April 15th, 1865 – Was Vice President Johnson Part of the Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln?

Today-In-History

John Wilkes Booth is often portrayed as the “lone gunman” who shot President Abraham Lincoln, but Booth’s act was part of a wider plan to topple the U.S. Government.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth (May 10th, 1838 – April 26th, 1865

Well-known as an actor from Maryland, John Wilkes Booth was also a Confederate spy; though he never joined the Confederate army, he had contacts with the Confederate secret service. In 1864, Booth formulated a plan (very similar to one of Thomas N. Conrad previously authorized by the Confederacy) to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an April 11th, 1865, speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and became determined to assassinate the president. 

Learning that the President and Grant would be attending Ford’s Theatre, Booth formulated a plan with co-conspirators to assassinate Lincoln and Grant at the theater, as well as Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward at their homes. Without his main bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln left to attend the play Our American Cousin on April 14th, 1865. At the last minute, Grant decided to go to New Jersey to visit his children instead of attending the play.

Lincoln_assassination_slide_c1900Lincoln’s bodyguard, John Parker, left Ford’s Theater during intermission to drink at the saloon next door. The now unguarded President sat in his state box in the balcony. Seizing the opportunity, Booth crept up from behind and at about 10:13PM, aimed at the back of Lincoln’s head and fired at point-blank range, mortally wounding the President. Major Henry Rathbone momentarily grappled with Booth, but Booth stabbed him and escaped.

After being on the run for 12 days, Booth was tracked down and found on a farm in Virginia, some 70 miles south of Washington. After refusing to surrender to Union troops, Booth was killed by Sergeant Boston Corbett on April 26th, 1865.

Lewis_Payne

Lewis Powell (April 22nd, 1844 – July 7th, 1865)

Vice President Johnson was not harmed on the night of April 14th, 1865, but Secretary of State William H. Seward was attacked and stabbed repeatedly by co-conspirator Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Payne). Seward had been hurt in an accident some days before, and Powell gained entry to the home on the excuse he was delivering medicine to the injured man, but was stopped at the top of the stairs by Frederick Seward, who insisted Powell give him the medicine. Powell instead fired on Frederick, and beat him over the head with the barrel of his gun. Powell burst through the door, threw Fanny Seward (the secretary’s daughter) to one side, and jumped on the bed, repeatedly stabbing William Seward in the face and neck. A soldier assigned to guard and nurse the secretary, Sergeant George F. Robinson, jumped on Powell, forcing him from the bed. Powell fled, stabbing a messenger, Emerick Hansell, as he went, to find that Herold, panicked by the screams from the house, had left with both horses. Seward was at first thought dead, but revived enough to instruct Robinson to send for the police and lock the house until they arrived.

President Andrew Johnson (December 29th, 1808 – July 31st, 1875)

President Andrew Johnson (December 29th, 1808 – July 31st, 1875)

On April 15th, 1865 at 7:22AM President Abraham Lincoln was declared dead; by 10AM President Andrew Johnson was sworn in.

The events of the assassination resulted in speculation, then and subsequently, concerning Johnson and what the conspirators might have intended for him. In the vain hope of having his life spared after his capture, Atzerodt spoke much about the conspiracy, but did not say anything to indicate that the plotted assassination of Johnson was merely a ruse. Conspiracy theorists point to the fact that on the day of the assassination, Booth came to the Kirkwood House and left one of his cards. This object was received by Johnson’s private secretary, William A. Browning, with an inscription, “Are you at home? Don’t wish to disturb you. J. Wilkes Booth.

The new president favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to the former slaves, and he came into conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The first American president to be impeached, he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.

Some still speculate that Andrew Johnson was the mastermind behind Lincoln’s death, but when history becomes truth then truth becomes history . . . 

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