Thursday, August 30, 2018


There's an old saying that a lie can go around the world before the truth gets its boots on, and that is certainly true about the charge that Lincoln used a forged almanac in his cross-examination of the prosecution's star witness against Duff Armstrong. The witness said he saw the murder by the light of the moon high overhead, and the almanac showed the moon was on the horizon at the time of the murder. The false charge has been rebutted and refuted numerous times over the years, but it never seems to die.

Beginning of the 1860 Campaign Article on the Almanac Trial

I wrote in "Lincoln's Most Famous Case" and again in "Prairie Defender" that the charge was first made in the 1860 presidential campaign after an account of the Almanac Trial was published as campaign literature under the title "Thrilling Episode in the Life of Abe Lincoln." This account was soon rebutted with the fake almanac allegation. As I was preparing for my visit to Illinois next week, I discovered that there was a tradition which held that the fake almanac allegation was made against Lincoln in his 1858 senatorial campaign against Stephen A. Douglas. I doubt that the allegation was made this early, and here is why:

The story of the trial hit the papers immediately after Lincoln was nominated. It played as a heartwarming human interest story but it was exaggerated to make the almanac show no moon at all when actually the moon was on the horizon. It’s hard to see why Lincoln’s handlers would have gone with the story if they knew of the fake almanac allegation. Second, the story was immediately answered by a sneering rebuttal entitled "Sensation Story Spoilt." It was supposedly written by someone who had intimate knowledge of the case, but he made no mention of the fake almanac. Third, there would be no suspicion of a fake almanac until someone fact-checked the no-moon detail of the pro-Lincoln propaganda against an almanac, which likely happened after the publication of "Sensation Story Spoilt." If the fake almanac allegation had already been made in 1858, it would have been featured in "Sensation Story Spoilt." None of the references I have seen which say the allegation was made in 1858 have footnotes or endnotes, so we don't know where they got their information.
Until I can see contemporary evidence of faked almanac allegations being made in the 1858 campaign, I’m going to believe that fading memories of long-ago events retrojected the 1860.

If anyone knows of a contemporary reference which supports the allegation being made in 1858, please bring it to my attention. I'd like to see it.

The Rebuttal to the 1860 Campaign Article