William Alvin Lloyd

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William Alvin Lloyd, a steamboat and railroad guide publisher, was employed during the Civil War as a personal spy for President Abraham Lincoln. Lloyd along with his associates Thomas H.S. Boyd and F.J. Bonfanti were able to travel throughout the south during the war, and gather intelligence. After his death, Lloyd's estate filed suit against the government for unpaid compensation. This suit resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court case Totten v. United States.[1]

Lloyd's Visit to Lincoln in 1861[edit]

In the summer of 1861 William Aldrich Lloyd came to President Abraham Lincoln. Lloyd came to request a passport to allow him travel into Confederate States of America.[2] The passport would allow Lloyd to do research for his guide books on railroad and steam boat transportation. Lincoln agreed to issue Lloyd the passport on the condition that he would act as Lincoln's personal secret agent. Despite initial disinterest, Lloyd accepted Lincoln's proposal. Lincoln issued passports for Lloyd, Mr. Boyd, Mr. Bonfanti, Mrs. Boyd, and her maid in July 1861.[1] When receiving his passport, Lloyd signed a contract with Lincoln stipulating:

  • He would report on the number of troops at specific points.[3]
  • He would procure the plans of the Confederacy forts and other battle structures.[3]
  • He would receive no codes or ciphers to use in his messages.[3]
  • He was to report to President Lincoln only.[4]
  • He would paid $200 monthly stipend, and be compensated for expenses.[3]

Activities in the Confederacy[edit]

Lloyd and his associates entered the Confederacy on 13 July 1861.[1] In the following four years Lloyd remained in the Confederacy researching for his publications, and providing human intelligence (HUMINT) to President Lincoln.[1] Over the course of the war, Lloyd traveled across the Confederacy and spent time in: Richmond, Savannah, Chattanooga, and New Orleans.[5] Lloyd and his business partners had a well established presence in the Confederacy prior to the war, which afforded them an easier time moving about the country. Despite their reputation, Lloyd's activities drew suspicion from government and military officials. Over the course of his four years in the Confederacy, Lloyd was incarcerated on at least four separate occasions.[1] Lloyd was also questioned by authorities on many occasions, to determine his intentions. Prior to one of these interrogations Lloyd was forced to destroy the contract, which he kept inside his hat, before it was discovered.[1]

It is believed that Lloyd's intelligence dispatches were used by Lincoln to check reports made from military commanders.[2] However, due to the provisions of his contract, Lloyd and his associates experienced problems sending intelligence to President Lincoln.[1] Lloyd was unable to send the intelligence through the Union Army, which had easier means to send dispatches via telegraph. President Lincoln also did not provide Lloyd with any code or cipher system which would have allowed the encryption of the intelligence documents, which increased the risk of being exposed. Instead, Lloyd and his associates were forces to find alternate ways to send dispatches. Dispatches were often sent to members of Boyd's family living near Washington, D.C.Boyd's relatives would then deliver the message directly to the White House.[2] On at least one other occasion, Boyd himself delivered a dispatch directly to President Lincoln. As a result of these challenges, intelligence provided by Lloyd often lacked critical timeliness. Still, over the course of the war Lloyd is known to have provided maps of fortifications, harbors, and troop strengths to Lincoln.[2]

The End of the War[edit]

Following the assassination of Lincoln, and the end of the war, Lloyd returned to the north. Lloyd submitted bills for his expenses to the government when he returned north. Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton issued a reimbursement for his expenses totaled $2,380. However, the Stanton refused to pay Lloyd his $200 a month stipend, which totaled $9,753.32 at the end of the war.[1] The payment was refused because there was no remaining copy of the Lloyd's contract with President Lincoln. Lloyd returned to his business and the issue was dropped until his death in 1868.[1]

Totten v. United States[edit]

After Lloyd's death in 1868, the administer of his estate Enoch Totten, filed suit against the United States government in 1875. The suit challenged the nonpayment of Lloyd's stipend.[1] The Supreme Court agreed to hear the suit, and provided a decision in 1876.[6] The Supreme Court upheld the decision of lower courts.[6] The court cited that the six year statute of limitations had expired on the contract and the way the suit was handled.[1] The Supreme Court agreed that President Lincoln had the authority to hire Lloyd as a secret agent in time of war.[6] The Supreme Court also discussed the nature of the suit, because it violates the secret nature of the contract and duties.[6] The case is still cited as precedent today.[7]


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