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Was Abe Lincoln's 'pardon to death row inmate before assassination' claim doctored?
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Thread: Was Abe Lincoln's 'pardon to death row inmate before assassination' claim doctored?

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010

    Was Abe Lincoln's 'pardon to death row inmate before assassination' claim doctored?

    An amateur US historian has been accused of doctoring a key document of former US President Abraham Lincoln for his own benefit by changing the date of an April 14, 1864, presidential pardon to 1865, the fateful day Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre.

    Dr. Thomas Lowry is a 78-year-old Virginia psychiatrist, who, after researching Civil War documents with his wife, wrote "Don't Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice," which was published in 1999.

    Dr. Lowry had earlier claimed that Lincoln had spared a mentally incompetent soldier 'the death penalty' for desertion on April 14, 1865, just hours before his assassination. He had also said that he had found Lincoln's act of compassion in among his hundreds of untapped documents in the National Archives in 1998, and described it in a book the following year.

    However, the National Archives disagreed with Dr. Lowry's claims, saying that he had altered the date on the original pardon from 1864 to 1865 to promote his book and publicise that the pardon was apparently one of the President's final acts.

    The New York Times quoted Trevor Plante, the Archives' acting chief of reference whose suspicions about the timing of the pardon were finally confirmed after he consulted a published version of Lincoln's collected works, as saying: "This kind of put him into the Lincoln expert world."

    Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general of the National Archives and Records Administration, said Dr. Lowry had "confessed to having erased the '4' and changing it to a '5' "and added he had "even defined the kind of pen he used."

    Dr. Lowry has reportedly been barred from National Archives facilities.

    Dr. Lowry, however, insisted that he had not changed the date, and added that it was against his "code of ethics."

    "I got leaned on for two hours with a mixture of pressure and false promises. While they weren't driving splinters under my fingernails, they said I wouldn't hear from them again."


  2. #2
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Altered Lincoln pardon at National Archives to be taken out of circulation

    A pardon signed by Abraham Lincoln, with a date altered to make it appear to be one of the president's final acts before his assassination, will be taken out of circulation at the National Archives, which disclosed the tampering this week.

    The document, which the Archives says was changed by a history buff from Woodbridge to 1865 from 1864 to amplify its significance and promote the man's career, will be kept in a locked vault at the agency's downtown Washington headquarters, officials said Wednesday.

    "People are now going to come through the door and say they want to see it," said Trevor Plante, the Archives' acting chief of reference, whose suspicions about the timing of the pardon were confirmed this month by investigators from the inspector general's office.

    "It's now even more historically significant because of this case," he said. "If they're manhandling the document, it will be too much wear and tear."

    An investigator at the Archives said the pardon would be a target for theft if the original were available to the public. "It's now a document of such notoriety," said Mitchell Yockelson, one of the investigators. "There's no reason to ever pull it out again."

    The original record of Lincoln's decision to spare a mentally incompetent Union Army private the death penalty for desertion will be replaced by a high-resolution scan. The reproduction will go into a box in the Archives' stacks, with a note of explanation about the case, Plante said.

    He delivered the document Wednesday morning to the Archives' preservation lab, which will examine the alteration and determine whether it can be reversed. But preservation officials said the effort would almost certainly do more damage.

    "If we were to attempt to remove that five [in 1865], we would be causing more damage, and we still wouldn't have the original four [in 1864]," said Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, chief of the conservation lab. "What was is lost. But we will have a dossier on this for the public, a thorough explanation of what happened."

    Lincoln's compassionate act was hailed by Civil War scholars as a major historical find when the pardon was discovered by Thomas P. Lowry and his wife, Beverly, in 1998 in a box of rarely touched documents at the Archives. The couple are amateur historians who specialize in Civil War military justice. The discovery jump-started Thomas Lowry's writing career, and the Archives exhibited the pardon in its downtown rotunda.

    Archives officials said Lowry confessed this month to altering the document. Lowry, however, denies that he altered the document. Though he acknowledges that he signed a written confession when two federal agents came to his house on Jan. 12 after a year-long investigation, he said he was pressured to confess.

    He cannot be charged with tampering with government property because the statute of limitations has lapsed.

    Archives officials said it is the first case of tampering they know of at the agency, whose vast holdings include letters, reports, maps and charts, moving images and sound recordings and photographic images of the federal government. The collection covers 31 million cubic feet. Much of it has never been sorted.

    "He duped not only the National Archives, but everyone with an interest in the Civil War, American justice and President Lincoln," said Yockelson, who specializes in military history. "What we're doing now is righting a wrong in history."

    When Lowry announced his discovery to Archives officials, they did not check the pardon's veracity because they had no reason to suspect it was a forgery. The agency does not vet documents found in its original holdings, Plante said, even though the pardon contained a clue that it may have been altered. A line in red link at the bottom has a reference to the soldier's court-martial, issued by the Army's adjutant general. The year was 1864.

    Plante said the curator who handled the case assumed the date was a reference to the year of the court-martial, not the pardon.

    "We assume something found in our holdings is untampered with and correct," he said. "She took it at face value."

    Plante said he received an e-mail this week from the curator, who now works at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

    "She is as shocked as everybody else."


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