History Mysteries: Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

President Abraham Lincoln. The mystery of the Abraham Lincoln Assassination
Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the United States of America

The fateful shot rang out in Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865 at a performance of Our American Cousin featuring Laura Keene. And soon after, mysteries surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination erupted and linger on. But for this moment, let’s go back in time and review the details. Maybe, just maybe, you can shed some light on the 155 year old murder. Ready to go? Great. Let’s get started!

Imagine for a moment sitting in your finest clothes in a seat that night in Ford’s Theatre. The height of the American Civil War has passed, and the theatre offers a well needed respite from years of angst. Everyone relaxes and enjoys the performance. Suddenly, a loud bang rips through the air. As you look up and to the right, a man leaps from the presidential box and lands with a thud on the stage.

“Sic semper tyrannis!”

This man stands up and bellows the words, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Thus always to tyrants!), brandishes a gleaming dagger high into the air in triumph and then dashes away. Your heart wildly pounds inside your chest as a woman’s shrill cry rips through the air, “They have shot the president! They have shot the president!” The realization that something has gone horribly wrong crashes down, and you witness patrons rushing to the presidential box. Gasps ring out and your worst fears confirmed. President Abraham Lincoln has been shot in the head with a .44-caliber Derringer pistol, and the hysterical woman in the box beside him is none other than Mary Todd Lincoln. Consequently, that action not only changed the trajectory of the United States, but triggered the mysteries surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Derringer pistol shot by John Wilkes Booth assasinating President Abraham Lincoln
Highsmith, Carol M., 1946-, photographer; published 2007 May 28

Now, imagine doctors, who had attended the production, rush to tend to Lincoln. One doctor probes the base of Lincoln’s skull and finds a coagulated opening. Upon relieving the clot, blood flows again and intracranial pressure decreases, but they fear the worst. Lincoln’s eyes remain closed and he’s unconscious. Then, you observe these doctors carry Lincoln out of the theatre and across the street to a home where he lingers through the night. Never regaining consciousness, Lincoln finally takes his last breath at 7:22 am on April 15th.

Who Shot President Lincoln?

A state of shock spreads through the divided nation so recently at war. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination fills the newspapers and fuels the postwar tensions. Discussions on the Reconstruction effort stop for the moment, and all eyes focus on the race to capture an assassin. Even though tensions remained between the Confederacy and the North, a type of unity formed to find the perpetrator. Many, even in the South, despised the transgression and wanted no part in the killer’s escape. Americans wanted to know who shot President Lincoln.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth. Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Via Library of Congress Digital ID: (digital file from original recto) ppmsca 19233 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.19233

Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long. John Wilkes Booth is known to, I dare say, most U.S. citizens. From a young age, schools teach children about President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the fate of all those linked to Booth. Co-conspirators hung for their crimes, and John Wilkes Booth, the famous actor of his time and Confederate sympathizer, greeted death outside of Richard Garrett’s tobacco barn in Virginia. Union troops surrounded it and set the barn ablaze. When Booth stepped out of the inferno, reports say that a Union soldier by the name of Boston Corbett shot him in the neck. Booth, at the age of 26, died a few hours later on the Garrett’s front porch.

The Nation Had Its Assassin

In light of the nation’s distress and want of a quick resolution, the Union took Booth’s body back to Washington D.C. and buried him. (As a side note, four years later, President Andrew Johnson delivered Booth’s body back to his family in Maryland. He rests in an unmarked grave.). Finally, the nation had its assassin. It was time to move on. Case closed. But was it?

Almost immediately, rumors spread that Booth didn’t act alone. How could a well-known stage actor possibly conspire and kill the president on his own? Was it possible? From then until now, conspiracy theories abound, and we may never know the complete truth about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. However, today I present a number of different theories for you to determine if one or a combination of them seem the most plausible. So get your thinking hats on, and let’s get started!

Theory Number 1: John Wilkes Booth Acted Alone in Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

For the sake of the obvious, one theory suggests that John Wilkes Booth acted alone in devising a plan to kidnap President Lincoln. Yep, you read that right! Initially, the plan was to kidnap Lincoln and hold him for ransom. Booth hoped this would supply the Confederacy enough money to continue the war, or in the very least get Confederate soldiers in exchange for Lincoln. However, President Lincoln foiled that plan when he failed to appear at the Soldier’s Home in Northwest Washington (somehow, Booth knew Lincoln was to visit the home). Instead, Lincoln went to the National Hotel in Washington for a reception. Funny enough, Booth was actually staying at that hotel. However, with Booth’s plot foiled, he apparently scraped it and turned to one of assassination.

Theory Number 2: Vice President Andrew Johnson Orchestrated Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

Andrew Johnson via Library of Congress; photo by: Matthew Brady, Digital ID: ppmsc 00050 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.00050

Next, we have Vice President Andrew Johnson. Apparently, Johnson was considered as the orchestrator of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination almost from the very beginning. If you think about it, what motive did he have? Obviously, the presidency.

That’s quite the motive, don’t ya think?

Also, Mary Todd Lincoln had written a letter to a woman named Sally Orne dated March 15, 1866. In it, Mary writes, “…that, that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance of my husband’s death – Why, was that card of Booth’s, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed – I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man… As sure, as you & I live, Johnson, had some hand, in all this…

John Wilkes Booth and Andrew Johnson’s Connection to Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

While some question Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental state (a.k.a. her sanity-Robert Lincoln had her committed to an insane asylum a few years later), maybe she was right. Remember, she mentions a note that Booth had left for Johnson seven hours before Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Apparently, Booth visited Kirkwood House, the hotel Johnson stayed at, and inquired about Johnson’s whereabouts. When the front desk clerk said Johnson wasn’t available, Booth left a message for him saying, “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home?”

First of all, that’s just weird. If the front desk clerk tells Booth that Johnson’s unavailable (a.k.a not there), then why leave a note asking if he’s “home”? Besides, were Booth and Johnson acquainted prior to the assassination? From Booth’s note, it sure sounds like it. And even if he wasn’t acquainted, which again it sure sounds like they were, why would you visit Johnson the same day you planned to assassinate his boss?

Some say Booth planned to assassinate Johnson, too. If so, then asking for him makes sense, but Lincoln’s assassination wasn’t for another seven hours. Why attack Vice President Johnson several hours before the main target? By doing so, it would almost guarantee Lincoln receive extra protection and quite possibly placed on lockdown at the White House where he could be kept safe.

Why Was There No Protection for Lincoln?

And speaking of protection, why wasn’t Lincoln afforded a military protector/bodyguard? Even with the Civil War being brought to a close, he was a walking, talking bullseye. Tensions skyrocketed. Sure, back in those days, lots of people walked up to Lincoln without worrying about being tackled to the ground and taken off to prison regardless of the war. Lincoln actually encouraged it.

Who knows? Maybe Lincoln despised the undercover arrival in Washington D.C. after his first election. He apparently never got over the guilt of it all. Consequently, from that point forward, Lincoln wanted to display strength and courage, and he often put himself in harms way to prove it.

However, Lincoln did have some protection; especially considering the circumstances known as the American Civil War. Four Washington police officers stayed with Lincoln most hours of the day as best they could. Lincoln frequently evaded them or dismissed them though, preferring to take walks, horse rides, or viewing theatrical productions without hindrance.

Can’t blame him for wanting some normalcy.

Yet, I digress. Back on track, one policeman went by the name William Henry Crook, and another was called John Parker. Officer Crook provided protection on April 14, 1865 that day until Officer John Parker took over for the evening. Of the two, John Parker was known to have a less than stellar work profile. How he even got onto the president’s protective detail has yet to be determined and is mind boggling. And wouldn’t you know it, the chap that left his post outside Lincoln’s presidential box at Ford’s Theatre? You guessed it! None other than Officer Parker. Why? He wanted a better stage view, and then he decided to wet his whistle with a wee bit of alcohol at a neighboring saloon. What a champ! Ugh…

Lincoln Had Asked Multiple to Attend Ford’s Theatre

Yet even with the obvious negligence, Lincoln had asked multiple people to come with him to Ford’s Theatre. Men that could have prevented Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Unfortunately, Ulysses S. Grant, initially agreeing to go, backed out at the last minute. Apparently, his wife wanted to visit their children in New Jersey. However, another report suggests that Mrs. Grant wanted to avoid an evening with Mary Todd Lincoln due to a past unpleasant experience. Either way, the Grant’s backed out.

Next, Edwin Stanton, the War Secretary, refused to attend (we’ll get into that later), and then, too, did Thomas J. Eckert after Lincoln specifically asked for him to attend. Eckert served as the telegraph superintendent of the War Department and was a trusted employee. Supposedly, Lincoln spoke to Stanton about Eckert attending the theatre saying, “I have seen Eckert break five pokers, one after another, over his arm, and I am thinking he would be the kind of man to go with me this evening. May I take him.” Unfortunately, Stanton insisted Eckert stay for work purposes. Although, Eckert ended up at home for the night.

Now, in regards to the Booth and Johnson connection, it sure seemed that John Wilkes Booth knew Andrew Johnson from the contents of the aforementioned note. According to reports, Booth met Johnson back in February 1864 at Wood’s Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee , thanks in part, to their mistresses, who happened to be sisters. Andrew Johnson, at the time, was the military governor of Tennessee.

Anyway, they entertained each other’s company that year and people claimed to have seen them together frequently. However, some claim these reports are hearsay. I must admit that gossip mills usually get stuff wrong. I mean, we’ve all played the telephone game, right? By the time the last person repeats what the first person whispered, you get a message resembling that of a Picasso when it started out a Monet. Although, perhaps these reports hold a grain of truth. After all, Booth left a message specifically for Andrew Johnson. But I’ll let you be the judge.

Johnson’s Motive and Connections

So in a nutshell, you’ve got a Vice President that quite probably knew the assassin well, was contacted hours before Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by said assassin, was accused by Mary Todd Lincoln of the crime, and was also immediately thought to have had a part in the assassination by many others in government and in the public view. He had motive and the connections to do it. But did he?

Theory Number 3: Edwin Stanton Orchestrated Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination

Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War during the American Civil War
Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War during U.S. Civil War via Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-52235 (digital file from original, front)

Onto the third theory, we have Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Why, you ask? Great question. What motivation would the Secretary of War have for assassinating a president. First, remember the era. The bloody U.S. Civil War had ended, and discussions for Reconstruction had begun. Why would this cause Stanton to want Lincoln dead? Possibly because Stanton wanted to crack the whip so to speak on the Confederate states. He desired severe punishment for the South, as if they hadn’t just gone through one of the bloodiest wars on U.S. soil. Yep, Lincoln was too soft it would seem. So off he went and had Lincoln murdered. Plausible? Maybe. But how?

According to some sources, Edwin Stanton somehow conspired with John Wilkes Booth to carry out the assassination and hampered Lincoln’s security detail to do it for starters. For some reason, Officer John Parker, an inept police officer at best, was assigned to Lincoln that night. As stated above, he left his post because he wanted a better view and then partook of an alcoholic beverage at a neighboring saloon.

Otto Eisenschiml’s Theory

Additionally, reports suggest that Secretary Stanton ordered Grant not to attend Ford’s Theatre that night with President Lincoln, and he also ordered Thomas J Eckert, the telegraph superintendent of the War Department and Lincoln emissary, not to go either. Furthermore, Stanton botched the initial attempts at apprehending Booth that night as he escaped across the Navy Yard Bridge into Maryland from Washington D.C. The Navy Yard Bridge offered the only escape route out of D.C. that night. Try that one on for size. The above theory originated from a man by the name of Otto Eisenschiml by the way.

But wait, there’s more! Eisenschiml postulated that Stanton had Booth killed as a cover up and that Stanton removed some of Booth’s diary pages that would have incriminated the Secretary of War’s role in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. And more than that, Eisenschiml reported that Stanton refused to allow Booth’s co-conspirator’s from communicating to interviewers. Plus, there was a disruption of telegraph communications the night of Lincoln’s assassination. When questioned by a Congressional committee in 1867, Eckert admitted the disruptions of telegraph transmissions the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. As a result, no reports got out about the escape of John Wilkes Booth. Eckert also admitted that the transmission lines had been cut. Who cut them then? Because we know why.

Is Edwin Stanton Really Guilty?

Weird, right? Sure, from what he theorized, Stanton looks guilty. However, other evidence supports that Stanton tried in vain to keep Lincoln from going to venues such as Ford’s Theatre specifically to protect Lincoln. Public places put a bullseye on Lincoln’s back. Supposedly, Stanton thought by ordering people not to attend the theatre that night, then perhaps Lincoln wouldn’t go himself; thereby protecting the president from the ultimate demise.

Alas, that didn’t happen. But again, it does seem rather strange that all those things went wrong that night. Ordering protective detail to avoid the theatre except for the inept police officer, if in fact he truly did so, seems destructive. If Lincoln insisted on going, shouldn’t the Secretary of War send a slew of people to watch over the president just in case? Especially if he held serious objections to it? And the incidence of Booth’s death, well let’s just say that’s another blog post entirely!

So what do you think? Is Edwin Stanton guilty of orchestrating Abraham Lincoln’s assassination?

Theory Number 4: The Confederate Plot to Assassinate Lincoln

Jefferson Davis via Library of Congress, Digital Id
cwpbh 00879 https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpbh.00879

Moving right along, the Confederacy is not a surprise when it comes to motive and means. Think about it. They seceded from the Union for various reasons. Plus, they formed their own government with Jefferson Davis, pictured above, as their president. Why wouldn’t they want Lincoln assassinated, especially when they were clearly outnumbered, outgunned, and outmaneuvered. The South was starving and bedraggled while the North plundered on. Some in the South even think the war is still being fought. And that’s no joke, folks. However, as far as theories go, this one makes a ton of sense.

If Lincoln were captured or killed, then the North would crumble, right? Maybe not, but cutting the head off the snake generally solves the problem.

Not that I’m suggesting Lincoln was a snake, because I don’t. He’s highly misunderstood in my opinion and was a great leader in a time of great chaos and trouble. While not perfect, Lincoln is definitely someone I study with a fine tooth comb.

Anyway, back onto the subject or theory in this case. Some evidence surfaced that the Confederacy tried to blow up the White House on one occasion. There’s also evidence that they planned to kidnap him. I’ve stated that previously in this piece. The Confederacy thought they could either ransom him for prisoners or gain a large sum of money that they desperately needed to keep the war fires burning. Alas, the Confederacy lost, but so, too, did the North and the country for that matter. Lincoln’s demise affected not only the Reconstruction of the United States, but the healing of the country as well. Gone was the great unifier. No telling how the United States would look today if Lincoln had lived.

Theory Number Five: The Roman Catholic Church, Disgruntled Northerners, and International Bankers Have All Been Implicated

Bizarre, I know, but all the above theories add to the mystery in one way or another in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. First off, let’s touch on the Roman Catholic Church. This is quite the stretch, at least at first glance. Why on earth would the Roman Catholic Church want Lincoln dead? And what about the violence of it all? But then again, over the years, the Catholic church has killed many in the name of God. The Crusades ring a bell along with other incidences over the generations. But why Lincoln?

Roman Catholic Church

Alright, apparently Lincoln had defended a priest named Charles Chiniquy from a slander suit brought against him in 1856. Supposedly, Chiniquy argued with his presiding bishop, and the bishop’s friend, not the bishop, then sued Chiniquy. To make a long story short, Lincoln settled the case, and Chiniquy believed that this “victory” over the church resulted in Lincoln’s death in the long run. Of course, it was the court case along with the fact that Lincoln was an abolitionist. Why did this matter? Because many Southerners were Catholic and wanted to keep slavery. Thus, when the Confederacy supposedly offered lots of money ($1,000,000) for Lincoln’s death, the church took them up on it, got Booth indoctrinated, and the rest is history. Far-fetched? Sure, but…

Disgruntled Northerners

Now this one seems ridiculous, but then again… Why would Northerners dislike Lincoln so much that they’d want him dead? Cotton. (For a more in-depth discussion on the illicit cotton trade during the American Civil War, please click here.) Wait, what?! First of all, president’s lack full support by EVERY constituent, including George Washington. And Lincoln was no different. Either loved or hated, people held strong feelings towards Lincoln. That said, there were northerners that grew quite wealthy over the price of cotton due to the illicit trade.

For the love of money!

Ever since the Union blockade, the price of cotton had risen dramatically. When the war was close to ending in 1864, some Northerners feared that their gravy train would cease, profits plummet, and they’d be out of a job, food, etc… Also, after the war Lincoln allowed trade with the South to get cotton in exchange for meat, etc…, which further reduced the price of cotton. The speculators and people linked to cotton in the North grew restless and angrier.

According to one source/discovered report, “There were at least eleven members of Congress involved in the plot, no less than twelve Army officers, three Naval officers and at least twenty-four civilians, of which one was a governor of a loyal state. Five were bankers of great repute, there were nationally known newspapermen and eleven were industrialists of great repute and wealth.”

Yikes! And if that wasn’t bad enough, here’s what one man said at the 1864 Democratic National Convention in New York : “The people will soon rise, and if they cannot put Lincoln out of power by the ballott they will by the bullet” (loud cheers).

And, of course, John Wilkes Booth was their man to do it, right? But how you link Booth to these Northerners that he mightily opposed as a Southern sympathizer is beyond me.

International Bankers

And what do international bankers have against Lincoln? Click here for a better review of why. Long story short, Lincoln successfully banked the Civil War without the need for foreign bankers and thereby defeated their plot to take control over the United States. Lincoln was offered high interest rate loans (26%-30%) by British backed banks, which were led by the Rothschilds by the way. However, when Lincoln founded a national banking system (thanks to Alexander Hamilton) that allowed for low interest rates and better practices for the average layperson, it impacted the bottom line for the international bankers: money.

And why wouldn’t the bankers oppose Lincoln and his protectionist tendencies? To some British in the 1860s, “British free trade, industrial monopoly and human slavery travel together.” Bind the hands of the masses, and the wealthy shall prosper, I suppose.

Moving right along, Lincoln angered these bankers because he essentially funded the war by way of the people and averted the Rothschild and Baring banks of Britain from buying the U.S. debt and thus destroying the United States.

Yeah, I can imagine they’d be angry. So while at first glance it seems preposterous, after studying the subject a bit, it tends to make sense.

What do you think?

Now’s the time for your contribution on the matter! What do you think? Is it John Wilkes Booth acting alone or one of the other theories? Better yet, is it a combination of the above theories? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let’s get the discussion going in the “Comment” section below, and if you’d prefer to e-mail, then please do so at kduptonauthor@gmail.com.

I look forward to the discussions and the next History Mysteries post! Until next time,

Happy reading,

K.D.

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