As President, Bill Clinton deals with many major issues that affect all of us -- crime, drugs, and the environment, just to name a few. However, when our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), was in office, times were very different. President Lincoln is well known for his leadership during the Civil War and for signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves. However, did you know that he also established the United States Secret Service?
When the United States Secret Service (USSS) was established, its main duty was to prevent the illegal production, or counterfeiting, of money. In the 1800s, America's monetary system was very disorganized. Bills and coins were issued by each state through individual banks, which generated many types of legal currency. With so many different kinds of bills in circulation, it was easy for people to counterfeit money. During President Lincoln's Administration, more than a third of the nation's money was counterfeit. On the advice of Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch, President Lincoln established a commission to stop this rapidly growing problem that was destroying the nation's economy, and on April 14, 1865, he created the United States Secret Service to carry out the commission's recommendations.
The Secret Service officially went to work on July 5, 1865. Its first chief was William Wood. Chief Wood, widely known for his heroism during the Civil War, was very successful in his first year, closing more than 200 counterfeiting plants. This success helped prove the value of the Secret Service, and in 1866 the National Headquarters was established in the Department of the Treasury building in Washington, D.C.
During the evening of the same day President Lincoln established the Secret Service, he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., by John Wilkes Booth. The country mourned as news spread that the President had been shot. It was the first time in our nation's history that a President had been assassinated. As cries from citizens rang out, Congress began to think about adding Presidential protection to the list of duties performed by the Secret Service. However, it would take another 36 years and the assassination of two more Presidents -- James A. Garfield (March 4, 1881-September 10, 1881) and William McKinley (1897-1901) -- before the Congress added protection of the President to the list of duties performed by the Secret Service.
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