Daily post Politics and civics

John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln 157 years ago

Five days earlier, Lee had surrendered to Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.

After shooting President Abraham Lincoln, 56, at Ford’s Theatre, actor John Wilkes Booth shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis (‘Ever thus to tyrants’, the Virginia state motto). The South is avenged!”

The 26-year-old actor and Confederate sympathizer was from Maryland (a border state) and had planned to kidnap Lincoln in March. That plan failed.

General Lee had surrendered to General Grant five days earlier.

Washington, DC celebrated the victory. Thousands gathered at the White House to hear what would be Lincoln’s last public address the evening of 11 April 1865:

We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart… Some 12,000 voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man (emphasis added)… I repeat the question, “Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?

Reporter Noah Brooks wrote:

Outside was a vast sea of faces, illuminated by the lights that burned in the festal array of the White House, and stretching far out into the misty darkness. It was a silent, intent, and perhaps surprised, multitude.

Within stood the tall, gaunt figure of the President, deeply thoughtful, intent upon the elucidation of the generous policy which should be pursued toward the South. That this was not the sort of speech which the multitude had expected is tolerably certain.

Booth opposed Lincoln’s support for Black suffrage, saying “that is the last speech he will ever make.” He told a co-conspirator, Davy Herold: “Now, by God, I’ll put him through.”

Booth conspired with friends to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward on Friday 14 April 1865. Only Booth succeeded at his mission. As the President sat in a private booth, Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a .44-caliber single-shot derringer.

President Lincoln died the following day at 7:22 am, the Saturday before Easter Sunday. He was the first US president to be assassinated; the nation was not year 89 years old.

Booth evaded capture for 12 days, despite a $100,000 reward.

How the news spread

It was the era of the telegraph.

As Lincoln’s health declined, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Major Thomas Eckert, the head of the War Department’s telegraph office, relayed updates to other government officials and, finally, the public through a series of messages handed to telegraph operators who had been assembled and were on alert for news.

Because the assassination occurred late Friday night, the news missed morning editions. In Syracuse, NY, for example, the news that the President had been shot and was dying was not on the front page but on page three. The telegraph had delivered the news from Washington, DC to the Daily Courier and Union by 3 a.m.

t Evening star, 15 April 1865
The Evening star. 15 April 1865. (Washington, D.C., 1854-1972) via LOC

In Hartford, CT, an American Telegraph Company operator did not leave his post at 9pm; instead, he “staid” and read a book. Thus he was still at his station when the telegram came from Washington DC. He alerted the Hartford Courant. The paper issued an extra edition at 5 am on 15 April 1865, “setting off ‘the tolling of factory bells and display of flags at half mast’ across the state.”

Citizens in Warren, PA would not see the news until April 22nd.

In Europe, people would not read the news until mid-morning, 26 April 1865, almost two weeks later. “The news produced a sharp impact of shock and horror, throwing markets into confusion,” according to TheBaron.

Three years ago, the original handwritten telegram announcing Lincoln’s death was offered at auction.


Would Lincoln have survived the shooting today?

Nine years ago, that was the topic of an essay in The Atlantic.

Abraham Lincoln often spoke and dreamed about being assassinated, convinced that he would not outlast the rebellion when his work would have been done. Prior to his inauguration, he received letters warning him that he would be killed before reaching Washington. After he died an envelope with eighty such letters was found among his effects, and although twice while president he had his hat shot from his head by unknown assailants, he deprecated all attempts to guard his life.

Clearly, in 1865 medical technology was not sophisticated enough to treat such a traumatic head wound. Today, trauma centers go on alert when a President travels; Presidents aren’t allowed to “deprecate” protection against personal attack.

The conclusion: modern (2013-era) medical treatments might have saved Lincoln’s life but he would likely have had “several permanent neurological deficits.”

For example, on 27 January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords (D-AZ) in the head with a Glock semiautomatic pistol. He shot 19 people, killing six.

A 9mm bullet entered the back of her head just to the left of the midline at almost exactly the same spot at which Booth’s bullet entered Lincoln’s head, and traveled the same path as Booth’s bullet before exiting through the front of her skull near her left eye socket… Now, a little over a year later, she can walk, she can speak in a halting manner, and she is apparently hopeful of one day returning to politics.

Although Giffords’ case seems to validate Dr. Scalea’s conclusions, no two head trauma cases are identical.

In 157 years, developments in communications and medical technologies have made the world smaller and safer. But our political divide remains sharp and potentially just as destructive.

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial, May 2019, CC Kathy E. Gill


#scitech, #society  (084/365)
📷 LOC via Wikipedia
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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