Treasury Salute: Edwin Booth

During World War II the Treasury sponsored radio salutes to great Americans of history.  The above video is their salute to Edwin Booth.

Perhaps the finest American Shakespearian actor of his day, Booth was the son of Junius Brutus Booth, most assuredly the finest American Shakespearian actor of his day, and the brother of John Wilkes Booth.  Junius Brutus Booth threatened to assassinate President Andrew Jackson, read about it here, and John Wilkes Booth of course did assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.  Edwin Booth, who supported the Union as much as his brother did the Confederacy, saved the life of Robert Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln in late 1864 or early 1865.  Lincoln recalled the incident in 1909:

The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.

The incident was recalled by the Chicago Tribune immediately after the assassination of Lincoln, to remind its readers that Edwin Booth had nothing to do with the murder of Lincoln by his brother:

And here it is only thoughtful and honest to say that the Union cause has had no stronger and more generous supporter than Mr. Edwin Booth. From the commencement he has been earnestly and actively solicitous for the  triumph of our arms and the welfare of our soldiers. An incident — a trifle in itself — may be recalled at this moment when the profound monotony of grief overwhelms us. Not a month since, Mr. Edwin Booth was proceeding to Washington. At Trenton there was a general scramble to reach the cars, which had started leaving many behind in the refreshment saloon. Mr. Edwin Booth was preceded by a gentleman whose foot slipped as he was stepping upon the platform, and who would have fallen at once beneath the wheels had not Mr. Edwin Booth’s arm sustained him. The gentleman remarked that he had a narrow escape of his life, and was thankful to his preserver. It was Robert Lincoln, the son of that great, good man who now lies dead before our blistered eyes, and whose name we cannot mention without choking.

Booth found some small comfort in the fact that he had saved the life of the son of the man his brother murdered.  Booth buried his brother in an unmarked grave in the family plot in 1869, after years of attempts by him to get his brother’s body from the government.  He did what little he could to repair the damage caused by his brother, including paying for the barn that was burned down when his brother was captured.

Edwin Booth, so far as we know, only cast one vote for President during his life.  That was in 1864 when he voted for Abraham Lincoln.

Published in: on January 30, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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  1. As they say in London
    ” Mind the Gap!”

    • ” Mind the Gap!”

      Words to literally live by Ulf!

  2. You added some details to story of Booth brothers. It amazes me how small and tight our nation was when it divided in war. I have a family that is split by this history. Aren’t you impressed that given the events Edwin fought the powers that be to get the body of his brother? It would have been easy to try to leave that mess behind.
    In Christ,
    Dennis McCutcheon

    • “Aren’t you impressed that given the events Edwin fought the powers that be to get the body of his brother? It would have been easy to try to leave that mess behind.”

      Indeed dennis. Edwin and his brother often quarreled and Edwin was appalled by what John did. In the final analysis however Edwin’s brother was his brother and he acted accordingly.

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