Why Is This Forged Lincoln Document Such a Surprise?

January 26th, 2011

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the recent Opinionator post at the New York Times by Harold Holzer, who is the chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. In his post, Holzer talks about the announcement the other day by the National Archives that an amateur historian named Thomas Lowry had confessed to doctoring a pardon penned by Abraham Lincoln.

Holzer’s post refers readers to an earlier Times article, which ran the following caption beneath the photo shown above-right: “Look closely: that 5 in the document was once a 4.”

Look closely? Really? Isn’t it obvious that the 5 is different from the other numbers? According to the Times article, Mitchell Yockelson, an investigator for the National Archives, says that Lowry admitting to using “a Pelikan pen” to change the date from 1864 to 1865. The alleged motivation was to tie a document of clemency and mercy to the last moments of Lincoln’s life—the president was assassinated later that day.

For his part, Lowry denies the charge, but I’m still stumped that no one thought to give the document a second glance when Lowry made his revelation back in 1999. Are historians really that hungry for a new story that they would turn a blind eye to what appears to be obvious hacking? It makes you wonder how many more “facts” there are out there that we routinely, and wrongly, embrace as the truth.

3 comments so far

  1. jennie kinder Says:

    or vice versa, How many facts are debunked as “mucked up” when a so called expert says it’s so. Experts can be wrong but probably not in this case. A second option is a wise investment and now even forensics are being implemented in some cases.

  2. John Koster Says:

    Dr. Lowry once evaluated rwo signatures for me, one from 1872, one from 1921, possibly by the same person. He came down on the same side as an FBI-trained criminologist with pre-med training and a police detective with 35 years experience: probably the same person at different stages of life. His response was responsible and dealr with “angle of slant” and “arachnographia.” Lowry is to honest and above all, too intelligent to have commited such an absurd forgery. I find the lynch-mob condemnation of his coerced confession to be vicious and naive at the same time. I can show you newspapers predicting a war with Japan seven days before Pearl Harbor, yet everybody claims they were “surprised.” Certainlty Stephen Ambrose and Iris Chang thought so. There’s a difference between history and propaganda. I think he was framed.

  3. Michael Mankin Says:

    Sometimes the “real thing” is worthless. The fake that fools everyone is worth much more. For some, truth is based on faith in expertise; for others, faith is based on hope in expertise. This one is so bad that it looks very good!

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