Since the fall of 1864 John Wilkes Booth along with others had been plotting against Lincoln. A supporter of the Confederacy, Booth was also a popular actor, a son of the great actor Junius Brutus Booth who had written a letter, perhaps tongue in cheek, to Andrew Jackson, threatening to assassinate him. His brother Edwin Booth, perhaps the foremost American actor of his day and who had saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, was a firm supporter of Lincoln and the Union, and had banned his brother from his house in New York. Booth had an unexplained trip to Montreal in 1864. It is tempting to suspect that he got in contact with Confederate intelligence operatives active in Canada, but no evidence has been found linking Booth to Confederate intelligence then or later.
Initially Booth and his co-conspirators had planned to kidnap Lincoln and smuggle him South and trade him for Confederate prisoners of war. They gathered on March 17, 1865 to do so when Lincoln was en route to a play but Lincoln unknowingly foiled the plot by changing his plans. Booth and his band awaited another opportunity.
In 1874 Asia Booth in a memoir of her brother, that remained unpublished until 1938, recounts a strange event that occurred to Booth while he was a schoolboy and that summed up his life:
One day a gypsy living in the woods near Cockeysville read John’s palm. She said, “Ah, you’ve a bad hand; the lines all cris-cras! It’s full enough of sorrow. Full of trouble. Trouble in plenty, everywhere I look. You’ll break hearts, they’ll be nothing to you. You’ll die young, and leave many to mourn you, many to love you too, but you’ll be rich, generous, and free with your money. You’re born under an unlucky star. You’ve got in your hand a thundering crowd of enemies – not one friend – you’ll make a bad end, and have plenty to love you afterwards. You’ll have a fast life – short, but a grand one. Now, young sir, I’ve never seen a worse hand, and I wish I hadn’t seen it, but every word I’ve told is true by the signs. You’d best turn a missionary or a priest and try to escape it.”