On this day in 1865—at 10:15 pm—beloved president Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by actor, racist and Confederate patriot John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died the next morning at 7:22.
Five days earlier, Confederate general Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant, thus ending the Civil War. Booth was bitter over the Confederate loss and the prospect of former slaves being granted citizenship rights and incorporated into society.
Wilkes sometimes worked at Ford’s Theatre and had his mail delivered there. On the day of 14 April (which was also Good Friday), he stopped-by the theatre to pick-up his mail and learned that the president would be attending that evening’s performance of Our American Cousin. Booth knew his chance had arrived. He and three co-conspirators devised a plan to assassinate the administration’s three highest ranking members: President Lincoln, Vice-President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Such a bold strike, they hoped, would cripple The Union government and give hope to the South. Perhaps the South could re-consitiute its troops and revive the Civil War!
Because Booth worked at the theatre, he knew his way around the building and was allowed free access to all parts of the house. Furthermore, he was something of a celebrity and was unlikely to be questioned as he moved about the theatre building Booth had not been in the play himself but he did know its lines—and the timing of audience reactions . During the performance, Booth slipped into the President’s box and—waiting for the big laugh following one of the play’s funniest lines—administered the fatal shot to the back of Lincoln’s head. Booth leaped from the box to the stage below, possibly crying-out “Sic semper tyrannis!” (the Virginia State motto “Thus always to tyrants!”) and “The South is avenged!” (depending on which witness you believe). Whatever the assassin might have exclaimed, it is clear he cast the President as a tyrannical despot, one who had ruined the country.
The President was moved across the street to the Petersen House where he was laid across a bed and tended by the doctors. He died there the next morning.
The bookends above capture in fine detail the profile of our esteemed president. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
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