The National Archives announced on Tuesday that the date on a handwritten pardon issued by President Abraham Lincoln has been tampered with, significantly changing its importance and historical significance to American history.
Thomas Lowry, 76, confessed to Special Agent Greg Tremaglio of the Office of the Inspector General of the National Archives that he altered the date of a death penalty pardon for Patrick Murphy—a soldier during the Civil War who was court-martialed for deserting the Union Army and was sentenced to death by shooting—from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865.
By altering the date, according to Discovery News, the document became significantly important as this appeared to be one of the final official acts Lincoln carried out as President of the United States before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford's Theater.
The said document was brought to the of the Office of the Inspector General by Trevor Plante, the acting Chief of Reference of the National Archives. He told the Telegraph that he began to grow suspicious of the document after he began to show it to visitors to the National Archives.
"The more I used it, [the more] the date started to look a little hanky," he said. "The ink on the '5' was a little darker than the rest of the date, and it looked like there was almost a ghost image underneath it."
The document was examined by Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team (ART). The results of the examination made confirmed Plante's suspicions.
Lowry was interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General on January 12, 2011. It was during this interview, according to the International Business Times, when he admitted to the tampering of the date by using a fountain pen with a "fade-proof, pigment-based ink" to alter the date.
The matter was sent to the Department of Justice in order for Lowry to face criminal prosecution for the tampering of the said document.
However, in a press release made by the National Archives, the Department of Justice stated that the statute of limitation for this particular kind of offense has already expired. As such, Lowry will not be facing criminal charges in relation to the forgery he made.
Lowry has been banned permanently from the National Archives' facilities and research rooms.
The document, according to the Washington Post, will be taken out from circulation from the National Archives within this week. However, the decision was made not because of the wrong information on the date of the document resulting from the alteration made by Lowry. Instead, it is to protect it from being a target of theft.
"It's now a document of such notoriety," Yockelson told reporters.
Archives officials have tried to see whether the alteration can be reversed. However, Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler—chief of the conservation lab—stated that doing this would only do more damage on the document and "still not have the original four in 1864."
"What was is lost," she said. "But we will have a dossier on this for the public, a thorough explanation of what happened."
Thomas Lowry gained national media attention in 1998 after he made his "discovery" of the Murphy pardon document. He cited the altered information in his book, Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, which was published in 1999. This earned him the reputation to be an expert on the life and works of Abraham Lincoln.