The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on Good Fri (14 April), 1865, past times musician John Wilkes Booth unleashed a alluvion of rumors regarding larger conspiracies afoot. Hardly had the president breathed his terminal early on Sabbatum morning, when officials too world alike began accusing Confederate leaders too hush-hush organizations inward the North of master-minding the murder.
H5N1 New York Times editorial on 26 Apr vowed that when the fourth dimension came for revelations, “[i]t volition hold upwardly seen that all the speak of ‘Knights of the Golden Circle,’ ‘Sons of Liberty,’ ‘American Knights,’ &c., was non without foundation.” President Andrew Johnson’s statement of 2 May 1865 ordering the arrest of Jefferson Davis too several others explicitly defendant the Confederate leadership of complicity inward Lincoln’s death.
While the real tangible political too emotional stresses that gave ascension to these accusations abated inward the years next the murder, the attempt to necktie the deed to a larger, hidden innovation did not. Theories implicating a surprising attain of persons too causes—from the Confederacy, to Andrew Johnson, the Catholic Church, Wall Street financiers, too fifty-fifty Lincoln’s stalwart secretarial assistant of war, Edwin Stanton—surfaced over the side past times side century. Some rest inward trend to this day.
If the Kennedy assassination has been the greatest unmarried source for conspiratorial facial expression inward recent U.S. culture, Lincoln’s surely deserves credit equally the longest running. And similar their contemporary cousins, conspiracy theories linked to the first off presidential assassination were forged inward the context of surrounding political, social, too cultural forces.
The Basis inward Events
In the days next the shooting, at that spot were legitimate reasons for fearing a larger plot. Booth accomplice Lewis Powell’s simultaneous knife-attack on Secretary of State William Seward made the possibility of an organized onslaught on the Union leadership real real. It was reported that officers sent to inform Stanton of the shooting accosted a homo “muffled inward a cloak” on the secretary’s doorstep.
Booth’s calling bill of fare left for Vice-President Andrew Johnson at the latter’s hotel raised hackles further. And the uncovering of a missive of the alphabet inward the actor’s body at the National Hotel, inward which Booth’s correspondent advised a stop inward plans until “Richmond could hold upwardly heard from,” (U.S. Government, 46:3, 781) seemed to confirm the authorities’ worst suspicions.
The capture of Powell at Mary Surratt’s boarding menage on 17 April, too the arrest within a few days of most of Booth’s other accomplices, provided house evidence that the attacks had sprung from an organized center. In the minds of many, including Edwin Stanton too the officers charged amongst bringing the conspirators to trial, at that spot was picayune doubtfulness this middle originated amongst the Confederacy.
The larger political too armed services province of affairs preceding Lincoln’s decease contributed to the climate of conspiracy. On nine April, a mere 5 days before the assassination, the rebel Army of Northern Virginia nether Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. This signaled the effective destination of the Civil War too the North erupted inward celebration.
But inward reality Lee’s give upwardly marked the beginning, non the end, of the cessation of hostilities betwixt North too South. Confederate forces remained inward the field. In Virginia, some units, including Mosby’s Rangers, refused to surrender. In mid-April, at that spot were reports that forces nether his command were launching raids into Maryland from across the Potomac.
In improver to active armed services forces, eastern Maryland too northern Virginia were total of disbanded soldiers too displaced civilians. Refugees crowded Richmond too Petersburg, seeking nutrient too shelter from federal commissaries. Some ex-rebels formed marauding bands, adding to the uncertain safety inward the countryside.
Others headed toward Washington too Baltimore, believing the federal authorities would render costless shipping to their homes inward the South (U.S. Government, 46:3, 868–869). Thus, inward improver to sustaining the loss of its main of state, the surface area inward too or so Washington experienced a flow of turmoil equally hostilities gradually ended.
In the North the euphoria next Lee’s give upwardly speedily turned to bewilderment too a wish for vengeance equally tidings of Lincoln’s decease made its agency across the country. It did non ease matters that the give upwardly too murder coincided amongst 2 of the most of import dates, Palm Dominicus too Good Fri respectively, on the Christian calendar.
The religious symbolism attached to the tragedy culminated equally the funeral cortege bearing Lincoln’s embalmed body injure its agency through northern cities on its 1,600-mile journeying dorsum to the president’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. More important, however, to agreement the ground for the initial conspiracy theories, is recognizing that at the fourth dimension of his decease Abraham Lincoln was a controversial figure inward the North.
Many held him inward high esteem, but others reviled him for the war’s slaughter too for his actions inward favor of dark Americans. Northern political dissent was centered inward the Democratic Party, too inward particular amid anti-war Democrats, termed “Copperheads.” It ran peculiarly potent inward the larger cities exterior New England too inward the old Northwest, ironically, the real part Lincoln hailed from.
In the aftermath of fourteen April, newspapers reported individuals too communities celebrating his decease past times burning effigies too firing explosives. Irate mobs tarred too feathered some of these celebrants too others were rescued past times policemen. In Westminster, Maryland, a Democratic paper editor was murdered for publishing anti-Lincoln comments next the assassination.
The presence of this political dissent inward the North helped feed pop rumors concerning the operations of so-called dark lantern societies, hush-hush organizations including the previously mentioned Knights of the Golden Circle, devoted to political too armed services treason. Historians by too large manage the existent extent of the groups’ activities was greatly exaggerated at the time. The exaggerated accounts were often produced past times Republican paper editors seeking to discredit the Democrats before election time.
Regardless of the reality, the evidence indicates that a goodness percent of the northern world paid attending to the rumors implicating the groups inward Lincoln’s death. In the months that followed pop literary works, including Dion Haco’s pseudonymous John Wilkes Booth, the Assassinator of Abraham Lincoln, too Ned Buntline’s pseudonymous John Wilkes Booth, provided fictionalized accounts of a conspiracy involving hush-hush northern societies.
Culture too Politics
Despite the circumstantial evidence too testimony given past times authorities witnesses, investigating authorities never established a difficult link betwixt Booth too the Confederate government, or betwixt Booth too northern hush-hush societies. Following the conviction of 8 of his accomplices past times a armed services court inward June 1865, belief inward a grand conspiracy involving the rebel chieftains tardily faded from view.
The execution of Mary Surratt (along amongst George Atzerodt, Davey Herold, too Lewis Powell) on vii July 1865 dampened the public’s enthusiasm for extreme justice. Much of the testimony proving the interest of Confederate leaders unraveled when it was revealed that the government’s main witness, an adventurer named Charles Dunham, had fabricated most of it.
Jefferson Davis was released from prison house inward May 1867 without always beingness indicted. The disclosure of Booth’s “missing” diary past times one-time Secret Service main Lafayette C. Baker during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee inward early on 1867 farther discredited the government’s case. The diary had been taken from Booth’s body afterwards he was shot on the Virginia farmstead on the morn of 26 Apr 1865.
Turned over to the War Department, it was never introduced inward evidence at the conspirators’ trial. Its pages confirmed the testimony of most of the accomplices: the innovation had been to kidnap Lincoln too escort him safely to Confederate lines. Booth acted largely on his ain inaugural inward deciding to assassinate the president.
However, the diary did assist launch the side past times side circular of conspiracy-making. It is at this dot that historian William Hanchett’s thesis on the human relationship betwixt national politics too Lincoln assassination theories provides a useful perspective for agreement their subsequent development.
Baker non only revealed the diary’s existence, but when shown the volume next its subpoena from the War Department, he claimed on the witness stand upwardly that pages had been removed since it had been turned over to Stanton inward Apr 1865. Despite the testimony of federal officials that the pages had been torn out past times Booth too used equally notes, suspicions were at nowadays raised over what mightiness need keep been written on the “missing” pages.
Leading the accuse was one-time political full general too latterly elected Republican congressman Benjamin Butler. In March 1867, Butler defendant the authorities prosecutors of purposefully withholding the diary during the conspirators’ trial, resulting, amid other things, inward the judicial murder of Mary Surratt.
Drawing from Baker’s allegation of missing pages, too Booth’s ain statement inward the diary that he proposed to homecoming to Washington “and clear myself from this cracking crime,” Butler went on to insinuate the interest of high authorities officials inward the conspiracy to murder Lincoln wanting to know who had tampered amongst the diary afterwards the authorities had got manage of it. In July, he introduced a resolution inward the House of Representatives establishing a five-member commission to investigate the assassination. The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed that the criminal offence had been abetted past times many people belongings high positions of power.
Butler’s target was President Andrew Johnson too his aim was shared past times other Radical Republicans who, equally Hanchett notes, were intent on finding evidence that could hold upwardly used to impeach the president. Johnson, so the reasoning went, was the only somebody to gain materially from Lincoln’s death. But the evidence against him was unsubstantiated too relied almost alone on the innuendoes of Baker too others.
The existent motivations for the charges against the president lay inward the bitter conflict too so raging betwixt Johnson too the Radical-controlled Congress over Reconstruction. By early on 1867 the executive too legislative branches of the authorities were at loggerheads, amongst Johnson vetoing most of the congressional legislation bearing on Reconstruction policy, too Congress overriding his vetoes to transcend the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment, the extension of the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, too more.
In Feb 1867, at the same fourth dimension the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Baker, Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Act, which divided the South into 5 armed services districts too established to a greater extent than stringent conditions, including dark suffrage, for readmitting the southern states. Thus, the theory implicating Johnson sprang from tangible political conflicts, too Butler’s accusations may hold upwardly read equally a shape of political theatre overlaying to a greater extent than serious issues.
As it turned out, the theory outlived its immediate political usefulness too lived on into the side past times side century when most of the details explaining Johnson’s interest would hold upwardly worked out. At the time, however, it represented a meaning phase inward the evolution of Lincoln theories for alleging the malefactor was within the government, too that the authorities was involved inward a cover-up.
It also displayed the unique feature of all early on theories: they were encouraged too oftentimes fabricated from within the government, past times officials too political actors similar Butler too Baker. It also inspired a number of pop literary industrial plant over the side past times side several decades, the most famous in all probability beingness Tennessee attorney Finis L. Bates’s Escape too Suicide of John Wilkes Booth (1907) inward which he combined Johnson’s interest amongst the legend of Booth’s escape.
In the 1880s, a quaternary theory emerged, disceptation that the conspiracy originated amongst the Catholic Church. Charles Chiniquy’s Fifty Years inward the Church of Rome (1886) was the first off of several industrial plant alleging a Catholic plot.
H5N1 French-Canadian priest who had emigrated to Illinois, Chiniquy met Lincoln when the latter defended him inward a civil trial against his Catholic superiors. The example was settled before going to a jury, but the priest believed Lincoln had earned the bitter enmity of the Catholic Church too its Jesuit henchmen inward defending him.
Worse, Lincoln stood for everything the Catholic Church hated, so Chiniquy argued. The clinching evidence inward his presentation was statements reportedly made before witnesses past times priests at a monastery inward St. Joseph, Minnesota, on the twenty-four lx minutes flow of the assassination, but hours before events unfolded inward Washington.
H5N1 Protestant clergyman swore an affidavit stating that he had been told the priests said Lincoln too Seward were dead before the fact. How did they gain this foreknowledge? Chiniquy asserted it came through the dissemination of the plot through the church’s network: “[t]hey are members of the same body, the branches of the same tree.”
For Chiniquy too several others, the Catholic Church non only plotted Lincoln’s murder, it also planned to destroy America’s costless institutions inward its quest for ground domination. These accusations were oft voiced past times native-born Protestants inward the nineteenth century too were component subdivision of the ascension inward nativist thought inward the 1890s.
Historian John Higham argues this ascension reflected a larger national crisis—the shape cleavages too so investing U.S. society. The anti-Catholic theories may hold upwardly read equally belonging to this larger phenomenon. But they also seem to need keep served to a greater extent than mundane political purposes.
Burke McCarty’s The Suppressed Truth well-nigh the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln appeared inward 1922, inward the midst of the debate over Prohibition too half dozen years before Catholic governor Al Smith’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Reprints of an before anti-Catholic move appeared inward 1960, inward fourth dimension for John F. Kennedy’s successful candidacy to move the nation’s first off (and only) Catholic president.
Commemoration too Revisionism
According to historian Merrill Peterson, the 1920s too 1930s witnessed the peak flow of Abraham Lincoln’s commemoration inward U.S. culture. Historical studies too pop texts, including Carl Sandburg’s massive two-part biography, were supplemented past times industrial plant inward stone. The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial inward 1922 too the completion of Lincoln’s caput inward the Mount Rushmore grouping inward 1937 marked the high points of this monumental commemoration.
Lincoln studies also reached an of import watershed amongst James G. Randall’s 1934 essay “Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?” inward which he decried the lack of professional person historical studies of the sixteenth president (Peterson, 256). Into this mix of pop commemoration too historical dedication appeared the most radical conspiracy theory always associated amongst the assassination.
Austrian-born Otto Eisenschiml’s Why Was Lincoln Murdered? (1937) presented a majority of circumstantial evidence that implied Lincoln’s ain secretarial assistant of war, Edwin Stanton, was the mastermind behind the murder. The Eisenschiml Thesis, equally it is termed, speedily overshadowed all previous theories past times virtue of its outlandish onslaught on Stanton’s historical reputation, too the implication that the perpetrator of America’s greatest tragedy was Lincoln’s ain trusted advisor.
Eisenschiml based his statement on a serial of anomalous events that occurred exactly before, during, too afterwards the assassination. These included General Grant’s abrupt determination non to select the Lincolns’ invitation to the theater, Stanton’s alleged refusal to particular the husky Major Eckert to escort the president at his request, the assignment of a derelict patrolman equally the president’s bodyguard, the breakdown inward the telegraph scheme for 2 hours at nowadays next the shooting, too more.
Behind these evidently isolated instances, Eisenchiml argued, at that spot lay a wide plot on the component subdivision of the Radical Republicans nether Stanton to seize command of the authorities too punish the South.
The Radicals had deliberately prolonged the state of war inward monastic enjoin to ensure the abolition of slavery too the South’s destruction. At the war’s conclusion, they were dismayed at Lincoln’s proposal to “let them upwardly easy.” The Radicals decided to take away Lincoln too the leading moderate of his cabinet, William Seward.
With these 2 men out of the way, so the statement went, the agency would hold upwardly clear for Stanton to dominate the authorities too for the Radicals to exact vengeance on the South. Booth’s death, too the quick trial past times armed services court of his accomplices (who were too so either executed or imprisoned inward the Dry Tortugas), were parts of the cover-up.
This theory too its political rationale were extreme expressions of the then-current revisionist interpretation of Civil War history. Revisionism held that the state of war could need keep been avoided, but that it was forced on the U.S. past times the extremism of northern abolitionists. The war’s principal motion had non been slavery but the constitutional number of states’ rights. Lincoln had been a moderate, both on matters of race too inward his plans to restore the South.
The Radicals bore responsibleness for turning Reconstruction into a nightmare past times insisting on dark suffrage too imposing harsh atmospheric condition on the one-time rebel states. An before extreme facial expression of these views was Thomas Dixon, Jr.’s The Clansman (1905), which served equally the ground for D. W. Griffith’s soundless cinema Birth of a Nation (1915).
The revisionist interpretation gained mainstream credence inward U.S. guild during the first off decades of the twentieth century too is seen equally the intellectual corollary to the growing racial intolerance of white guild during the same period. The politics inward Eisenschiml’s move does non seem to need keep raised much of a tempest at the time. While several scholars noted the political implications inward their reviews, the pop press praised the volume for its “refreshing directness” too “just too impartial” treatment.
In the post–World War II era Lincoln conspiracy theories have, for the most part, given agency to other topics. Their periodic resurgence indicates, however, that Lincoln’s decease still holds ability inward U.S. culture. With i notable exception, the recent accounts borrow from previous material. Theodore Roscoe’s Web of Conspiracy (1959) restated the Eisenschiml Thesis, adding picayune that was new.
Whether his utilisation of the thesis carries the same revisionist intentions is some other matter. Emmett McLoughlin’s An Inquiry into the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1963) in i lawsuit again raised the specter of a Catholic plot. Like his predecessor Joseph Chiniquy, McLoughlin was a one-time priest. Kennedy’s assassination inward Nov 1963 has in all probability set to residue theories of this type.
The most prolonged eruption of assassination theorizing occurred inward the mid-1970s amongst the production of a motion painting too companion volume titled exactly The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977). This intentionally commercial production in i lawsuit again resuscitated the Eisenschiml Thesis too for goodness mensurate threw inward the legend of Booth’s escape, northern speculators, Confederate leaders, too Andrew Johnson.
Authors David Balsiger too Charles Sellier’s most original contribution to conspiracy literature was their alleged utilisation of scientific testing, including special-light photography too chemic analysis, of physical evidence related to the assassination. Once in i lawsuit again the famous diary took middle phase when unwary officials at the Ford’s Theater museum allowed the motion painting producers to examine the book.
Even to a greater extent than shocking was their claim to need keep obtained transcripts of the diary’s “missing” pages through a collector of Americana who found them amid papers inward the possession of Stanton’s heirs. The missing pages proved, they claimed, the secretary’s involvement, too listed “the names of seventy prominent people direct too indirectly involved inward Booth’s innovation to kidnap Lincoln” (Balsiger too Sellier, 11).
Contrary to past times episodes, assassination experts too professional person historians speedily mobilized to onslaught the work’s credibility. The degree of professional person business organisation tin hold upwardly gauged past times documents viewable (as of Dec 2001) at the FBI Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) online reading room.
Correspondence betwixt historians too authorities officials, too betwixt federal agencies, reveals the preoccupation inward the post-Watergate era amongst protecting mainstream historical accounts against malicious fabrications.
Concern reached the degree of Vice-President Mondale’s component subdivision too the FBI was requested past times the Department of the Interior (parent arrangement of the National Park Service, the curator of Ford’s Theater) to analyze the famous diary for evidence of tampering, invisible ink, or other “hidden” messages.
After subjecting the diary to its ain special-light techniques, the FBI criminal offence lab returned a set upwardly clean nib of health: no evidence of hidden messages was found. Assassination experts including William C. Davis, editor of Civil War Times, also subjected the work’s many claims to stiff scrutiny too succeeded inward debunking most of them.
Despite its failure to sustain a credible example for conspiracy, The Lincoln Conspiracy in i lawsuit once again proved the allure of theories alleging governmental malfeasance too cover-up. As several commentators noted at the time, the movie’s release was clearly tied to the pop distrust of authorities inward the wake of Vietnam too Watergate.