Today, the Lincoln One Cent Coin remembers the events of 1864 when President Lincoln had newspapermen arrested and their papers shut down after they published a bogus proclamation.
In The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion by Edward McPherson published in 1865:
1864, May 19 — By order of the Secretary of War, the offices of the Journal of Commerce and the World—in which papers had appeared a forged proclamation of the President for 400,000 troops — were seized by the military authorities and held for several days.
On that same day, several newspaper editors wrote the President describing how the incident occurred.
From the Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies:
New York City, May 19, 1864. (Received 2.30 p.m.)
His Excellency A. LINCOLN, President of the United States:
SIR: The undersigned, editors and publishers of a portion of the daily press of the city of New York, respectfully represent that the news arrangements, under an organization established in 1848 and known as the New York Associated Press, which is controlled by its members, acting through an executive committee, a general agent in this city, and assistant agents immediately responsible to the association at every important news center throughout this country and Europe.
Under the above-named organization the rule has always been to transmit by telegraph all intelligence to the office of the general agent in this city, and by him the same is properly prepared for publication, and then written out by manifold process on tissue paper, and a copy of the same is sent simultaneously in sealed envelopes to each of the editors who are entitled to receive the same.
From foregoing statement of facts Your Excellency will readily perceive that an ingenious rogue, knowing the manner in which the editors were supplied with much of their telegraphic news, could, by selecting his time and opportunity, easily impose upon editors or compositors the most wicked and fraudulent reports.
On Wednesday morning, at about 3 o’clock, a messenger, who well counterfeited the regular messenger of the Associated Press, presented himself at all save one of the editorial rooms of the papers connected with the Associated Press and delivered to the foreman, in the absence of the night editors, sealed envelopes containing manifold papers similar in all respects to that used by the association, upon which was written a fraudulent proclamation, purporting to be signed by Your Excellency and countersigned by the Honorable Secretary of State.
The very late hour at which the fraud was perpetrated left no time for consideration as to the authenticity or genuineness of the document, and the copy in most of the offices was at once cut up into small pieces and given into the hands of the compositors, and in two cases the fraud was not discovered or suspected even till after the whole morning editions of the papers were printed off and distributed.
The undersigned beg to state to Your Excellency that the fraud, which succeeded with The World and the Journal of Commerce, was one which, from the circumstances attending it and the practices of the Associated Press, was extremely natural and very liable to have succeeded in any daily newspaper establishment in this city, and inasmuch as, in the judgment of the undersigned, the editors and proprietors of the Journal of Commerce and The World were innocent of any knowledge of wrong in the publication of the fraudulent document, and also in view of the fact that the suspension by Your Excellency’s orders of the two papers last evening has had the effect to awaken editors and publishers and news agents, telegraph companies, &c., to the propriety of increased vigilance in their several duties, the undersigned respectfully request that Your Excellency will be pleased to rescind the order under which The World and the Journal of Commerce were suppressed.
Respectfully, Your Excellency’s obedient servants, –
SIDNEY HOWARD GAY, For Tribune.
ERASTUS BROOKS, New York Express.
FREDERICK HUDSON, For JAS. G. BENNETT, New York Herald.
M. S. BEACH, New York Sun.
A few days later, the Jamestown [NY] Journal printed an article about the bogus proclamation and included the instigator’s name and motivation:
In the morning edition of the New York World and Journal of Commerce of Wednesday the 18th, there appeared a proclamation purporting to be from President Lincoln, setting apart a day for National humiliation and fasting, and ordering a draft for 400,000 men.
It was discovered to be a hoax early that morning and the proprietors of the two papers publishing it were arrested and their papers suppressed under order from the President, also the managers of the “Independent Telegraph Co.” over whose lines it was said to have been sent.
It appears that a copy of the Proclamation was sent to every paper in the city, nearly all of whom were “sold” by it to some extent, the Herald having it in a portion of its edition which was destroyed by the proprietors.
It was a confused and awkward document and the Times of Saturday says that a single glance satisfied them that it was a fraud.
Large rewards for the detection of the guilty ones were offered by the World, Journal of Commerce, Associated Press, and by subscription, and on Friday, two days after its first appearance, J. Howard, Jr., of the Brooklyn Eagle was arrested, and confessed that he was the originator of the swindle.
He states that he did it for the purpose of affecting the Gold and Stock markets, and had no idea that it would produce more important or serious results.
He was sent to Fort Lafayette, and will doubtless meet with summary punishment from the hands of the government.
While we admit that it is a very suspicious fact that of all the papers to whom this document was sent, the only ones who printed and circulated it were the most disloyal, coppery sheets in the city, yet we cannot endorse the President’s course in the premises.
It certainly looks as though Old Abe had, for once, been too fast —though the past course of these papers would full justify him in suspecting them of complicity with the originators of this nefarious document —or anything else that was traitorous or devilish.
We await further developments.
On Monday the publication of the World and Journal of Commerce was resumed, though the Telegraph Co. is still in the hands of the Government officers.
It is useless to add that the Administration is being most heartily abused by these organs of treason.
The Lincoln One Cent Coin shows beside the Brady photograph of the President, circa 1864.