captured by Confederate troops were tortured, executed, their bodies’ mutilated, and some black prisoners were transported to Texas and sold as slaves.)

President Lincoln and Douglass met twice more with the final encounter at the President's second inauguration, where the President asked for Douglass's opinion of his speech. "Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort," replied Douglass.

The three men were not united as alumni from prestigious schools, or cast together through shared religious beliefs, (Pinkerton was an atheist.)

There's uncanny serendipity in the three men’s shared strength of character and the life or death nature of the convergence of their interests.

They had unwavering reverence for equality and freedom, which cemented their relationships and prepared them to resist those with contradicting ambitions.

The storm faced by Lincoln, Pinkerton, and Douglass has returned. It perplexes communities of the United States and has shaken the core of free-thinking societies around the world.

It’s a critical juncture for modern society, but we have the example of three heroes from the past. Their actions, courage, and humanitarian ideals transcend time.

They’re worthy of emulation.

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