What if Booth's Bullet Had Missed Abraham Lincoln Part 1

About what might have happened if John Wilkes Booth bullet had missed Abraham Lincoln, an alternate history of the United States.

WHAT IF . . . ?

What If Booth's Bullet Had Missed Lincoln?

What Really Happened: On Apr. 14, 1865, while attending a play at the Ford Theater in Washington, Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by actor John Wilkes Booth. He was rushed across the street to a rooming house, where he died early the next morning. At the time of Lincoln's death, the North's victory in the Civil War was assured, and the president had drawn up a tentative reconstruction program whose aim was to reintegrate the South peacefully into the union. Already, however, the radical segment of the Republican party had begun to protest his "soft" approach toward the South. Lincoln's death at this crucial juncture removed him from entanglement in a bitter party struggle and passed the problems of reconstruction on to his successor, Andrew Johnson. After his assassination, Lincoln was enshrined as a martyr and his reputation as one of the greatest presidents of all time was ensured.

But What If. . . Booth's bullet had missed Lincoln and the President had been forced to deal with political realities after the Civil War?

Here Is What Might Have Happened: Lincoln would have been vilified and canonized, a man judged both the best and the worst president in American history. In "If Booth Had Missed Lincoln" (in If It Had Happened Otherwise, J. C. Squire, ed., N. Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1974), Milton Waldman opens a debate on Lincoln's character. The two sides are presented through excerpts from an imaginary book extolling the virtues of Lincoln, and comments by an equally imaginary book reviewer highly critical of the President. The history of a postwar Lincoln emerges from the interplay of these contrasting views.

For a while, President Lincoln rode high on the crest of public popularity, which peaked immediately after Booth's unsuccessful assassination attempt. Although Booth was sentenced to be executed, it was obvious that he was deranged, and Lincoln magnanimously commuted his sentence to confinement in an asylum. After escaping death so narrowly, Lincoln subscribed to the notion that he had been spared by Providence, and he became obsessed with a vision of himself as a chosen man with a moral duty.

After the war he seemed to shrink visibly, the effort of reconciling the nation proving too hard to bear. Both sides, embittered by the terrible toll of the war, were quick to turn against him. The half-million soldiers returning to the North swelled the ranks of the unemployed, and the devastated South suffered nearly insurmountable problems. In addition to drawing the broad framework for what he considered an equitable reconstruction program, from dawn until midnight he received supplicants from both North and South who were seeking special favors.

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