John Wilkes Booth Abraham Lincoln's Assassin Part 1

About the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, history and biography of the assassin John Wilkes Booth.


The Victim: ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 16th president of the U. S., who led the Union to victory in the Civil War after freeing the slaves.

The Assassin: John Wilkes Booth was a 26-year-old native of Maryland and an ardent Southern sympathizer. He was the second-youngest son of the famed English Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth and the brother of the noted tragedian Edwin Booth. The short but handsome actor was admired for his agility and his dark-haired, mustachioed good looks, but he was badly overshadowed by a brilliant but insane father and a famous brother. (Edwin played Hamlet as a brooding, reflective philosopher. John Wilkes portrayed the Danish prince as totally mad-an extension, perhaps, of his own inner torments.)

Booth admired Brutus, his father's namesake, and sometimes interjected the phrase sic semper tyrannis into Shakespeare's Julius Caesar when, as Brutus, he thrust a dagger into Caesar's breast. The phrase also happened to be the official motto of Virginia, the capital state of the Confederacy.

John Wilkes was strongly attracted by the real-life drama of the Civil War. He participated in its true "opening engagement" as a recruit in U.S. Col. Robert E. Lee's Richmond Grays when that (then loyal) troop defeated the abolitionist visionary John Brown at Harpers Ferry. Booth became ill when he saw Brown hanged on Dec. 2,1859, and he never again wore a military uniform. He did, according to some reports, continue to aid the Confederacy-and augment his income-by smuggling bandages, quinine, morphine, and other medicines from the North to the South after the war was officially declared in 1861.

Traditionally it has been said that Booth masterminded a plot to kidnap Lincoln in 1865, perhaps under orders from the Confederacy. He planned to smuggle the President to Richmond, where he would trade him for an advantageous armistice or a large number of Rebel prisoners. Recently, David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr., claimed to have uncovered new documents that point to a wider kidnap conspiracy. In The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977), a highly controversial work, they assert that Booth, a fanatic Lincoln hater, was not only working for the Confederacy, but was hired by a coterie of Northern cotton and gold speculators and a group of radical Republicans, including Secretary of War Stanton, who were determined to prevent Lincoln from carrying out his moderate program of reconstruction for the South. These men ordered Booth to grab Vice-President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward as well as Lincoln. The conspirators planned to discredit the Lincoln administration while its top men were held out of sight and then to seize control of the government.

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