Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
One of the greatest tragedies in American history was the assassination (murder) of one of the most well-liked presidents in the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in 1865. Lincoln is commonly listed as one of the top five presidents to have held office, and was elected to his first term in November of 1860 shortly before the start of the Civil War, war between the Northern and Southern states of America.
During Lincoln's first term in office as the 16th President, the war was in full swing, and seven states from the South had seceded from the Union (North), meaning they wanted to separate from America and become their own territory or country called the Confederate States of America (CSA). There was quite a bit of turmoil in the country and Lincoln was trying to bring the North and South together.
The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and Lincoln's effective leadership during the war surprised the country. During his term in office, Lincoln accomplished many things, and some people were not happy about them. He was responsible for freeing all the slaves in rebel states (South) issuing his Emancipation Proclamation, which upset many people, including some people in the North, because the order did not free the northern border slaves. In November of 1863, Lincoln then delivered one of the most famous speeches in the history of America, the Gettysburg Address. It became one of the most widely quoted speeches, which began with the line 'Four score and seven years ago...'
Lincoln became very popular but still faced an uphill battle for re-election. However, he did win a second term which he began with an inaugural address on March 4, 1865 addressing the need to reconstruct the South and rebuild the country. The end of the Civil War was near, but many in the South were not happy with Lincoln as president again.
One of those who were disappointed was John Wilkes Booth, who was born in Maryland in 1838 and came from a family of well-known actors. Booth was a Confederate sympathizer, meaning he was very loyal to the south and was in favor of their seceding from the Union prior to the start of the Civil War. Though he mostly remained in the North performing as an actor, he and several of his associates planned to kidnap President Lincoln and take him to the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. They planned the kidnapping for March 20, 1865, but Lincoln did not appear at the place where Booth and six others were waiting. Instead, Booth planned something worse.
Lincoln regularly attended performances at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and on April 14,1865, Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln attended the performance of a comedy called Our American Cousin. Others with Lincoln in the private box included an army officer, Henry Rathbone and his fiancé. Everything seemed to be normal for the president and the audience inside the theatre, but Booth and his co-conspirators had other plans. They believed chaos would occur in the U.S. government if simultaneously three people were assassinated: Lincoln; his V-P, Andrew Johnson; and Secretary of State William Seward.
In 1865, presidents were not as well-protected as presidents today. At 10:15 PM, Booth slipped into Lincoln's private box and shot Lincoln in the back of his head using a .44 caliber single-shot derringer pistol. Following the shot, Booth jumped onto the stage and yelled out, 'Sic semper tyrannis', a Latin phrase and the Virginia state motto translated to 'Thus ever to tyrants.'
Booth broke his leg jumping to the stage, but he managed to escape from Washington on horseback. A doctor in the audience immediately went to the private box and found Lincoln slumped in the chair, struggling to breathe and paralyzed. The next morning, at 7:22 AM, on April 15, 1865, Lincoln was pronounced dead at the age of 56.
Since Booth fled the scene and went on the run, an immediate reward went out for his capture. The Union soldiers knew who he was because many of the people in the audience had recognized him as the actor they had previously seen. A $100,000 reward was announced for his capture. Finally, on April 26, while Booth and an accomplice tried to hide in a Virginia farmhouse, they were surrounded by Union troops. Fire was set to the building and Booth refused to come out, and when he allegedly raised his gun to shoot, a sergeant of the army shot him in the neck. Booth died three hours later.
In summary, one of the greatest and well-liked presidents in United States history was assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. However, Abraham Lincoln will be the one who will always be remembered for his outspoken opposition to slavery, his leadership during the Civil War, and one of the greatest speeches in history, the Gettysburg Address.
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