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Booth and conspirators


One of the many actors who had performed in the presence of Lincoln was the prominent young actor, John Wilkes Booth. Grandson of a man who helped runaway slaves escape, son of an eccentric idealist of great acting ability, and brother of Edwin Booth, the matinee idol of his time, he had the talent and eccentricities of his family, but did not share their Union sympathies. As a youth, his intimate associates had been Southerners, and he had developed a passionate love for the South and its institutions. Yet, when war came, he continued to act in the North rather than fight for the South. The 26-year-old thespian was handsome, popular with the ladies, and his earnings totaled approximately $20,000 a year. On November 9, 1863, his fame had drawn Abraham Lincoln as a spectator to his performance in "The Marble Heart" at Ford's Theatre. But success in the theatre did not satisfy his lust for enduring fame. His misguided zeal led him on to the deed which gained for him not fame, but deepest infamy.

In his original plan, Booth did not intend to kill the President. He meant to kidnap him and hold him as a hostage. As ransom for the President, he would demand the release of Southern prisoners of war to replenish the thinning Confederate ranks. To carry out his scheme, Booth gathered about him a small group of conspirators. Two of them, Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlin, had been his schoolmates and had fought in the Confederate Army. Lewis Paine, desperado and Confederate deserter, was a great admirer of Booth. A German immigrant, George Atzerodt, was enlisted in the plot to supply a boat to take the kidnappers across the Potomac River. David Herold, an insignificant youth, had become a willing tool of Booth. Another, John Surratt, was a Confederate blockade runner. Booth and several of the conspirators frequently met at the boardinghouse of John Surratt's mother, Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, located at 541 H Street NW. in Washington. While examining a possible escape route in lower Maryland, an area active with Confederate sympathizers, Booth became acquainted with Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, of Bryantown, who was later to pay dearly for this association. The conspirators gradually lost interest in the kidnapping plan, and it was abandoned. As a last resort, the desperate actor decided to assassinate the President.


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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 2 2002 10:00:00 am PDT

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