What’s Up, Document?

by John J. Miller on January 26, 2011

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

The National Archives has accused a researcher of changing the date on a document signed by Abraham Lincoln. Here’s the Washington Post account:

The Archives on Monday accused [Thomas] Lowry of altering the pardon in plain view in the agency’s main research room to amplify its historical significance. Lincoln had indeed issued a pardon to Pvt. Patrick Murphy, but the 16th president did it exactly one year to the day before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Archives officials, after a year-long investigation, say Lowry signed a written confession Jan. 12 that he brought a fountain pen into the research room sometime in 1998 and wrote a 5 over the 4 in 1864, using a fade-proof ink.

It’s a strange and troubling story of historical obsession: “Thomas Lowry, 78, was catapulted to fame as a chronicler of Civil War military justice. The pardon, exhibited at the Archives’ rotunda in downtown Washington, became a new thread in the narrative of one of history’s most famous assassinations.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve check the indexes of several recent books on the Lincoln assassination: Manhunt by James L. Swanson, My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone, and American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman. None mention this this allegedly altered document, so it appears not to have corrupted some of the most recent popular printed accounts of Lincoln’s final day.

Judge for yourself. Here are two images of the document in question.

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