Saturday, March 26, 2011
Secret of vice presidents named Johnson in two assassination: Abraham Lincoln and J F K
Before the Kennedy assassination, there was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. To many Americans there is an almost mystic connection between the two awful events. Both the names Lincoln and Kennedy contain seven letters. The two murdered presidents were succeeded by vice presidents named Johnson.
was elected (to his second term) in 1860. Lincoln
Kennedy was elected a century later in 1960. However, the Abraham Lincoln assassination really was the result of a conspiracy.
The question is, how large a conspiracy and who was really behind it?
First, the known facts: On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, newly inaugurated for his second term, attended a performance at Ford's Theatre in
During the performance John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a member of Washington, D.C. 's leading theatrical family, walked unquestioned into the president's private box, pointed his derringer behind the president's ear, and shot. He then jumped to the stage in what he must have visualized as a triumphant, dramatic leap. But the spur of Booth's boot caught on some bunting that decorated the president's box and he landed awkwardly, fracturing his shin. In the general confusion he still managed to escape from the theater. America was carried to a nearby house,where he died a few hours later. Lincoln
The conspirators had planned a triple assassination. George Atzerodt got drunk and didn't even attempt to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson. Lewis Paine stabbed Secretary of State William H. Seward and seriously wounded him, but Seward recovered.
Booth and an associate, David Herold, managed to flee to
, where a doctor, possibly a member of the conspiratorial group, set his leg. After twelve days Booth and Herold were finally surrounded by soldiers in the barn of Garrett's Farm in Maryland . Herold surrendered. "I'll shoot it out with the whole damned detachment," Booth cried. The barn was set afire, and Booth was shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett. Bowling Green, Virginia
A few months later the conspirators who had been arrested went on trial and were convicted. Four were hanged and others given prison sentences.
The version of the Lincoln assassination that has come down to us through most history books is that it was entirely the work of Booth—an egomaniacal, drunken, and fanatical actor. All the others were a motley crew of drunkards and fools under the control of the half-crazed Booth. And there is considerable truth to this version.
Booth was undoubtedly both self-centered and unbalanced. The Maryland-raised actor was a heavy drinker and a fanatic supporter of the Confederate cause—not fanatic enough, however, to abandon his lucrative acting career in the North and join the Confederate army during the Civil War. None of his associates was particularly bright and some, like the loutish Atzerodt, could easily be considered of below average intelligence. The flamboyant actor dominated and controlled them.
But from the moment the news of the president's assassination spread, there were hints, and sometimes shouts, of a wider and more sinister conspiracy. In order to understand this reaction it is necessary to understand the time. Just a week before the assassination, Robert E. Lee had surrendered. The war was essentially over, though some fighting continued.
was the nation's capital, it was located on the border between the North and South, and was really more of a Southern city. It was loaded with Southern sympathizers and spies. Passage between North and South, even during the height of the war, was quite easy. Washington
At the time it was assumed that the conspiracy to Kill Lincoln involved many more individuals than Booth and the handful of nonentities who were ultimately convicted and punished for the crime. In fact, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and a few other high Confederate officials were originally indicted as part of a conspiracy, but these indictments were eventually dropped.
John Surratt, one of the conspirators who managed to escape to Europe, told friends that the plot had been hatched on the orders of
. Surratt was captured in Europe two years after the assassination, brought back for trial in the Davis , and acquitted on a technicality, although his mother, who had far less to do with the plot, had been hanged. United States
Booth had met with Confederate agents in
before he planned the assassination. A number of the other conspirators were known to be Confederate agents. Confederate codebooks and other incriminating materials were found in the possession of some of the conspirators. It was also said that Booth was a member of a secretive underground group called the Knights of the Canada Golden Circle, who were fanatical Northern supporters of the Confederate cause. But little is known of the group.
assassination had been a large and well-planned conspiracy, then it is reasonable to assume that Booth and the others would have had a well-planned escape. Clearly this was not supposed to be a suicide mission. Incredibly, Booth was able to escape from the city of Lincoln and ride south; he did get some help from Confederate supporters and perhaps some co-conspirators along the way. But basically he was on his own. Washington
Perhaps there had been a broader plan once—but after Lee's surrender that would have collapsed. All the evidence indicates that in the end Booth and his followers did not have much organized support.
John Surratt, his mother, and several others involved in the assassination conspiracy were Catholic. When Surratt first escaped from the
, he was hidden by some priests in Candada. United States
In Europe he went to
and joined the papal guard under an assumed name. However, after he was identified, the pope's chancellor had him arrested and returned to Rome . In the mid-nineteenth century, anti-Catholic feeling ran strong in predominantly Protestant America, and there was a widespread belief that the America Vatican was somehow responsible for the assassination. For some in Lincoln America it seemed as if the was responsible for every evil deed in the world. However, a Vatican conspiracy behind the Vatican assassination was an idea that never really got off the ground. Lincoln
Booth, incidentally, was an Episcopalian and as a young man had been a member of the virulently anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement.
Most people have assumed, and still assume, that there was a wider Confederate conspiracy behind the assassination. At the very least there is a belief that Confederate higher-ups had some knowledge of what Booth planned, but did nothing to stop it.
This may have been covered up by a victorious federal government more anxious to heal the wounds of war than simply to punish the enemy. But this is not a very sensational theory.
What has grabbed the public imagination is the theory that some of
's own government, his Cabinet members, his friends, and even his family were part of a conspiracy and a cover-up. There are a number of troubling and suspicious elements in the Lincoln assassination. First and foremost is the poor security. Booth was able to walk into the president's box and shoot him. Lincoln
The outbreak of war hardly improved matters. Death threats arrived almost daily, and there were a couple of serious attempts on
's life. It was later discovered that one of these attempts was made by John Wilkes Booth, who actually managed to shoot the president's famous top hat off. Yet when Lincoln went to Ford's Theatre that fatal evening, there was only one guard assigned to him, and this guard had wandered off in search of a drink. Lincoln
The guard was a policeman named John Parker. He had a reputation as an incompetent and a drunk, yet just a week before the assassination he had been recommended for duty at the White House by Mary Todd Lincoln, the president's wife. For some reason Parker's possible role in the assassination, if any, was not investigated, or if it was the results were never made public.
Mary Todd Lincoln was not a popular figure in
, and there were even rumors that she was a Southern sympathizer—rumors that are totally unfounded. Washington
Shortly before his own death in 1926,
's son Robert Todd Lincoln burned a large mass of his father's papers. He told a friend that the documents contained evidence of the treason of a member of his cabinet and he thought it was best for everyone that such evidence be destroyed. There has been no way to verify this intriguing statement. Lincoln
Lincoln, Booth was able not only to get out of the theater without anyone stopping him, but to get clean out of without being seen. The city was still under wartime conditions and the exit roads were guarded, yet none of the guards reported seeing Booth. Washington
On the night of the assassination the commercial telegraph lines in
—controlled by the government in wartime—went dead, delaying news of Booth's escape. Washington
The search for Booth was so badly organized that it reads like a catalog of errors. It's not unreasonable to conclude that if the assassin had not injured his leg jumping from
's box he might well have gotten clean away. Lincoln
When the pursuing soldiers finally trapped Booth and his companion, they were under strict orders to take the actor alive if at all possible. The barn was set afire in order to smoke Booth out, but before that could happen the assassin was shot. The man who claimed credit for killing Booth was Sergeant Boston Corbett, the Jack Ruby of the
assassination. He was a strange man—a genuine religious fanatic who said he killed Booth on orders from God. Despite disobeying orders about taking the assassin alive, Corbett was given a reward and briefly became a well-known and popular lecturer. He got a job as sergeant at arms for the Lincoln legislature, but one day he went completely berserk and began shooting up the chamber. He was confined to a mental institution, but then escaped and disappeared. Kansas
The best witness to the
assassination—the assassin himself—was dead, and anything he could have told investigators about the plot was lost. Lincoln
But Booth was carrying a diary. This was taken to
, turned over to the War Department, and then it seems to have been lost for years. When it finally turned up again, it created a storm because eighteen pages—the critical pages covering events leading up to the assassination—had been torn out. The soldiers who found the diary swore that it had been undamaged when they first turned it in. Washington
These are just some of the strange and suspicious events surrounding
's assassination. They can all be explained away as the result of confusion, coincidence, and incompetence. But true conspiracy theorists do not recognize confusion, coincidence, and incompetence—they see only a massive and smoothly running conspiracy. In 1937, historian Otto Eisenschiml announced that the man behind the plot was Lincoln 's secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton. Lincoln
There is no doubt
was a powerful man. He was primarily responsible for protecting the president, so the failures in protection may ultimately be laid at his doorstep. He was also in charge of investigation of the assassination and the apprehension of the conspirators. Indeed, in the days and weeks following Stanton Lincoln's assassination, exercised near-dictatorial powers. And he made mistakes—but were they just mistakes? ask the conspiracy theorists. Stanton
Stanton have wanted killed? The theory is that Stanton, a radical Republican, opposed Lincoln 's conciliatory policies toward the defeated Confederacy. He wanted to see the rebels severely punished. But what possible connection could there be between such a man and the fanatic Confederate supporter Booth? Conspiracy theorists generally avoid this fundamental question. Lincoln
The fallback position is that while Stanton and Booth did not actually conspire together, the secretary of war knew of Booth's plans and allowed the assassination to take place. That is slightly more plausible but still far-fetched. There is, in fact, evidence that
Stanton did not want to go to Ford's Theatre on the fatal night, but that the president brushed aside his concerns. Lincoln
One of the most intriguing allegations of the
assassination conspiracy theory is that John Wilkes Booth was not shot at Garrett's farm—that the dying man dragged from the burning barn was someone else. Booth was said to have escaped. He was placed in locations as diverse as the American Southwest, Lincoln Mexico, and Europe and most improbably , where, it was said, he lived to a comfortable old age on a large and secret government pension. India
Women claiming to have been Booth's wives, men and women swearing they were Booth's children, and several old men claiming to have been Booth himself surfaced regularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During the 1920s the mummified remains of a derelict painter named John St. Helen were trucked around the carnival circuit as the remains of John Wilkes Booth. This gruesome relic may still be on display somewhere.
In 1996 a lawyer petitioned to have the remains of John Wilkes Booth exhumed and subjected to DNA testing to see if the man buried in the grave was really Booth. This request was rejected, but it did get a lot of press coverage.
The theory that there was a vast conspiracy and a vast cover-up of the
assassination has become a permanent part of American lore. Lincoln