Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Abraham Lincoln's Most Notorious Forgers

John Laflin

Throughout the better part of the 20th century, native Nebraskan John Laflin, also known as John Laffite, caused literary havoc with his countless forgeries. One of his most infamous works included a document allegedly written by Jose Enrique de la Pena entitled Personal Narrative with Santa Anna in Texas, which was believed to have been a rare account of the battle of the Alamo. However, he was also known to have forged a great many documents purportedly written by Lincoln.

Although his counterfeit Lincoln documents were produced in abundance, the writing style of the president was by no means skillfully imitated. In fact, most experts considered Laflin's reproductions at best amateurish. Yet, it did not hamper his ability to sell his creations, which he did at great profit.

According to Hamilton, Laflin's Lincoln forgeries were, "poor imitations…and the text is diffuse, rambling and incoherent." The writing style he employed was also incongruous with that of the ex-president. Moreover, it didn't help that several of the counterfeit documents produced by Laflin and passed off as "originals" were written in German, a language unfamiliar to Lincoln.

John Laflin forgery
John Laflin forgery

In spite of his apparent ineptness, Laflin forged on. In addition to his Lincoln and de la Pena fabrications, he also produced numerous falsified documents and signatures of other great personalities including, early pioneer David Crockett and ex-president Andrew Jackson, to name a few. It is unclear whether Laflin served any prison time for his reproductions, but if so it did not prevent him from continuing with his illegal escapades until he died in 1970.

Laflin was not the last of the Lincoln forgers. In fact, he was one of a countless line of criminals that would contribute to Lincoln's reputation as the most forged man in history. There remains in libraries, historical archives and private collections an endless stream of counterfeit Lincoln documents, letters and signatures still yet undetected as fakes. Furthermore, as time passes, there will be an accumulation of many more such reproductions. As P.T. Barnum once said, "there's a sucker born every minute" and as long as there is a market for historical documents, regardless of whether they are forged there will be a fraudster waiting to take advantage of the opportunity of selling it to them.

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