Sic Transit John Wilkes Booth

Death of Booth

 

 

Judging from his melodramatic “Sic, Semper Tyrannis!” at Ford’s Theater after murdering Lincoln, Booth perceived his role of assassin as  being his greatest role, a chance to play in real life a doomed Romantic hero, an avenger of a wronged people.  The last twelve days of his life, as he eluded capture must have been disappointing for him, as the newspapers he read, including those who had been highly critical of Lincoln, universally condemned his action.  Perhaps he perceived that instead of  being a hero, he was fated to be cast as a minor villain, remembered solely due to his slaying of a great hero.  Booth wrote in his diary, “With every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for … And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat.” (more…)

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sic Transit John Wilkes Booth  
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Lincoln’s Last Speech

 

On April 11, 1865, Abraham Lincoln made his last speech.  It was to a jubilant crowd that had gathered at the White House in celebration of the surrender of Lee.  The speech was an impromptu effort and clearly indicated that Lincoln was shifting gears from the War to the problems of Reconstruction.  Here is the text of that speech:

We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.

By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority — reconstruction — which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.

As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for some supposed agency in setting up, and seeking to sustain, the new State government of Louisiana. In this I have done just so much as, and no more than, the public knows. In the Annual Message of Dec. 1863 and accompanying Proclamation, I presented a plan of re-construction (as the phrase goes) which, I promised, if adopted by any State, should be acceptable to, and sustained by, the Executive government of the nation. I distinctly stated that this was not the only plan which might possibly be acceptable; and I also distinctly protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when, or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States. This plan was, in advance, submitted to the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it. One of them suggested that I should then, and in that connection, apply the Emancipation Proclamation to the theretofore excepted parts of Virginia and Louisiana; that I should drop the suggestion about apprenticeship for freed-people, and that I should omit the protest against my own power, in regard to the admission of members to Congress; but even he approved every part and parcel of the plan which has since been employed or touched by the action of Louisiana. The new constitution of Louisiana, declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the Proclamation to the part previously excepted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed-people; and it is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members to Congress. So that, as it applies to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan. The message went to Congress, and I received many commendations of the plan, written and verbal; and not a single objection to it, from any professed emancipationist, came to my knowledge, until after the news reached Washington that the people of Louisiana had begun to move in accordance with it. From about July 1862, I had corresponded with different persons, supposed to be interested, seeking a reconstruction of a State government for Louisiana. When the message of 1863, with the plan before mentioned, reached New-Orleans, Gen. Banks wrote me that he was confident the people, with his military co-operation, would reconstruct, substantially on that plan. I wrote him, and some of them to try it; they tried it, and the result is known. Such only has been my agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated. But, as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest. But I have not yet been so convinced. (more…)

Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln’s Last Speech  
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John Wilkes Booth: Born Under an Unlucky Star

 

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: (more…)

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 4:59 am  Comments Off on John Wilkes Booth: Born Under an Unlucky Star  
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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. (more…)

Published in: on January 30, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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