The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln Essay
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of the most significant events in the history of the United States. The act was committed by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D. C, and was one of the most shocking events of the era, resulting in a long period of mourning for the nation. The murder was highly political in nature and, in fact, was a part of a larger conspiracy against the American government. From a historical research point of view, the assassination left a number of documents that were created shortly after the assassination. This paper will provide an overview of the event, information about John Wilkes Booth, an examination of Lincoln’s death, and a discussion of how the nation reacted after it was confirmed that the president had been assassinated.
The event was preempted by the end result of the American Civil War. As the war drew to a close, it became clear that the South was about to lose. To either avenge the coming loss in the war or to cause a blow to the North that might allow the South to regroup, various people across America who sympathized with the South began to plan acts against the Union government. One such plan involved John Wilkes Booth and his associates kidnapping Lincoln. However, due to a change in Lincoln’s schedule, this idea was abandoned, and the plan to assassinate various high-ranking members of the government was created. Lincoln, vice president Andrew Johnson, and William Seward were chosen as the targets. Only president Lincoln was killed, however, as attempts on the other targets failed. The assassination occurred on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. The killer John Wilkes Booth was able to enter the theatre balcony where the president of the United States was watching a play titled “Our American Cousin.” Booth then shot the president in the head and managed to escape. He was killed during pursuit 12 days later, and his associates were hanged as punishment for their actions. Lincoln died of his wounds the day after the assassination, and the nation mourned as millions of people came to see the railroad funeral procession which spanned 1700 miles (Holzer 218).
Before the Assassination
In 1864, the American Civil War was nearing its end. In March, the commander of the Union army Ulysses S. Grant chose to end the exchange of prisoners with the army of the Confederates. This action caused the southern forces, who were already feeling the effects of the war as the losses mounted with each passing day, to be left in a critical situation. This is when the idea of kidnapping President Lincoln was first formed by Booth and his co-conspirators. The plan was to capture Lincoln after a play and then blackmail the government into resuming prisoner exchanges with the southern army. However, the plan had to be canceled as the president did not choose to go to the theater, instead visiting a ceremony at the National Hotel. In less than a month, Grant took the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and forced the army of the south to surrender. However, Booth and his associates did not cease their planning (Alford 186).
John Wilkes Booth
James Wilkes Booth was a relatively successful actor. He was born in 1838 in Bel Air, Maryland. From an early age, he gained an interest in acting and political power. His first performance was in an 1855 production of “Richard III” at the age of 17. Though his early inexperience led to a negative reaction from the audience, in time he improved, and his good looks quickly gained him attention. His success made him quite rich. Politically speaking, he was opposed to the abolitionist movement and supported the Confederate cause. Lincoln’s actions created deep hate in Booth. However, Lincoln was appreciative of Booth’s acting and invited him to visit the White House multiple times, though Booth never accepted these invitations,. One of the possible motives for his decision to assassinate Lincoln was an act of revenge for the fall of Confederacy (Alford 13).
The assassination occurred in the middle of the play. As an actor at Ford’s Theatre, he was already familiar with the play and when the loudest reaction from the audience would occur. With this in mind, he planned to enter the booth at one such moment and use the sound to mask the shot or any sound of a struggle. He hoped to shoot Lincoln with a derringer pistol and subsequently stab Grant who was supposed to accompany him. However, Grant declined Lincoln’s invitation and was not present in the box at the time of the assassination. The policeman who was supposed to guard Lincoln’s theater box left his post during the intermission and did not return before Booth arrived. During an especially loud audience reaction, he entered the booth and shot Lincoln in the head. In the ensuing struggle with the other people in the box, he took out a knife and used it to free himself. He jumped onto the stage and yelled what was reported to be “Sic Semper Tyrannus!” and then promptly escaped (Gunderson 212).
Two physicians were able to tend to Lincoln in the theater. The wound did not immediately kill him but did leave Lincoln in a comatose state. The bullet was lodged much too deep for the medical professionals of the era to remove. However, they were able to dislodge blood clots that were present in the wound. This slightly improved Lincoln’s condition, after which he was moved to a neighboring house. A number of other physicians were called, but none thought that he would be able to survive this wound. On April 15, 1865, the 16th president of the United States passed away (Stone).
Period After Lincoln’s Death
During the period after Lincoln’s death, Booth was killed in pursuit by Sargent Boston Corbett. People associated with Booth and his co-conspirators were arrested and tried in a court of law. While some were eventually released, a number of them were hanged. A funeral procession for Lincoln was organized with specialized trains bringing people from other cities to pay their respects to him. After this, a train was used to transport his remains across the country to Springfield, Illinois. Millions of people came to the rails as the train drove by as a form of mourning (Holzer 308).
Lincoln’s assassination is one of the defining moments of American history. A terrible act committed by a man filled with anger and desire for revenge shaped people’s perception of the era. The original plan was not carried out, but Booth was still able to kill the president and briefly escape, only to be caught and killed later. In Lincoln’s death, the nation united to mourn him, which is why the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is likely to remain one of the most discussed events in American history.
Alford, Terry. Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Gunderson, Jessica. The Wound Is Mortal: The Story of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Capstone, 2015.
Holzer, Harold. President Lincoln Assassinated!!: The Firsthand Story of the Murder, Manhunt, Trial, and Mourning:, Library of America, 2015.
Stone, Robert. “Testimony of Dr. Robert King Stone.” DocsTeach, 1865, Web.
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