Update on the supposed tampering with Lincoln documents

Thanks to Brett Schulte and the gang at TOCWOC for posting this update. As Civil Warriors first posted and I posted on January 25, Lincoln scholar Thomas Lowry admitted, then later denied, altering the date of a pardon issued by Lincoln. Now, Mr. Lowry is telling his side of the story in greater detail through his own blog, which does raise speculation about how the case was handled by the federal government. Having read the posting, I am willing to consider that Mr. Lowry may have been railroaded until shown otherwise. I will also modify my remarks on the damage being done here, and consider the possibility that someone researching years before Mr. Lowry may have tampered with the document, fooling both Mr. Lowry and the staff of the Archives until technology allowed a very detailed examination of the forensics of that item. I will say that, if innocent, he is vindicated in the media and I will happily post that.

Now, I will take issue with the characterization of the Civil War blogging community. When one blog, written by reputable historians, post a link to media reports dealing with some aspect of the war, or research on the period, others, myself included are going to pick it up and link to the original post. This is because it is a news worthy item and not every blog on the war has the same readership. Further, when the sources reporting include the Associated Press, National Archives, Washington Post and NPR, it is hard not to consider that it is legitimate.

With this new side to the story, I am now on the fence. If Mr. Lowry is proven right, the federal government has a serious problem on its hands. After reading his response, some of his observations are interesting. The criticism of the changing nature of the National Archives is truly worth exploring deeper. I hope that this case will be resolved soon.

Lincoln historian caught tampering with document

Thanks to Civil Warriors for increasing the awareness of this story. With the 150th anniversary of the war coming up and the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, negative news about scholarship and research on these subjects is likely to increase. According to their posting and the linked articles, Lincoln scholar Thomas Lowry admitted to tampering with a pardon Lincoln issued. The original document, which can be viewed through this article, was written on April 14, 1864, but Lowry used a fountain pen to alter the date to April 14, 1865, attempting to make it be one of the last documents written by Lincoln the day he was assassinated. As if to add more fuel to this fire, Lowry denied the falsification of the document, according to an article posted by NPR.

The National Archives turned the case over to the Justice Department, but the statute of limitations expired, so Lowry will not face prosecution. He is banned from the facilities, but the damage has been done. The document may be forever altered and raises questions of how many other documents have been similarly been damaged, which could have implications for existing research. Further, what consequences will this incident have to access for other scholars to the National Archives and other manuscript repositories.

This case reminds me of an incident my mentor Dr. James Davis recalled when we visited Washington, DC in 2004 to research at the Library of Congress and National Archives. It involved theft of documents from the manuscript reading room at the LOC, which resulted in increased security. You needed to sign in and out just to go to the restroom or retrieve something from your locker. The culprits were apparently imprisoned for many years and maybe still in jail.

The lesson from this is to be honest in your research and attempt to see the value in all documents. True, there will always be those who attempt to make a name for themselves through dishonest means, which will place greater scrutiny on scholarship, as well as make it more difficult to research in archives. However, these individuals will not destroy the passion many of us have for the past and researching new areas within that past. Until next time, keep researching and reading.