April 1865 turned out to be very difficult for the whole American society. People were barely recovering from the bloody Civil War. They prepared for a new life, full of peace and friendship. Easter was approaching. Everyone was going to have some fun after long years of war. Alas, their expectations did not come true. It was John Wilkes Booth who committed an awful crime. He killed one of the most popular as well as honored U.S. Presidents, Abraham Lincoln. After this assassination the whole country faced a very serious question: What to do next? We scarcely know anything about the accused. Perhaps some motives of his act are hidden in Boot’s childhood. Thus, the main aim of this paper is to find out whether John Booth was chosen by the fate or just a common criminal.
May 10, 1838, in the family of Junius Brutus Booth and Mary Ann Holmes, the ninth child was born. At that time, they lived on a small farm in Maryland. It was decided to name the boy after the English radical politician, John Wilkes. John’s parents did not have any high moral values and were not members of the church. In June 1821, John’s father fled with his mistress (mother of John) to the United States of America. Thus, John Wilkes belonged to the first family generation born in the USA. Officially, his parents got married only ten years later, after the birth of their tenth child. Not for nothing is it considered that roots of the boy’s mature behavior are hidden in deep childhood and much depended on his education. When John got a little older, he was sent to the “Bell Air” school, located not far from their farm. Every day, boy went to school on horseback, and was often late for classes. It was much more interesting to observe all the events taking place on the streets than those during the classes. He preferred fresh air to sitting in stuffy classrooms and memorizing English grammar rules. One cannot condemn him for that as almost all children like it. The problem is that, nobody made him study. His parents paid no attention to their son’s education.
However, one day, John’s father drew some attention to his younger son. In 1850, Booth left his school and entered the military academy. There, it was necessary to study hard as well as strictly observe discipline. At that same time, he met a fortune-teller, who had predicted him a short life with a very bad end. Being a young boy, John could not understand the full meaning of this prophecy. However, he remembered everything what she had said. In a year John changed his military academy to another one. Nevertheless, he did not study long even there. When John was 14, his father died.
As a result, young John left academy. He did not consider it necessary to devote his life to studying there. At the same time, he decided to try arts, like his father and other brothers already did. Since then, Booth began to actively study Shakespeare and public speaking. A+E Networks stated:
When he turned 17, Booth made his acting debut in Baltimore, with a role in a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. His early performances were such a hit that Booth was soon invited to tour all over the country with a Shakespearean acting company based in Richmond, Virginia. In 1862, Booth made his New York debut, this time as the lead in Richard III. The New York Herald described him as a “veritable sensation.” When describing his natural inclination for the role, Booth tellingly expressed his credo with the declaration, “I am determined to be a villain.” While on tour, he achieved national praise as an up-and-comer, but a respiratory illness in 1863 meant Booth had no choice but to take temporarily leave from the stage (A+E Networks).
In 1860, being already famous, Booth began his first national tour. When the Civil War began, John was in the State of New York. He immediately showed his admiration to the actions of the South and publicly called it a “heroic” act. During the war, John continued to travel around the country. In the fall of 1863, Booth played a major role in “Marble Heart”.
Lincoln and his son were present at his play. They liked acting of a man they had never seen before. Thus, the family decided to invite the unknown actor to their box. However, John refused to accept their offer. He showed his contempt and antipathy to the presidential family.
In 1964, Booth, for the first time, acted together with his brothers (Edwin and Junius). He played Mark Antony. Sometime later, this play would be called “the greatest theatrical event in New York history”.
During the Civil War, his family has divided. It happened because the Maryland State supported slavery and thus did not join the Confederacy. Booth was outspoken in his sympathy for a newly formed Union. He also rejected Lincoln as the U.S. President.
Bates stated that “John Wilkes Booth was a partisan in his sympathies for the success of the Southern Confederate States in the Civil War, bold and outspoken in his friendship for the South and his well wishes for the triumph of the Southern cause” (Bates 4).
In 1864, it was clear that the Confederacy had little chance to win the presidential election. Thus, Lincoln was going to be elected to the second term. It scared John Wilkes greatly. Thus, Booth began to develop a secret plan. He wanted to kidnap the President. John also took two friends with himself. They were Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Loulena. The meeting was going to be held in Baltimore. It was organized by a well-known supporter of Southerners, Maggie Branson. However, the group did not succeed and soon broke down. Booth moved to Washington, where he began to assemble a new team.
After all, John found several the most decisive and radical supporters of the South, including David Herold, George Atserodt, Lewis Powell and John Suratt with his mother Mary Suratt. The last one provided them with a shelter for their meetings. Together they started to hatch a new plan. Their aim was to kidnap some state governors, including the president, the vice-president and the state secretary. In March 4, 1865, Booth went to the President Inauguration ceremony, where he realized that to kill Lincoln was the best possible way to save the country.
April 11, 1865, the President delivered a speech at the White House, where he indicated the need to restore the rights of the former black slaves. Being among the spectators, Booth heard everything what Lincoln said. He did not agree with any single word. He also vowed that it would be the last Lincoln’s speech.
As Lincoln had made his decision to visit a Ford’s theatre, Booth knew about it on the same day. The thing is that, Ford was one of the greatest friends of the whole Booth’s family. On April 14, 1865 John decided to take numerous mails from the theatre. Ford was very proud of the President’s visit and immediately reported to Booth. The news made him very happy, as it was a great opportunity to put his plan into operation. Furthermore, it was the most suitable place for this crime, as John new all possible entrances, exits and corridors there.
On April 1865, the Confederate States Army has surrendered. It meant the end of the Civil War. However, the sixteenth U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln had no longer enjoyed the victory. April 13, 1865, in a dark room, conspirators discussed some details for beheading of the Federal Government. Being a group leader, Booth gave some final instructions to his accomplices. The next day evening was going to be a decisive one in the life of the whole country. Each of them had their own mission as well as actions to do. According to the plan, John Wilkes, David Harold and Lewis Powell were to kill the State Secretary, William Seward. George Atserodt was responsible for the murder of the Vice-President, Andrew Jackson. Booth has prepared a special mission for himself. He intended to kill the President. According to their plan, all these murders had to happen at the same time (around 10 p.m.).
On April 14, 1868, as it was expected, Lincoln arrived to the performance at Ford’s Theatre. The Chief Commander, Ulysses Grant was also invited to the show. But he did not come to the theatre because of some family reasons. This fact made it even easier for John Wilkes Booth to prepare an assassination attempt. No doubt, if general, together with his military escort had been there, it would have been much more difficult to commit the murder.
Lincoln was sitting in the presidential box with his wife and watching “My American Cousin” comedy. It was the third act, when Booth began to slowly approach the door of the presidential box. He was calm and ignored all the friends, met in his way. That night, Booth was dressed in a black suit with a wide-brimmed hat on his head. Having penetrated into the box, John locked the door in order the guard came as late as possible. Then he approached Lincoln’s chair and shot out of pocket “Derringer”. The audience did not understand what had happened. Some thought it was the part of the show.
Henry Retbon immediately jumped up aiming to stop the criminal. However, Booth promptly took a knife from his pocket and wounded the commander. After that he jumped from the height of about 3.5 meters. His landing was not soft as he got caught on the flag. As a result, Booth has broken his leg. However, overcoming his pain, John went to the middle of the stage and shouted a Virginia slogan: “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants”!) .
People were shocked and they still did not realize what was happening. Taking this advantage Booth escaped from the theater through the back door. John knew and understood people very well. And it helped him to commit this murder. Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865.
At the same time, Lewis Powell entered the State Secretary’s house with a strong desire to kill him. Fortunately, he managed to make only several minor injuries. Powell’s partner, David Harold, immediately disappeared as soon as he realized that events were not developing according to their plan. Besides, George Atserodt did not take any actions at all. He changed his mind at the last moment. Atserodt spent a night at the inn, complaining of his bitter fate to the waiter.
According to the plan, associates had to meet at the definite place, at the same time. However, only Booth and Harold arrived there. Booth had a seriously damaged leg, thus, riding a horse caused him serious pain. As there was no way back, they moved to the South. Booth knew a doctor there. His name was Samuel Mudd. The doctor recognized Booth and helped him a little. At the same time, the minister of war mobilized thousands of soldiers. The whole country was looking for the pale man of about 30.
The next morning Harold and Booth moved further towards the south. In Maryland, John, to his great surprise, knew that Southerners condemned him. It was for the first time when he faced the reality. He was called “coward” because he had approached the unarmed man and killed him. Since then, John Wilkes began to write his own diary, as a response to all those accusations.
At 2 a.m. April 26, a lot of soldiers arrived to the “Garrett” farm and asked its owner to tell them everything about the criminal’s location. Having refused, the family was beaten then. However, Garrett’s son could not bear it any more. He told them that criminals were hiding in the barn.
The wooden building was closed from the inside. That is why they needed a plan on how to make Booth leave the barn. As a result, soldiers surrounded the building and began to negotiate. In 10 minutes, David Harold gave up. He persuaded John to do the same. Booth doubted even when the house was set on fire. In the end he decided to surrender. He approached the door with a rifle in his hand. One soldier thought Booth wanted to shoot and, therefore, he made a preemptive strike. Soldier’s name was Boston Corbett. His bullet became fatal for Booth.
At the end, his body was taken out of the burning barn and put on the ground. His last words were “Tell my mother that I died for the country”. Then, he asked a soldier to raise his hand and said “It is useless, useless”. It was his last dramatic gesture. A few seconds later John died. Sometime later, Booth’s brother Edwin wrote to his sister “Think no more of him as your brother; he is dead to us now, as he soon must be to all the world, but imagine the boy you loved to be in that better part of his spirit, in another world”.
However, Asia also had a letter from John. He asked her to open it only after his death. He had written: “I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy … to give up all … seems insane; but God is my judge. I love justice more than I do a country that disowns it, more than fame or wealth”.
Thus, the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln became a great tragedy for the whole American nation. For millions, Lincoln was one of the most famous and beloved Presidents. Thanks to Abraham millions of slaves got freedom as well as social rights. However, not all people supported Lincoln. He also had many enemies. And one of them was John Wilkes Booth. Booth was a strong supporter of Southerners. Thus, he hated everything about Lincoln. Having analyzed his life, one may conclude that John was not an ordinary killer. He was a well-recognized, respected and talented actor. Hence, one may conclude, he committed the murder not for money. The tragedy is that he strongly supported his opinion and truly believed that it would save the country.