Here is the post that I promised!
The account of the assassination is very well known. This paper will be about some of the details of the assassination itself but mostly will be about the lesser known myths and theories surrounding the tragic events of April 1865. There are seven theories that will expounded upon.
First will be the skeletal details of the assassination. John Wilkes Booth snuck silently into the presidential box in Ford’s Theater and waited for the opportune moment to strike a blow for his country, the Confederacy. That opportunity came fairly quickly. During a funny part of the play when the crowd was roaring with laughter, Booth raised his gun, knowing he had only one shot. He aimed, just before he shot, Lincoln leaned forward almost causing Booth to miss, but sadly, he did not miss. The bullet struck Lincoln behind the left ear and lodged behind the right eye. Major Rathbone, who had accompanied the Lincoln’s along with his fiancé that night, ran to stop Booth when he heard the gun shot. Booth slashed Rathbone to the bone, with the hunting knife he had in his hand. Next, Booth ran to the edge of the box and jumped, catching his leg on the decorative bunting. He broke his shin bone due to the fall and limped across the stage yelling SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS (Thus Always To Tyrants, the Virginia state motto) and waving his now bloody knife. With that, people began screaming and ladies began fainting. Someone yelled that the president had been shot. A doctor in the crowd, Charles Leale, rushed to the box and attended to the fallen president. Leale and another doctor cared for Lincoln for a time in the theater and then had him moved to the Petersen House, a boarding house across the street from the theater. The bed in which Lincoln was placed was too short for him, they laid him diagonally on the bed. Here he stayed until he took his dying breath then Edwin McMaster Stanton supposedly pronounced over the body of Lincoln, “Now he belongs to the ages”. With that America’s greatest president , died.
Later that same evening, there was an assassination attempt on the life of Secretary of State William Seward by Lewis Powell. There was also a plan to take the life of Vice President, Andrew Johnson, by George Atzerodt, who did not carry out his plan. These assassination were all to be carried out in conjunction with one another. At this point is where the conspiracy theories begin to peek their heads out of the dusty history books.
Were all three killings ordered by some higher power? Or were they acts of anger from men who were unwilling to be forgiven for their own acts of rebellion?
Theory Number 1: Vice President Johnson Was Involved in The Assassination
About seven hours before Lincoln was shot, John Wilkes Booth was reported to have visited Vice President Johnson in his hotel, the Kirkwood Hotel. At the time, Johnson, nor his personal secretary were present so Booth left his card and on it he wrote, “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home?”. When Johnson’s personal secretary, William A. Browning, was tried before a military court he said that he did not find the note until later that same afternoon.
Is it at all possible that Booth and Johnson may have had previous meetings? According to Right or Wrong, God Judge Me The Writings of John Wilkes Booth written by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper Booth had previously met Johnson in Nashville, Tennessee, in February, 1864. At the time Booth was appearing in the newly opened Wood’s Theater as an actor. But there is inadequate evidence to show that Johnson had any involvement in the. Lincoln, after the fiasco at the inauguration really did not have a lot to do with Johnson. Mary Todd believed that Johnson was involved though. She said in a letter to a close friend, Sally Orne, “…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…”. Some members of congress also believed that Johnson had some involvement. They established a special assassination committee but found no evidence that would incriminate the vice president.
Theory Number 2: The Simple Conspiracy Theory
. According to this theory, Booth, along with a small group of coconspirators plotted the assassination The theory is that Booth was just a crazed Southern patriot, and a man who was an extreme racist. Booth’s plan was to kidnap President Lincoln originally. When Booth heard the President would be at Ford’s Theater that night he saw the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for his beloved South. Which he did thus causing America to lose the man that She needed the most in those dark times
Theory Number 3: Lincoln’s Assassination Was The Result Of A Confederate Plot
This theory states that Lincoln’s assassination was part of a grand Confederate plot. There have been coded letters found in a trunk belonging to Booth not long after the assassination that tied Booth to the Confederacy. There was also the testimony of George Atzerodt, a fellow, conspirator, before the trial in 1865. In his testimony, Atzerodt implicated a plan to blow up the White house.
Supporters of this theory think that as the war began to digress for the Confederacy more desperate and drastic plans were needed. President Lincoln was viewed as a legitimate war time target. This was justified even more in the minds of the Confederate leaders after Lincoln ordered a raid on Richmond which failed. Colonel Ulrich Dhalgren was hand picked by Lincoln to command this mission and he was killed during the raid. On his body were found documents saying that, “The men must be kept together, and well in hand, and once in the city, it must be destroyed and Jeff Davis and his cabinet killed.”. The Confederate government now believed that the Union government had ordered the death of Jefferson Davis, further solidifying in their minds the fact that President Lincoln aught to be a target also. Many proponents of this theory believe that the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah Philip Benjamin, played a large part in the assassination. He is considered to have played a part because burned all of his records at the fall of Richmond. He was also the only member of the Confederate government never to return to the United States after fleeing to England
This theory assumes that Booth was the puppet of the Confederate government. After the failed attempt by Thomas F. Harney, an explosives expert, to blow up the White House, Booth took the circumstances into his own hands and killed the president. John Wilkes Booth was not a man who willingly gave up the spotlight. He was a master of manipulation and coercion. So it is unlikely that he was the puppet of the Confederate government.
Theory Number 4: The Assassination Was The Result of Disgruntled International Bankers
The idea behind this theory is theat some powerful international bankers were unhappy with the monetary policies of President Lincoln. The bankers were angered, according to this theory, when Lincoln refused their high interest loans and found other ways to fund his war effort. The British, especially were angered by Lincoln’s reconstruction policy it destroyed Britain’s chance of controlling the American economy. Booth, according to this theory was a payed gunman.
Theory Number 5: The Roman Catholic Church Was Behind the Assassination
A book written in 1886 titled Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, written by ex- priest Charles Chiniquy, told of the Lincoln assassination being part of a plot by the Roman Catholic Church. Chiniquy stated in the book that Jefferson Davis offered up to $1,000,000.00 for someone to, “kill the author of the bloodshed.” He also said that, “the Jesuits alone could select the assassins, train them, and show them a crown of glory in heaven…”. This theory assumes that Booth was the puppet of the Vatican.
The reason some people think that the Vatican could have been involved was because in 1856 Lincoln had defended Chiniquy in a case against Chiniquy’s Bishop. The case went to court May 20-22, 1856. Lincoln arranged a settlement between the church and Chiniquy. The Jesuits thought they had been slandered in this settlement. Chiniquy thought some of the Jesuits held Lincoln responsible for this, therefore their motive for the assassination. Another reason is that the majority of Roman Catholics in America were either slave holders or were in favor of slaveholding.
Theory Number 6: Secretary Of War Edwin McMaster Stanton Was Behind The Assassination
This theory is also known as the Eisenschiml Theory. A book written by Otto Eisenschiml Why Was Lincoln Killed, accused Stanton of being the mastermind behind the assassination. Though Eisenschimal’s was not the only book to state this theory it was the first book to introduce the theory to the public. The theory states that Edwin M. Stanton was directly involved in the assassination. He is accused of this because of the amount of evidence presented against him. For example, the fact that all of the bridges going in and out of Washington DC were closed the night of the assassinaton, except for the Navy Yard bridge which Booth just happened to use in his escape. This bridge was open by order of Stanton. Another piece of evidence, put forth by Eisenschimal, concerns General Grant. Eisenschimal believes that had Grant been at the play that evening, the security would have been much tighter. Grant did not attend the play, due to a possible order given from Stanton. Therefore, making Lincoln more vulnerable to attack. The other evidence against Stanton is that he knew of the conspirators meetings at Mary Surratt’s boarding house but did nothing about them.Another piece of evidence is when Lincoln requested Thomas T. Eckert to be his bodyguard Stanton said Eckert had,”Vital work to do at the War Department’s telegraph office”, which according to Eisenschimal was a false statement.
There is other less plausible evidence also against Stanton. For example, ciphered messages were found in a trunk allegedly written by Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police that implicated Stanton directly in the assassination.
This theory is not widely believed because though there is evidence to back it up much of this same evidence has been fabricated. Which would lead the reader to the conclusion that Stanton had no part in the assassination.
Theory Number 7: Disaffected Northerners Were Behind The Assassination
There were certain radical groups in the North who were not friends with Lincoln at the end of the war. The Radical Republicans did not agree with Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction. They wanted more control over the South. Many Northern businessmen were unhappy with President Lincoln’s trading policies. During the war Lincoln had granted cotton trading permits but after the war the businessmen, bankers, and planters feared what would happen to their trade. Out of this dilemma stemmed the assassination plot. In a cipher written by Lafayette Baker stating, “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”. In the conspiracy tria,l Samuel Chester, a close friend of Booth’s said that Booth told him that, “there were fifty to one hundred persons engaged in the conspiracy”. In the trial of George Atzerodt, George said, that “if Booth did not get him (Lincoln) quick the New York crowd would, Booth knew the New York party apparently by a sign. He saw Booth give some kind of sign to two parties on the Avenue who he said were from New York.”. The Radical Republicans did not want the South to be allowed back into the Union easily and the cotton traders did not want their fountain of money to run dry. As cotton prices fell, disaffection in the North rose. Lincoln was in their way and had to be removed. John Wilkes Booth was the man who could remove him for them.
A few other groups of radicals who were opposed to Lincoln were the Freemasons, the B’nai B’rith, and the Knights of the Golden circle.
These are the seven theories behind the Lincoln Assassination. It has been one hundred and fifty years since that tragic night in 1865, and there is not a smoking gun to be found. From these theories one may draw a conclusion from the evidence that has been humbly written as to what really happened and who plotted the assassination of one our nation’s most beloved presidents.