McLEAN, Va. (AP) – Colleagues of a historian accused of altering a presidential pardon signed by Abraham Lincoln to make it appear he had made a major discovery say he betrayed the trust that had been placed in him.
The accused historian – Thomas P. Lowry, 78, of Virginia – denied Tuesday that he actually tampered with the document despite a written confession he gave to the National Archives earlier this month.
The National Archives announced on Monday that Lowry used a fountain pen with special ink to change the date on a presidential pardon issued by Lincoln to a Union army deserter from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865. The date change made it look like the pardon was the last official act carried out by Lincoln before he was shot that night at Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Lowry recanted his confession and said he offered repeated denials to Archives investigators over the course of a two-hour interview but eventually wore down when they refused to believe him.
“I foolishly signed a statement saying I had done it,” Lowry said. “Now they’re portraying me as a fool, a liar and a criminal. I screwed myself by signing it.”
But the inspector general’s office for the Archives says that not only did Lowry willingly confess, he offered up details about how he did it with a fountain pen and special ink.
“He voluntarily provided a statement, written in his own hand, in which he elaborated on his actions and provided specific details on how he committed this act,” said Ross Weiland, the Archives’ assistant inspector general for investigations. “He subsequently swore to the statement’s accuracy and signed the statement. No threats, rewards or promises of any kind were made to Mr. Lowry in return for his sworn statement.”
Archives officials say Lowry admitted he did it to boost his career. Lowry said Tuesday it doesn’t make sense that he would have altered the document to gain notoriety.
“I’m hardly famous and certainly not rich,” Lowry said.
But Archives officials say Lowry’s purported discovery did vault him into prominence in the world of Abraham Lincoln historians when he announced his findings back in 1998. The Archives itself praised Lowry’s work at the time as “a unique and substantial contribution to Lincoln research and to the study of the Civil War.”
Ted Savas, who published a 1999 book authored by Lowry called Don’t Shoot That Boy! Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice that referred to the falsified pardon, said Lowry was well-respected and he had no reason to believe that Lowry might be falsifying information.
“He was a really meticulous, careful researcher and a good writer,” Savas said. “But if you’re going to hand a publisher something you know is false – that’s a betrayal.”
Trevor Plante, the Archives employee who first became suspicious about the document because the altered ‘5’ appeared darker than the other writing, called it “very galling and upsetting to me as a trained historian that someone would change a document to make it more historically significant than it actually is.”
Savas said he can’t help but wonder now whether Lowry may have falsified other information in that book or in any of his dozen or so books, some of which were self-published. Many dealt with unusual topics including Civil War bawdy houses and sexual misconduct by Civil War soldiers.
Most recently, Lowry collaborated with Terry Reimer, research director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Maryland, on a book published last week: Bad Doctors: Military Justice Proceedings Against 622 Civil War Surgeons.
Reimer said Tuesday that her collaboration with Lowry ended with that book and that Lowry has no official connection to the museum.
Reimer declined to comment on the allegation against Lowry, citing the continuing investigation.
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