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Friday, July 07, 2006

Lincoln’s Assassins

On July 7, 1865, almost four months after Lincoln was assassinated on April 14 of that year, four individuals were hanged for conspiring with John Wilkes Booth. One, Mary Surratt, was the first woman executed for a crime in the U.S. Her major crime was to have owned the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators planned the assassination. The others included Lewis Payne, also known as Lewis Powell, who attempted to kill Secretary of State William Seward as part of a plot to cripple Lincoln’s government; George Atzerodt, who was supposed to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson, but never acted and may have gotten drunk instead; and David E. Herold, who waited outside with a horse as Payne attempted to kill Seward.

Supposedly, Booth and the conspirators had originally planned just to kidnap Lincoln in March 1865 in exchange for Confederate prisoners. But when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, VA on April 9, 1865, and the Civil War ended, plans changed.

For more on the complex conspiracy to overturn Lincoln’s government, check out these books:

Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy by Elizabeth Steger Trindal

Dark Union: The Secret Web of the Profiteers, Politicians and Booth Conspirators That Led to Lincoln’s Death by Leonard F. Guttridge

Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution by James L. Swanson and Daniel R. Weinberg

Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

The Murder of Abraham Lincoln by Rick Geary


The theme of a dark Steven Sondheim musical, “Assassins” argues that those who attempted or succeeded in murdering presidents over our history are really no different that regular folks. Are they? What made the Lincoln conspirators cross the line?

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