Monday, April 15, 2013

Pointless Presidential Pfacts #34 - "The Last Time Lincoln Was in a Theater"

On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln went to Ford's Theater to watch "Our American Cousin". Now while the 16th President of the United States wanted to relax at the theater as the Civil War came to an end, an individual with so much opposition to the central government's involvement in freeing the enslaved black man wanted nothing more than to topple the U.S. government on the night of the 14th. John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators planned to kill Lincoln, the loyal Southern Democrat from Tennessee and the recently sworn-in vice president, Andrew Johnson, and the Secretary of State, William Seward. Lincoln and Johnson ran on the Union Party ticket, dumping his vice president Hannibal Hamlin for the loyal southerner of the opposition party. Seward had been the nation's chief diplomat since the start of Lincoln's first term and prior to that had challenged Lincoln for the Republican nomination in 1860 and was expected to win it. Booth was a southern sympathizer from a famous family of actors, he was not unknown like his future fellow presidential assassins like Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, or Lee Harvey Oswald (and his conspirators???).

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. Republican from Illinois.

The guy that was to kill Vice President Johnson chickened out and Johnson had no clue about an attempt. Although Booth did try to make a connection between himself and the vice president, but nothing came of it.

Lewis Powell, one of Booth's co-conspirators, had the responsibility of killing Secretary Seward. Powell made it into the secretary's home and fought off his son before stabbing him. What saved Seward was a neck-brace he wore after being in a carriage accident. Powell fled the scene and was later caught.

Lewis Powell

The only one successful that night was Booth. He had scoped out Ford's Theater and planned out his moves. He knew the play's funniest line, "Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap." And that was when he was going to strike. Booth shot Lincoln with a derringer. After he shot Lincoln in the back of the head, Booth fought off Major Henry Rathbone, he and his wife shared the theater box with the First Couple, after bigger names like Grant and Sherman turned the play down. Booth slashed away at Rathbone, but the attack threw Booth off his game. Booth jumped from the box to the stage and his spur got caught in the flag. He broke his leg but before rushing off the stage yelled something to the audience. Two things were reported said, "Sic semper tyrannis!" which is the motto of Virginia and translates to "Thus always to tyrants." The line heard was "The South is avenged!"

Booth got on a horse, which he asked someone to hold, although they didn't know why, and he rode out of town. The Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, issued a manhunt for Booth and his accomplices. Booth sought help for his leg and eventually made his way to Garrett's farm and stayed in the barn until Federal troops circled the barn with fire. A soldier shot Booth and he died shortly afterward. His conspirators were tried and hung for the crime. Among those executed on July 7, 1865, was the first female, Mary Surratt.

John Wilkes Booth

But on the night of April 14th, doctors in Ford's Theater tried to save the president's life. Fearful that President Lincoln would not survive the bumpy road back to the Executive Mansion, they moved the president across the street. Lincoln died the next morning. It is said that Stanton said, "now he belongs to the angels" and later he changed his quote to "now he belongs to the ages."

Johnson was sworn-in as the 17th president of the United States. Lincoln's plans for Reconstruction of the South would never come to light and a political power struggle between President Johnson and the Radical Republicans would harm Reconstruction and Civil Rights for about 100 years until after another assassinated president is succeeded by another Vice President Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States. Democrat from Tennessee.

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