John Wilkes Booth Legend

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John Wilkes Booth, Angry Young Man

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It was just a few weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration in March of 1865 and only five days after Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9.

President Abraham Lincoln was relaxing at Ford’s Theatre with his wife, watching a production of Our American Cousin on the night before Easter, April 14, 1865.

Tthe President and Mrs. Lincoln sat in the presidential box watching the show. Suddenly, from behind them in the corridor of the theatre, John Wilkes Booth burst into their box, shot the president in the head, and leaped from the box down onto the stage. Despite having fractured a bone in his foot in the fall, Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants”) and ran out of the theatre, mounting a horse he had tied outside and fleeing.

Booth was a member of a popular stage family; his brother Edwin was the most celebrated Shakespearean actor of his time, and Booth himself was pop idol material: handsome, dashing, and gifted on stage. But passions about the divisions in the U.S. ran high at that time, and John Wilkes strongly favored the Southern side, the Confederacy; he abhorred the abolition of slavery and Abraham Lincoln’s proposal to extend voting rights to black people.

In 1860, Booth joined a secret society called the Knights of the Golden Circle, apparently dedicated to creating a “golden circle” of slave-holding territories in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean that would eventually be ¬†annexed and become part of the United States.

Until 1864, the Union had traded prisoners of war with the Confederacy, but in that year, General Ulysses S. Grant halted the practice. This meant that the South, already starving for soldiers to fight on its side, was unable to refill its ranks with returned POWs.

By 1864, frustrated by the way the war was going, Booth met with the head of the Confederate Secret Service, Jacob Thompson, in Montreal, Canada, and in the wake of that meeting organized a circle of co-conspirators to carry out an audacious plot: to kidnap Abraham Lincoln and ransom him for Confederate prisoners of war.

Jacob Thompson, master of Confederate spies

As the war went worse and worse for the South, Booth’s plan changed from kidnapping to murder.

Written by emchitty

August 18, 2010 at 6:27 pm