U.S. Coin Price Guide

Coin Collecting

Buy Coin Supplies

Anonymous Writer Sought Relief for Aching Conscience
By Fred Reed

My dictionary defines “conscience money” as “money paid usually anonymously to relieve the conscience by restoring what has been wrongfully acquired.”

Our federal government maintains a Conscience Fund—and has since 1811—into which such funds are deposited when received from someone who went astray, but has since seen the light of repentance and restitution. Reasons given by contributors include everything from reusing a postage stamp to more serious transgressions. According to an old clipping from Time magazine, funds from remorseful senders totaled $5.7 million by 1986, and doubtless have risen much higher since.

One such contribution from a repentant thief landed on President Abraham Lincoln’s desk in the middle of the Civil War. “Paper Profiles” takes a slightly different turn this month in showing the unique address panel from the letter sheet that contained the money at the Abraham Lincoln Papers collection in the Library of Congress.

Addressed to “Hon. Abraham Lincoln/President of the United States/ White House/Washington/DC,” it was dispatched in the care of Adams & Company Express at Brooklyn, N.Y., and marked “Private.”

As can be seen, another notation in a different hand reads “$900 from Wm Johnson.” William H. Johnson was Lincoln’s valet, and sometimes a Treasury messenger. The LOC document number is stamped at upper left.

Inside when one of Lincoln’s presidential secretaries opened the letter was a pile of greenbacks and a plaintive note dated March 2, 1863, signed enigmatically pseudonymously.

The correspondent wrote:

“Inter nos”

“To his Excellency Abraham Lincoln/President of the United States.”

“Enclosed you will find Eight hundred and sixty eight dollars which I came by in a dishonest manner and which I return to the United States through you.

“Being tempted, in an unguarded moment, I consented to take it being very much in want of money, but thanks be to my Saviour I was led by the influences of the Holy Spirit to see my great sin and to return it to you as the representative of the United States.

“Hoping you will pardon me in the name of the government you represent as I trust I will be pardoned by my Father who is in heaven (through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ his son) I remain your penitent suppliant, Candide Secure.”

The document also contains Lincoln’s endorsement. He wrote: “Please acknowledge receipt” on the letter, and “Stolen money returned” on the envelope.

These funds were turned over to U.S. Treasurer Francis E. Spinner by Johnson. Spinner dutifully acknowledged: “Received, March 5, 1863, of A. Lincoln, President of the United States the sum mentioned within, in “Green-backs.”

The enigmatic “$900” figure on the outside of the letter sheet appears to be in Spinner’s hand, too, since it corresponds to his other notation on the document. But why it doesn’t match the amount stated in the letter is anyone’s guess.

“Inter nos” at the top of the letter is Latin for “between ourselves,” so the correspondent was requesting privacy, and the identity of this born-again letter writer is unrecorded. A cataloger at the Library of Congress was hard pressed to supply any details on the mysterious message. “The origin of this document is as mysterious as that of any pseudonymous communication can be,” he wrote.

I described this small incident in my book Abraham Lincoln: the Image of His Greatness that was released last year, but this is the first time I’ve illustrated any portion of it.

This human interest story was buried in his father’s personal papers when Robert Todd Lincoln turned them over to the Library of Congress in 1919. Four years later he deeded them to the United States. They remained closed until 1947.

“Candide Secure” is Latin. It translates to “frankly fearless” or “openly fearless,” which is hardly what the writer really was. However, it’s unimportant we know “Candide Secure’s” transgression, but can openly admire his contrition.


© 1992-2018 DC2NET™, Inc. All Rights Reserved