Allan Pinkerton and His Legacy
Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones

Allan Pinkerton and His Legacy

Private security is today a major phenomenon, as widespread in federal as in non-governmental institutions. It had its origins in a distinctly American business, albeit one with Scottish roots – Pinkertonism. This is not the only reason for revisiting the life and legacy of Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, founded just under 175 years ago. For while the dramas associated with Pinkerton and his agency have been a source of endless fascination and have inspired a great number of books, articles, congressional reports and movies, the story needs to be refreshed. Previous studies, while informative, have in some respects been factually misguided (for example, contrary to all earlier accounts Pinkerton did not participate in the Newport Rising of 1839) and have typically been polarized between the hagiographic and the censorious. In spite of the accidental destruction of Pinkerton files in Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871, and the agency’s defensive destruction of embarrassing files during the La Follette investigation of the 1930s as well as on the eve of transferring its records to the Library of Congress in 2000, there is ample evidence at the disposal of a historian who wishes to tell the story anew and with no axe to grind.

 

                Some anticipated features of the book:

 

• argues that Pinkerton imported to America both a firm set of principles and the mentality of the informer

•argues that Pinkerton epitomized the ‘Confidence Man’ defined in Herman Melville’s 1857 novel of that title

• argues that Pinkertons and other private detectives were unwilling class warriors and often sympathized with labor, but made a living by fomenting social discord

• rehearses with authority storylines that the reader will expect: the Baltimore plot on Lincoln’s life; the running down of the James brothers; the Molly Maguire conflict; the Homestead Strike; the feud with the W.J. Burns agency; the La Follette disclosures

• tells for the first time the story of the 1893 Anti-Pinkerton Act and its aftermath running into the 1960s.

• concludes with a chapter, ‘Who Was the Greatest Detective of Them All?’, an expansion of an article I published in the Strand magazine based on biographical stories. The expansion supplies an added interpretive twist. In spite of the recent defunding controversy, federal, state and city police forces have in reality been better than the private sector at solving crimes and serving the public interest.

Book Details:

  • Author: Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones
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Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones was born in Wales and received his higher education in Aberystwyth (BA, Alun Lewis Memorial Prize), Michigan, Harvard and Cambridge (PhD). He held post doctoral fellowships at Harvard, Free University Berlin and Toronto. Founder and now honorary president of the Scottish Association for the Study of America, he is emeritus professor of history at the University of Edinburgh. His books have appeared in several languages. They include In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence (OUP, 2013) and The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900 (Edi...
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