Who Really Killed Abraham Lincoln?

It's a tragic story we all know Abraham Lincoln, often considered America's greatest president, was murdered in Ford's Theatre, Washington D

C, on 15th April 1865 His assassin was celebrity actor John Wilkes Booth Having performed in Ford's theatre before, he knew the building and its staff well It was easy for him to walk into the President's box and fire a single shot into the back of Lincoln’s head

But Booth didn’t act alone, and may have hadhelp from President Lincoln’s own allies John Wilkes Booth was unquestionably the leader of the murder plot, but had the help of at least eight other people Booth recruited a band of Confederate spies and sympathisers George Atzerodt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen all joined the conspiracy The boarding house of Mary Surratt became both a regular home and gathering place for the plotters

Their initial plan was just to kidnap the President In March 1864, Ulysses S Grant suspended the exchange of prisoners with the Confederate army Outraged, Booth plotted to blackmail the Union into resuming prisoner exchanges by kidnapping Lincoln on March 17th, 1865, as the President returned from a play at Campbell Military Hospital The kidnapping attempt failed because Lincoln changed his plans at the last minute and did not attend the hospital performance

Ironically, his unwitting evasion of the kidnappers may have sealed his fate As the Confederacy surrendered over the next few weeks, the plan developed from kidnapping, to killing SECTION THREE After attending Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4th 1865, Booth wrote, “What an excellent chance I had, if I wished, to kill the President on Inauguration day!” A month later, from amongst the crowd listening to Lincoln’s proposing to give black people the right to vote, Booth swore, “That is the last speech he will ever give” On April 14th, 1865 Booth learned that President Lincoln was going to Ford's Theatre that night, to see the play Our American Cousin Booth immediately went to Mary Surratt’s boarding house and gathered his co-conspirators

They planned to make several simultaneous strikes at 1015pm David Herold and Lewis Powell were to go to the home of Secretary of State William H Seward and murder him George Atzerodt was to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel

John Wilkes Booth was to shoot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre Booth knew the layout of Ford's theatre well, having performed there before He also knew the perfect moment to commit the crime: when the audience’s laughter was loudest at one of the best lines in the play Indeed, Lincoln was laughing when he was shot behind his left ear In the immediate panic, Booth escaped by jumping twelve feet from the box to the stage, and running through a side door to his horse waiting in the alleyway

Lincoln died at 722am on April 15th By 11am, Andrew Johnson had been sworn in as President of the United States Remarkably, he was the only target to go unscathed Lewis Powell managed to injure Secretary Seward, but killed no-one

Booth was the only successful assassin He was aided by the peculiar event The policeman assigned to guard Lincoln’s box at the theatre was not at his post when Booth entered It is still not known where the guard was when Booth shot Lincoln When the guard was later charged with neglect of duty, the case was dismissed, and no transcripts survive

After the largest manhunt in US history, Booth was cornered in a barn in Virginia He died after being shot in the back of the head, behind his left ear Eight other conspirators were quickly rounded up and tried in 7 weeks by a military tribunal

This caused great controversy, since unlike a civil court, the tribunal only needed a majority to reach a guilty verdict, and only two-thirds to agree a death sentence Abraham Lincoln’s Attorney General, Edward Bates, said a civil court should have presided But the military tribunal went ahead The only way for the defendants to appeal was to President Johnson himself On June 30th, 1865, all the defendants were found guilty, including Mary Surrat

Five jurors wrote a letter to President Johnson recommending clemency for her, but he refused He personally approved all the convictions Surratt became the first woman to be executed by the United States government Later, Johnson claimed he never even saw the letter asking for clemency Some speculate that Johnson was more interested in a speedy trial with a harsh sentence than in truly following the course of justice

But why? Investigators discovered a mysterious note left at the Kirkwood Hotel for Andrew Johnson on the day of the assassination The note read, “I don’t wish to disturb you Are you at home? J Wilkes Booth” Historians still do not know why Booth wrote this note

Was Andrew Johnson involved in the plot to kill Lincoln, the man between him and the Oval Office? Yet, despite all this speculation, historians are certain that the eight convicted conspirators were part of the plot Three hundred and sixty-six witnesses testified to that effect, and enough evidence exists to prove they helped Booth As for Andrew Johnson, it does seem that he was a genuine target of the assassins He probably survived because George Atzerodt got drunk and wandered the streets of Washington instead of attacking the Vice President Records show that, having only signed up to kidnapping, Atzerodt tried to pull out when Booth raised the stakes to murder

He let Booth convince him to stay, and ultimately was executed for it Abraham Lincoln’s legacy is defined by the American Civil War He led the united states through four bitter and bloody years against the Confederacy His skills as a leader and politician ensured that America remained a federal union, and that slavery within its borders was ended John Wilkes Booth was decidedly opposed to Lincoln’s slave-free Union

His hatred meant that Lincoln never got to govern in peacetime

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