It’s release month for Counterfeit Love and I thought it might be fun to share some of my behind-the-scenes research of the Hidden Hearts of the Gilded Age series. I’ll also be running a giveaway all month long with each Counterfeit Love / Secret Service post for your chance to win one of three prizes. Read through this post to the bottom to discover the details.
Did you know that the Secret Service didn’t officially start protecting the president until 1902 but were established in 1865? So what did they do for those almost forty years?
The answer? Track down and arrest counterfeiters.
The Early Days of the Secret Service
It is estimated that one-third of the circulating U.S. currency was counterfeit during the period of the Civil War. How is that possible? Well, until 1863, there was no national currency. Each state and bank had its own design for banknotes making it an easy world for counterfeiters to thrive. When the United States instituted a national currency in 1863, the problem of counterfeiting continued to thrive, which was bad news for our country. Public confidence in a nation’s currency is critical to the health of the country’s economy, and the United States was in serious trouble.
On April 14th, 1865 Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCullough brought attention to the growing trouble of counterfeiting and insisted a permanent, continuous, aggressive organized effort was needed to thwart this menace to the economy. Abraham Lincoln agreed and authorized him to move forward. That same night, Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Despite the turmoil in the government that followed, on July 5, 1865, William P. Wood was sworn in as the first Chief of the U.S. Secret Service.
About 30 men made up this first group of Secret Service operatives. Headquarters was established in Washington D.C. while eleven field offices were placed in cities throughout the country. A guide list of six “general orders” was issued*:
- Each man must recognize that his service belongs to the government through 24 hours of every day.
- All must agree to assignment to the locations chosen by the Chief and respond to whatever mobility of movement the work might require.
- All must exercise such careful saving of money spent for travel, subsistence, and payments for information as can be self-evidently justified.
- Continuing employment in the Service will depend upon demonstrated fitness, ability as investigators, and honesty and fidelity in all transactions.
- The title of regular employees will be Operative, Secret Service. Temporary employees will be Assistant Operatives or Informants.
- All employment will be at a daily pay rate; accounts submitted monthly. Each operative will be expected to keep on hand enough personal reserve funds to carry on Service business between paydays.
(*Taken from The United States Secret Service by Warren S. Bowen and Harry Edward Neal.)
Credentials came in the form of handwritten letters of appointment until an incident in 1871 made them reconsider. Ira W. Raymond waltzed into a field office posing as an operative and demanded all contraband be turned over to him. The operative on duty felt it odd he wouldn’t have been notified and telegrammed headquarters. Raymond was arrested, but this prompted Chief Whitley (the second Chief) to design and issue distinctive badges and printed credentials to all members of the Secret Service.
These badges were five-pointed, silver stars with lacework engraved into each point. “U.S. Secret Service” was stamped into the center of each. Operatives had $25 deducted from their paycheck for the badges, with the promise it would be returned upon retirement when they turned in their badge. Each operative carried engraved and printed credentials called commissions from that point forward.
Unfortunately, the first two administrations of the Secret Service were fraught with scandal, leaving a cloud hanging over the public image of the division. Chief Washburn made some repairs to their reputation, but it was Chief James J. Brooks who really turned things around.
One of Chief Brooks’s first acts what to compile and issue the first formal manual of instructions for operatives. These were called “General Orders No. 4.” It was under his reformation that the Secret Service was officially recognized as its own division with the Treasury Department and had its own budget, limited as it was. Chief Brooks was a hard man and did not believe in vacations for his men. Any leave of absence was given without pay. But through his leadership, public opinion began to shift in a more positive direction toward the Secret Service.
Curious to learn more? I’ll be posting more over the coming weeks. Or you can check out the bonus content section of my website.
Your chance to comment: Did you know any random facts about the Secret Service? Was there anything particularly interesting that stuck out to you?
Enter the Rafflecopter below to be entered to win one of three prizes: (Grand prize) – A signed copy of Counterfeit Love with a book sleeve made by my Momma, a toe bag with story-related prizes inside, (2nd prize) – A signed copy of Counterfeit Love with a book sleeve made by my Momma, socks, and a bookmark, (3rd prize) A signed copy of Counterfeit Love with a book sleeve made by my Momma and a bookish zipper bag. Entries run from March 1st to March 31st, 11:59pm EST. *Open to those legally able to enter, U.S. residents only for the physical prizes, international winners will be given a prize of equal value to whichever level they win.*