What factors led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Did a just outcome eventuate?
Abraham Lincoln was an American President often though of as the “Prophet of Democracy”. There were many factors that led to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. Sectionalism and slavery and the eventual downfall of the Southern States of America, left John Wilkes Booth with a burning hatred for Lincoln. This hatred for the Northern States and of Lincoln as, and his strong beliefs of the Southern States, drove Booth to assassinate Lincoln. A just outcome was achieved as John Wilkes Booth paid for his crimes, but in other cased, such as those of nine conspirators a just outcome did not eventuate.
Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 at Washington’s “Ford Theatre” during a performance of “Our American Cousin”, five days after the end of the American civil war. The assassination was executed by a Shakespearean actor called John Wilkes Booth. Booth entered Lincoln’s presidential box, placed a one shot derringer behind his left ear, pulled the trigger and shouted “Sic Semper tyrannis”, which means “Thus Always to tyrants”, before exiting via the stage door.
John Wilkes Booth bore a sincere affinity for the beliefs of the Southern States. Booth, in loyalty to the “Confederate States of America”, hated President Lincoln and was convinced that the democratic government would fall without Lincoln’s leadership. He conspired with nine others to perform the assassination, and, according to his brother, considered Lincoln to be a “tyrant”.
A major aspect of the evidence, providing motive for the assassination, was the sectionalism present between the Northern and Southern states of America. The sectionalism is extremely relevant to this case as it was a vital factor and pressing social force affecting the outcome of this case. Lincoln took an active interest in the controversial political issues over which the North and South consistently disagreed. Such issues include those of slavery and high tariffs on imported goods. There was a vast difference in the economies of the North and South, with the Northern economy being primarily industrial as opposed to the Southern economy which relied heavily upon the work or Negro slaves on cotton plantations.
Southerners felt threatened by Lincoln’s attitudes towards slavery and the many Northerners lobbying for the abolition of slaver. Lincoln wanted to prevent the spread of slavery, and expressed his ideals during a series of debates with Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, from which Lincoln emerged as a clear favorite in the North. The sectionalism reached its peak in 1861 when eleven Southern states seceded from the Union to form the “Confederate States of America”. Despite Lincoln’s efforts to preserve the Union, civil war broke out. During the civil war Lincoln strengthened his views on slavery, and on September 22, 1862, earnt himself the title of “Great Emancipator” when he announced his emancipation proclamation. The proclamation which stated “…all persons held as slaves in any State, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”, aroused anger in Southerners, including John Wilkes Booth.
The Confederacy surrendered in April 1865, leaving John Wilkes Booth burning with a hatred for Lincoln and the desire to avenge the devastated Southern States. This became evident after Booth performed the assassination when he yelled whilst jumping from the stage “the South is avenged!”
` A factor that may have been a cause of Lincoln death according to Oscar and Lilian Handlin in the book, “Abraham Lincoln and the Union”, was that Booth was actually fired from his conspirical group and replaced with a man named James Boyd, thug motivating Booth to assassinate Lincoln before Boyd did.
Justice was achieved in the death of John Wilkes Booth. Evidence against Booth such as the following exert from an eye witness account of Booth’s escape after the assassination, by a cavalry man named John W. Millington.
“Booth is in the barn” and he added, “Booth told me, when he asked me to help him, that he was going to kidnap Lincoln: he didn’t tell me he was going to kill him.”
I said , “When you learned that Booth had killed Lincoln, why did you help him to escape?”
Harold said, “Booth threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him get away. Booth came out of the rear of the theater immediately after shooting Lincoln and we went to Dr. Mudd’s home. After Dr. Mudd has set Booth’s leg we went to Port Tobacco and hid that day. That night we got a fisherman to take us over the river into Virginia. It was so rough that the fisherman said it was unsafe, but Booth told him we had to cross at once and he would kill him if he didn’t take us.”
The evidence from this cavalryman may be considered unreliable due to the fact Harold, or even himself could have become excited during the course of events and thus employ the tendency to exaggerate. However, the evidence is clearly factual with no apparent speculation given.
Evidence in the case against Booth is in his diary, the contents in which he likened himself to famous assassins. This diary was written between April 14 and his death, and in it Booth compared himself to both Brutus and William Tell, nothing that he was better than both of them. Booth wrote that Brutus and William Tell had personal motives for their assassinations, whereas he struck “solely for the good of my country”.
This evidence clearly shows that John Wilkes Booth was in fact the assassin and justice was achieve in the fact that they tried to apprehend the right person and his conspirators.
In certain aspects of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln justice was done, in that Booth definitely received just punishment for his monstrous crime. The barn in which he and fellow conspirator Harold were hiding was surrounded by soldiers and upon Booth’s refusal to surrender, was set alight. A gunshot was heard and John Wilkes Booth died. His last words, according to David Lee, were, “Tell mother I die for my country.” Historians are unsure as to whether the fatal shot came from Sergeant Boston Corbett or whether Booth in fact committed suicide. A suicide would be plausible in that Booth may not have wanted to face the definite failure of a trial, or the men orchestrating the conspiracy. Booth may have been killed if they though that he had revealed any of the Conspiracy’s secrets to the Union, such as their previous attempts to kidnap Lincoln.
Of Booth’s nine fellow conspirator, all but Booth and one other who managed o escape went to trail from May 9 to May 30, 1865. The defendants were liked to Confederate Government deeds as well as a plot to burn down New York City. Four conspirators were hung, and two received life sentences in jail. The conspirators were dealt with rather harshly , particularly in the case of Mary Surratt.
The evidence against Mary Surratt was very weak and unreliable as it was given by a man who was drunk at the time. Even at the time of her execution, Mary’s involvement in the conspiracy was uncertain. For this reason, her execution is unjustified.
In the case of Abraham Lincoln, just was most definitely done in reference to John Wilkes Booth, the executor of the assassination as the evidence against him, such as his diary and eyewitness accounts are too strong to suggest otherwise. Given the enormity of the crime Booth committed, his death is well justified. Abraham Lincoln was a firm, noble leader, who possessed a compassion and humanity not often found in men in such powerful positions. He eventually managed to successfully preserve the Union. Justice was done in John Wilkes Booth’s death, as he put a premature end to President Lincoln’s admirable leadership of America.
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