“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed” was among the famous quotes of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Son of a skilled carpenter, Abraham was deprived of formal schooling given the fact that their family was poverty-stricken. Stupendously remembered as Honest Abe, he endured working various jobs during his younger years particularly doing farm work, rail splitting, working as postmaster and surveyor, managing grocery store. His driving desire for knowledge grew due to no education and motivation from his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Abe learned through reading and his talent in public speaking was enhanced through doing story telling in the grocery where he used to work. This talent enabled him to enter the field of law and politics.
Lincoln became an Illinois legislator and member of the Whig Party. The historian Gabor S. Boritt has pointed out that Lincoln’s support for the economic program of the Whig party dovetailed nicely with his desire to encourage upward social mobility. The Whigs tried to promote economic development and diversification, which Lincoln believed would open new opportunities for individual economic advancement (Howe, 1). He began his campaign for anti-slavery during this period. Then he became a lawyer and member of the House of Representatives. This was the dawn of his political career. His extreme disagreement with Kansas-Nebraska Act which was heavily supported by Democratic Senator Douglas placed him into several debates that added to his reputation. He was defeated in the Senate election however won the debates pertaining to slavery issue. During the period of 1860, Abraham triumphed in the presidential election and built a cabinet consisting of his political adversaries. On the other hand, some states become independent and started the Civil war. His forceful actions as commander in chief resulted to at loggerheads with the military officials as well as the government.
Affairs of state contend with war as Lincoln continued to perform a major function in military preparation. Democrats accused Lincoln of being a tyrant because he proscribed civil liberties while Lincoln tolerated virulent criticism from the press and politicians, often restrained his commanders from overzealous arrests, and showed no real tendencies toward becoming a dictator (Johnson, 86). In line with this, President Lincoln cunningly handled slavery concern through announcement of Emancipation Proclamation. This executive order affirmed complete eradication of slavery in the southern states. This decision totally created an immense impact in the U.S. history and according to the grapevine led to another victory of Lincoln in the presidential re-election. His earnest remark on slavery was notable in his letter to Albert Hodges, “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling” (“If” 1).
The presidential order abolishing slavery in the Confederate States of America, earned Lincoln the title of the Great Emancipator. When to issue the Proclamation was Lincoln’s next major concern and Lincoln realized that with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation the South’s chances of receiving financial support from England or France for its cause would be greatly reduced if not completely eliminated (Cox, 95). In response to this event, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate secret agent and dynamic advocate of the South was extremely infuriated. The theatrical actor and racist get furious on all Lincoln’s plan making him devised kidnapping schemes and recruit co-connivers including David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, John Surratt and Dr. Samuel Mudd.
Plans of abduction usually went awry enabling Booth to make major adjustments from kidnapping to assassination. The plot to kill the President Lincoln occurred on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre. Upon learning that the First Lady along with the Lincoln and General Grant were arranging plans on watching the comedic play of Our American Cousin, actor Booth organized a final assembly with the other conspirators. The group of assassins settled up on the decision that John Booth will kill President Lincoln, while Powell is assigned to slay William Seward, the State Secretary and finally Vice-President Andrew Johnson will be murdered at his residence in Kirkwood House by Atzerodt to happen concurrently at 10:15 P.M. the night of April 14. They have come to the conclusion that the death of the three most significant government leaders will result to turmoil and volatility in the administration of the government.
General Ulysses Grant and wife failed to attend the play however, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone came with the Lincoln’s in watching the play at 8:30P.M. Booth arrived as early as 9:30 and went straight to back of the theater to tie his horse and chilled in the saloon. At approximately 10:07 P.M. he set foot in the entrance of the Ford Theater and went straight to the State Box where the Lincoln and three other people were sitting since the president’s bodyguard, John Parker was not around. Unnoticed, Booth entered the door to the State Box, pulled out his pistol and gunned down Lincoln at a close range. Onlookers heard the Booth loudly screamed the words, “Freedom” while other spectators said the assassin yelled “Revenge for the South”. The bullet hit Lincoln in the back of the head, upon witnessing the crime, Rathbone tried to grab Booth by his clothes however the killer Booth gashed Rathbone with a hunting knife. Booth attempted to jump off the State Box upon doing this, General Rathbone seized a piece of his clothing making him tumble forcibly on the stage fracturing his leg.
President Lincoln died the following day while Herold and Booth fled the Capital and moved across Maryland. Dr. Mudd treated Booth’s fractured leg. Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War ordered the arrest of the assassins. The two assassins took cover in Port Royal, Virginia however authorities found them. Herold yielded but Booth’s veto to surrender made the authorities burn the place. As a result, Booth was shot by a soldier. After the incident eight other connivers were arrested and charged guilty by the court. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Spangler, Samuel Arnold were pardoned by Andrew Johnson after 4 years of imprisonment.
Several years had passed nevertheless; the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln remained ghastly yet unforgettable among American citizens and controversial amid researchers and academic historians. The said assassination was ostensibly the most dreadful murder in the history of America. Several conspiracy theories had been formulated given that wide range of academic and nonacademic historians as well as journalists had been greatly fascinated by the intrigues and mysteries of the crime. In general, there were six major conspiracy theories disseminated since 1865. The first theory stated the involvement of Vice-President Andrew Johnson with the main assassin John Wilkes Booth. According to this theory, Booth came around the residence of Johnson which is at Washington Hotel and left a short missive saying, “Don’t wish to disturb you Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth.” William Browning, the private secretary of Johnson bore witness before the court saying he stumbled upon the message in the box that day before the assassination was done. In the 1997 publication “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper it is stated on that Booth had previously met Johnson in Nashville in February, 1864 and at the time Booth was appearing in the newly opened Wood’s Theatre. Also, author Hamilton Howard in Civil War Echoes (1907) made the claim that while Johnson was military governor of Tennessee, he and Booth kept a couple of sisters as mistresses and oftentimes were seen in each other’s company (Norton, 1).
The second theory stated that the main organizer of the assassination is John Wilkes Booth. This theory is popularly known as the simple conspiracy theory. The abduction of Lincoln was the original plan of Booth and the rest of the conspirators however due to failure of kidnapping plans, they resorted to murder. The president would then be taken to Richmond and be swapped to Southern war captives. The theory asserted that Booth was the mastermind of the kidnapping scheme as revenge since all the agenda of Lincoln were detested by the former.
The third conspiracy theory averred the involvement of Booth and the officials of the Confederates. Lincoln was observed as the rightful target by the Confederates particularly by Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin. He fled to England and demolished all the records and he was the only member of the Confederates who did not come back to America. First, there was the failed effort to blow up the White House followed by the successful effort to kill Lincoln at the theater. The theory of Confederate complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is accepted by many of the current Lincoln assassination historians, scholars, researchers, and writers and it is considered as the Grand Conspiracy Theory (Oates, 58).
The fourth conspiracy theory was the outcome of Lincoln’s monetary policies. Rothschilds, controllers of European bankers presented Lincoln with credits with high interest rates but the president refused and utilized other resources. In addition to that, Lincoln’s policies were strongly opposed by these bankers since they viewed him as a peril to their business. As a result, Lincoln’s assassination was being conspired by these international bankers.
The fifth conspiracy theory stated the connection of the Roman Catholic Church. This is based on Lincoln’s legal defense of a former Priest against the Bishop of Chicago and this theory is further enhanced by the fact that the Catholic John H. Surratt, the son of Mary Surratt, fled America and ended up in the Vatican (Hanchett, 3).
The last conspiracy theory stated the participation of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War as the chief planner of the assassination. Stanton hated the president for his controlled viewpoint on several military concerns. Stanton thwarted General Grant from watching the play in the Ford Theater with Lincoln in an effort to save his life. He also lowered security on the bridge that Booth used to flee into Maryland and he also destroyed a few pages of Booth’s diary before it was used as evidence in court (Trefousse, 112).
President Lincoln’s assassination was equally remembered as well as the achievements he made throughout his term. The Emancipation Proclamation which totally altered the racial outlook of the United States and the saving of Southern states from secession were the accomplishments which will be tremendously taken into account by Americans. “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disentrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country”, words from Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress and this dream would unquestionably had become a reality after Lincoln’s successful term as president of United States.
Cox, L. Lincoln and Black Freedom. Columbia: South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.
Douglass, W. Mr. Lincoln and the Negroes; The Long Road to Equality. New York: H. Wolff, 1963.
Hanchett, W. The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983.
Howe, Daniel. “Why Abraham Lincoln Was a Whig.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 16 1995: 1.
Johnson, G. Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1983.
Library of Congress. “If Slavery Is Not Wrong, Nothing Is Wrong.” Locgov. 5 Dec. 2002. American treasures of the library of Congress. 26 May 2008 ;http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trt027.html;.
Norton, R. “Lincoln Assassination theories: A Simple Conspiracy or a Grand Conspiracy?.” Homeatt. 1996. Abraham Lincoln Research Site. 27 May 2008 ;http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln74.html;.
Oates, S. Abraham Lincoln: The Man behind the Myths. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.
Trefousse, Hans L. The Radical Republicans; Lincoln’s Vanguard for Racial Justice. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968.