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Abraham Lincoln, full, detailed history, biography, 16th US President and considered the greatest US president.

by The Oregon Herald
in 1854, Abraham Lincoln is becoming a leader in the new Republican Party, and he reached a national audience in the 1858 debates against Stephen Douglas. Lincoln ran for President in 1860, sweeping the North in victory.
Abraham Lincoln became the United States’ 16th President in 1861, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy in 1863.
 Published on Sunday October 10, 2021 1:39 AM
Regarded by many as the greatest United States president, Abraham Lincoln successfully waged a political struggle and civil war that preserved the Union, ended slavery, and created the possibility of civil and social freedom for African-Americans.

Abraham Lincoln was an American lawyer and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War and succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy.

Lincoln was born into poverty in a log cabin and was raised on the frontier primarily in Indiana. He was self-educated and became a lawyer, Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator, and U.S. Congressman from Illinois. In 1849, he returned to his law practice but became vexed by the opening of additional lands to slavery as a result of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. He reentered politics in 1854, becoming a leader in the new Republican Party, and he reached a national audience in the 1858 debates against Stephen Douglas. Lincoln ran for President in 1860, sweeping the North in victory. Pro-slavery elements in the South equated his success with the North's rejection of their right to practice slavery, and southern states began seceding from the Union. To secure its independence, the new Confederate States fired on Fort Sumter, a U.S. fort in the South, and Lincoln called up forces to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.

Lincoln, a moderate Republican, had to navigate a contentious array of factions with friends and opponents from both the Democratic and Republican parties. His allies, the War Democrats and the Radical Republicans, demanded harsh treatment of the Southern Confederates. Anti-war Democrats despised Lincoln, and irreconcilable pro-Confederate elements plotted his assassination. He managed the factions by exploiting their mutual enmity, carefully distributing political patronage, and by appealing to the American people. His Gettysburg Address appealed to nationalistic, republican, egalitarian, libertarian, and democratic sentiments. Lincoln scrutinized the strategy and tactics in the war effort, including the selection of generals and the naval blockade of the South's trade. He suspended habeas corpus in Maryland, and he averted British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair. He engineered the end to slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation, including his order that the Army and Navy liberate, protect, and recruit former slaves. He also encouraged border states to outlaw slavery, and promoted the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery across the country.

Lincoln managed his own successful re-election campaign. He sought to heal the war-torn nation through reconciliation. On April 14, 1865, just days after the war's end at Appomattox, he was attending a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., with his wife Mary when he was fatally shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln is remembered as a martyr and hero of the United States and is consistently ranked as one of the greatest presidents in American history.

Family and childhood

Early life

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, the second child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in a log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, an Englishman who migrated from Hingham, Norfolk, to its namesake, Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1638. The family then migrated west, passing through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Lincoln's paternal grandparents, his namesake Captain Abraham Lincoln and wife Bathsheba moved the family from Virginia to Jefferson County, Kentucky. The captain was killed in an Indian raid in 1786. His children, including eight-year-old Thomas, Abraham's father, witnessed the attack. Thomas then worked at odd jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee before the family settled in Hardin County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s.

The heritage of Lincoln's mother Nancy remains unclear, but it is widely assumed that she was the daughter of Lucy Hanks. Thomas and Nancy married on June 12, 1806, in Washington County, and moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. They had three children: Sarah, Abraham, and Thomas, who died as infant.

Thomas Lincoln bought or leased farms in Kentucky before losing all but 200 acres of his land in court disputes over property titles. In 1816, the family moved to Indiana where the land surveys and titles were more reliable. Indiana was a 'free' territory, and they settled in an 'unbroken forest' in Hurricane Township, Perry County, Indiana. In 1860, Lincoln noted that the family's move to Indiana was 'partly on account of slaver'y, but mainly due to land title difficulties.

The farm site where Lincoln grew up in Spencer County, Indiana In Kentucky and Indiana, Thomas worked as a farmer, cabinetmaker, and carpenter. At various times, he owned farms, livestock, and town lots, paid taxes, sat on juries, appraised estates, and served on county patrols. Thomas and Nancy were members of a Separate Baptists church, which forbade alcohol, dancing, and slavery.

Overcoming financial challenges, Thomas in 1827 obtained clear title to 80 acres in Indiana, an area which became the Little Pigeon Creek Community.

Mother's death

On October 5, 1818, Nancy Lincoln succumbed to milk sickness, leaving 11-year-old Sarah in charge of a household including her father, 9-year-old Abraham, and Nancy's 19-year-old orphan cousin, Dennis Hanks. Ten years later, on January 20, 1828, Sarah died while giving birth to a stillborn son, devastating Lincoln.

On December 2, 1819, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with three children of her own. Abraham became close to his stepmother and called her 'Mother'. Lincoln disliked the hard labor associated with farm life. His family even said he was lazy, for all his 'reading, scribbling, writing, ciphering, writing Poetry, etc'. His stepmother acknowledged he did not enjoy 'physical labor', but loved to read.

Education and move to Illinois

Lincoln was largely self-educated. His formal schooling was from itinerant teachers. It included two short stints in Kentucky, where he learned to read but probably not to write, at age seven, and in Indiana, where he went to school sporadically due to farm chores, for a total of less than 12 months in aggregate by the age of 15. He persisted as an avid reader and retained a lifelong interest in learning. Family, neighbors, and schoolmates recalled that his reading included the King James Bible, Aesop's Fables, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

As a teen, Lincoln took responsibility for chores and customarily gave his father all earnings from work outside the home until he was 21. Lincoln was tall, strong, and athletic, and became adept at using an ax. He was an active wrestler during his youth and trained in the rough catch-as-catch-can style . He became county wrestling champion at the age of 21. He gained a reputation for strength and audacity after winning a wrestling match with the renowned leader of ruffians known as 'the Clary's Grove Boys'.

In March 1830, fearing another milk sickness outbreak, several members of the extended Lincoln family, including Abraham, moved west to Illinois, a free state, and settled in Macon County. Abraham then became increasingly distant from Thomas, in part due to his father's lack of education. In 1831, as Thomas and other family prepared to move to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, Abraham struck out on his own. He made his home in New Salem, Illinois, for six years. Lincoln and some friends took goods by flatboat to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was first exposed to slavery.

In 1865, Lincoln was asked how he came to acquire his rhetorical skills. He answered that in the practice of law he frequently came across the word 'demonstrate' but had insufficient understanding of the term. So, he left Springfield for his father's home to study until he 'could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight.

Marriage and children

Lincoln's first romantic interest was Ann Rutledge, whom he met when he moved to New Salem. By 1835, they were in a relationship but not formally engaged. She died on August 25, 1835, most likely of typhoid fever. In the early 1830s, he met Mary Owens from Kentucky. Late in 1836, Lincoln agreed to a match with Owens if she returned to New Salem. Owens arrived that November and he courted her for a time; however, they both had second thoughts. On August 16, 1837, he wrote Owens a letter saying he would not blame her if she ended the relationship, and she never replied.

In 1839, Lincoln met Mary Todd in Springfield, Illinois, and the following year they became engaged. She was the daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a wealthy lawyer and businessman in Lexington, Kentucky. A wedding set for January 1, 1841, was canceled at Lincoln's request, but they reconciled and married on November 4, 1842, in the Springfield mansion of Mary's sister. While anxiously preparing for the nuptials, he was asked where he was going and replied, 'To hell, I suppose.' In 1844, the couple bought a house in Springfield near his law office. Mary kept house with the help of a hired servant and a relative.

Lincoln was an affectionate husband and father of four sons, though his work regularly kept him away from home. The oldest, Robert Todd Lincoln, was born in 1843 and was the only child to live to maturity. Edward Baker Lincoln, born in 1846, died February 1, 1850, probably of tuberculosis. Lincoln's third son, 'Willie' Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died of a fever at the White House on February 20, 1862. The youngest, Thomas 'Tad' Lincoln, was born on April 4, 1853, and survived his father but died of heart failure at age 18 on July 16, 1871. Lincoln 'was remarkably fond of children' and the Lincolns were not considered to be strict with their own. In fact, Lincoln's law partner William H. Herndon would grow irritated when Lincoln would bring his children to the law office. Their father, it seemed, was often too absorbed in his work to notice his children's behavior. Herndon recounted, 'I have felt many and many a time that I wanted to wring their little necks, and yet out of respect for Lincoln I kept my mouth shut. Lincoln did not note what his children were doing or had done.'

The deaths of their sons, Eddie and Willie, had profound effects on both parents. Lincoln suffered from 'melanchol'y, a condition now thought to be clinical depression. Later in life, Mary struggled with the stresses of losing her husband and sons, and Robert committed her for a time to an asylum in 18

Republican politics Emergence as Republican leader

The debate over the status of slavery in the territories failed to alleviate tensions between the slave-holding South and the free North, with the failure of the Compromise of 1850, a legislative package designed to address the issue. In his 1852 eulogy for Clay, Lincoln highlighted the latter's support for gradual emancipation and opposition to 'both extremes' on the slavery issue. As the slavery debate in the Nebraska and Kansas territories became particularly acrimonious, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas proposed popular sovereignty as a compromise; the measure would allow the electorate of each territory to decide the status of slavery. The legislation alarmed many Northerners, who sought to prevent the resulting spread of slavery, but Douglas's Kansas–Nebraska Act narrowly passed Congress in May 1854.

Lincoln did not comment on the act until months later in his 'Peoria Speech' in October 1854. Lincoln then declared his opposition to slavery which he repeated en route to the presidency. He said the Kansas Act had a 'declared indifference, but as I must think, a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery. I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world ...' Lincoln's attacks on the Kansas–Nebraska Act marked his return to political life.

Nationally, the Whigs were irreparably split by the Kansas–Nebraska Act and other efforts to compromise on the slavery issue. Reflecting on the demise of his party, Lincoln wrote in 1855, 'I think I am a Whig, but others say there are no Whigs, and that I am an abolitionist...I do no more than oppose the extension of slavery.' The new Republican Party was formed as a northern party dedicated to antislavery, drawing from the antislavery wing of the Whig Party, and combining Free Soil, Liberty, and antislavery Democratic Party members, Lincoln resisted early Republican entreaties, fearing that the new party would become a platform for extreme abolitionists. Lincoln held out hope for rejuvenating the Whigs, though he lamented his party's growing closeness with the nativist Know Nothing movement.

In 1854 Lincoln was elected to the Illinois legislature but declined to take his seat. The year's elections showed the strong opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act, and in the aftermath, Lincoln sought election to the United States Senate. At that time, senators were elected by the state legislature. After leading in the first six rounds of voting, he was unable to obtain a majority. Lincoln instructed his backers to vote for Lyman Trumbull. Trumbull was an antislavery Democrat, and had received few votes in the earlier ballots; his supporters, also antislavery Democrats, had vowed not to support any Whig. Lincoln's decision to withdraw enabled his Whig supporters and Trumbull's antislavery Democrats to combine and defeat the mainstream Democratic candidate, Joel Aldrich Matteson

1856 campaign

Violent political confrontations in Kansas continued, and opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act remained strong throughout the North. As the 1856 elections approached, Lincoln joined the Republicans and attended the Bloomington Convention, which formally established the Illinois Republican Party. The convention platform endorsed Congress's right to regulate slavery in the territories and backed the admission of Kansas as a free state. Lincoln gave the final speech of the convention supporting the party platform and called for the preservation of the Union. At the June 1856 Republican National Convention, though Lincoln received support to run as vice president, John C. Frémont and William Dayton comprised the ticket, which Lincoln supported throughout Illinois. The Democrats nominated former Secretary of State James Buchanan and the Know-Nothings nominated former Whig President Millard Fillmore. Buchanan prevailed, while Republican William Henry Bissell won election as Governor of Illinois, and Lincoln became a leading Republican in Illinois.

Dred Scott v. Sandford

Dred Scott was a slave whose master took him from a slave state to a free territory under the Missouri Compromise. After Scott was returned to the slave state he petitioned a federal court for his freedom. His petition was denied in Dred Scott v. Sandford . Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the decision wrote that blacks were not citizens and derived no rights from the Constitution. While many Democrats hoped that Dred Scott would end the dispute over slavery in the territories, the decision sparked further outrage in the North. Lincoln denounced it as the product of a conspiracy of Democrats to support the Slave Power. He argued the decision was at variance with the Declaration of Independence; he said that while the founding fathers did not believe all men equal in every respect, they believed all men were equal 'in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness


1860 presidential election

On May 9–10, 1860, the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur. Lincoln's followers organized a campaign team led by David Davis, Norman Judd, Leonard Swett, and Jesse DuBois, and Lincoln received his first endorsement. Exploiting his embellished frontier legend, Lincoln's supporters adopted the label of 'The Rail Candidate'. In 1860, Lincoln described himself: 'I am in height, six feet, four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and gray eyes.' Michael Martinez wrote about the effective imaging of Lincoln by his campaign. At times he was presented as the plain-talking 'Rail Splitter' and at other times he was 'Honest Abe', unpolished but trustworthy. On May 18, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Lincoln won the nomination on the third ballot, beating candidates such as Seward and Chase. A former Democrat, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, was nominated for vice president to balance the ticket. Lincoln's success depended on his campaign team, his reputation as a moderate on the slavery issue, and his strong support for internal improvements and the tariff. Pennsylvania put him over the top, led by the state's iron interests who were reassured by his tariff support. Lincoln's managers had focused on this delegation while honoring Lincoln's dictate to 'Make no contracts that will bind me'.

As the Slave Power tightened its grip on the national government, most Republicans agreed with Lincoln that the North was the aggrieved party. Throughout the 1850s, Lincoln had doubted the prospects of civil war, and his supporters rejected claims that his election would incite secession. When Douglas was selected as the candidate of the Northern Democrats, delegates from eleven slave states walked out of the Democratic convention; they opposed Douglas's position on popular sovereignty, and selected incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge as their candidate. A group of former Whigs and Know Nothings formed the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell of Tennessee. Lincoln and Douglas competed for votes in the North, while Bell and Breckinridge primarily found support in the South.

Prior to the Republican convention, the Lincoln campaign began cultivating a nationwide youth organization, the Wide Awakes, which it used to generate popular support throughout the country to spearhead voter registration drives, thinking that new voters and young voters tended to embrace new parties. People of the Northern states knew the Southern states would vote against Lincoln and rallied supporters for Lincoln.

As Douglas and the other candidates campaigned, Lincoln gave no speeches, relying on the enthusiasm of the Republican Party. The party did the leg work that produced majorities across the North and produced an abundance of campaign posters, leaflets, and newspaper editorials. Republican speakers focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln's life story, emphasizing his childhood poverty. The goal was to demonstrate the power of 'free labor', which allowed a common farm boy to work his way to the top by his own efforts. The Republican Party's production of campaign literature dwarfed the combined opposition; a Chicago Tribune writer produced a pamphlet that detailed Lincoln's life and sold 100,000–200,000 copies. Though he did not give public appearances, many sought to visit him and write him. In the runup to the election, he took an office in the Illinois state capitol to deal with the influx of attention. He also hired John George Nicolay as his personal secretary, who would remain in that role during the presidency.

On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president. He was the first Republican president and his victory was entirely due to his support in the North and West. No ballots were cast for him in 10 of the 15 Southern slave states, and he won only two of 996 counties in all the Southern states, an omen of the impending Civil War. Lincoln received 1,866,452 votes, or 39.8% of the total in a four-way race, carrying the free Northern states, as well as California and Oregon. His victory in the electoral college was decisive: Lincoln had 180 votes to 123 for his opponents.

Civil War

Major Robert Anderson, commander of the Union's Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, sent a request for provisions to Washington, and Lincoln's order to meet that request was seen by the secessionists as an act of war. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter and began the fight. Historian Allan Nevins argued that the newly inaugurated Lincoln made three miscalculations: underestimating the gravity of the crisis, exaggerating the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South, and overlooking Southern Unionist opposition to an invasion.

William Tecumseh Sherman talked to Lincoln during inauguration week and was 'sadly disappointed' at his failure to realize that 'the country was sleeping on a volcano' and that the South was preparing for war. Donald concludes that, 'His repeated efforts to avoid collision in the months between inauguration and the firing on Ft. Sumter showed he adhered to his vow not to be the first to shed fraternal blood. But he also vowed not to surrender the forts. The only resolution of these contradictory positions was for the confederates to fire the first shot; they did just that.'

On April 15, Lincoln called on the states to send a total of 75,000 volunteer troops to recapture forts, protect Washington, and 'preserve the Union', which, in his view, remained intact despite the seceding states. This call forced states to choose sides. Virginia seceded and was rewarded with the designation of Richmond as the Confederate capital, despite its exposure to Union lines. North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas followed over the following two months. Secession sentiment was strong in Missouri and Maryland, but did not prevail; Kentucky remained neutral. The Fort Sumter attack rallied Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line to defend the nation.

As States sent Union regiments south, on April 19, Baltimore mobs in control of the rail links attacked Union troops who were changing trains. Local leaders' groups later burned critical rail bridges to the capital and the Army responded by arresting local Maryland officials. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus where needed for the security of troops trying to reach Washington. John Merryman, one Maryland official hindering the U.S. troop movements, petitioned Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to issue a writ of habeas corpus. In June Taney, ruling only for the lower circuit court in ex parte Merryman, issued the writ which he felt could only be suspended by Congress. Lincoln persisted with the policy of suspension in select areas.

Republican values

Independence—which emphasized freedom and equality for all—the 'sheet anchor' of republicanism beginning in the 1850s. He did this at a time when the Constitution, which 'tolerated slaver'y, was the focus of most political discourse. Diggins notes, 'Lincoln presented Americans a theory of history that offers a profound contribution to the theory and destiny of republicanism itself' in the 1860 Cooper Union speech. Instead of focusing on the legality of an argument, he focused on the moral basis of republicanism.

His position on war was founded on a legal argument regarding the Constitution as essentially a contract among the states, and all parties must agree to pull out of the contract. Furthermore, it was a national duty to ensure the republic stands in every state. Many soldiers and religious leaders from the north, though, felt the fight for liberty and freedom of slaves was ordained by their moral and religious beliefs.

As a Whig activist, Lincoln was a spokesman for business interests, favoring high tariffs, banks, infrastructure improvements, and railroads, in opposition to Jacksonian democrats. William C. Harris found that Lincoln's 'reverence for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the laws under it, and the preservation of the Republic and its institutions strengthened his conservatism.' James G. Randall emphasizes his tolerance and moderation 'in his preference for orderly progress, his distrust of dangerous agitation, and his reluctance toward ill digested schemes of reform.' Randall concludes that 'he was conservative in his complete avoidance of that type of so-called 'radicalism' which involved abuse of the South, hatred for the slaveholder, thirst for vengeance, partisan plotting, and ungenerous demands that Southern institutions be transformed overnight by outsiders


Lincoln is believed to have had depression, smallpox, and malaria. He took blue mass pills, which contained mercury, to treat constipation. It is unknown to what extent he may have suffered from mercury poisoning.

Several claims have been made that Lincoln's health was declining before the assassination. These are often based on photographs of Lincoln appearing to show weight loss and muscle wasting. It is also suspected that he might have had a rare genetic disease such as Marfan syndrome or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B.


Abandoned plan to kidnap Lincoln The last known high-quality image of Lincoln, taken on the White House balcony, March 6, 1865

John Wilkes Booth

The Surratt house

Booth was present as Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address a month before the assassination. John Wilkes Booth, born in Maryland into a family of prominent stage actors, had by the time of the assassination become a famous actor and national celebrity in his own right. He was also an outspoken Confederate sympathizer; in late 1860 he was initiated in the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle in Baltimore.

In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union armies, suspended the exchange of prisoners of war with the Confederate Army to increase pressure on the manpower-starved South. Booth conceived a plan to kidnap Lincoln in order to blackmail the North into resuming prisoner exchanges,:?130–4? and recruited Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell, and John Surratt to help him. Surratt's mother, Mary Surratt, left her tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland, and moved to a house in Washington, D.C., where Booth became a frequent visitor.

While Booth and Lincoln were not personally acquainted, Lincoln had seen Booth at Ford's in 1863.:?419? After the assassination, actor Frank Mordaunt wrote that Lincoln, who apparently harbored no suspicions about Booth, admired the actor and had repeatedly invited him to visit the White House. Booth attended Lincoln's second inauguration on March 4, 1865, writing in his diary afterwards: 'What an excellent chance I had, if I wished, to kill the President on Inauguration day!'

On March 17, Booth and the other conspirators planned to abduct Lincoln as he returned from a play at Campbell Military Hospital. But Lincoln did not go to the play, instead attending a ceremony at the National Hotel. Booth was living at the National Hotel at the time and, had he not gone to the hospital for the abortive kidnap attempt, might have been able to attack Lincoln at the hotel.

Meanwhile, the Confederacy was collapsing. On April 3, Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, fell to the Union Army. On April 9, the General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Commanding General of the United States Army Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac after the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other Confederate officials had fled. Nevertheless, Booth continued to believe in the Confederate cause and sought a way to salvage it.

Further information: John Wilkes Booth § Theories of Booth's motivation There are various theories about Booth's motivations. In a letter to his mother, he wrote of his desire to avenge the South. Doris Kearns Goodwin has endorsed the idea that another factor was Booth's rivalry with his well-known older brother, actor Edwin Booth, who was a loyal Unionist. David S. Reynolds believes Booth greatly admired the abolitionist John Brown; Booth's sister Asia Booth Clarke quoted him as saying: 'John Brown was a man inspired, the grandest character of the century!' On April 11, Booth attended Lincoln's last speech, in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks; Booth said 'That means nigger citizenship. ... That is the last speech he will ever give.'

Enraged, Booth urged Lewis Powell to shoot Lincoln on the spot. Whether Booth made this request because he was not armed or considered Powell a better shot than himself is unknown. In any event, Powell refused for fear of the crowd, and Booth was either unable or unwilling to personally attempt to kill the president. However, Booth said to David Herold, 'By God, I'll put him through.

I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers, 'The President,' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin.'

However, Lincoln went on to tell Lamon that 'In this dream it was not me, but some other fellow, that was killed. It seems that this ghostly assassin tried his hand on someone else.' Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell writes that dreams of assassination would not be unexpected in the first place, considering the Baltimore Plot and an additional assassination attempt in which a hole was shot through Lincoln's hat.

For months Lincoln had looked pale and haggard, but on the morning of the assassination, he told people how happy he was. First Lady Mary Lincoln felt such talk could bring bad luck.:?346? Lincoln told his cabinet that he had dreamed of being on a 'singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore', and that he had had the same dream before 'nearly every great and important event of the War' such as the victories at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg and Vicksburg.


Advertisement for Our American Cousin On April 14, Booth's morning started at midnight. He wrote his mother that all was well but that he was 'in haste'. In his diary, he wrote that 'Our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done'

While visiting Ford's Theatre around noon to pick up his mail, Booth learned that Lincoln and Grant were to see Our American Cousin there that night. This provided him with an especially good opportunity to attack Lincoln since, having performed there several times, he knew the theater's layout and was familiar to its staff.:?12?:?108–9? He went to Mary Surratt's boarding house in Washington, D.C., and asked her to deliver a package to her tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland. He also asked her to tell her tenant Louis J. Weichmann to ready the guns and ammunition that Booth had previously stored at the tavern.:?19?

Ford's Theatre The conspirators met for the final time at 8:45 p.m. Booth assigned Lewis Powell to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home, George Atzerodt to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel, and David E. Herold to guide Powell to the Seward house and then to a rendezvous with Booth in Maryland.

John Wilkes Booth was the only well-known member of the conspiracy. Access to the upper floor containing the Presidential Box was restricted, and Booth was the only plotter who could have realistically expected to be admitted there without difficulty. Furthermore, it would have been reasonable for the plotters to have assumed that the entrance of the box would itself be guarded. Had it been, Booth would have been the only plotter with a plausible chance of gaining access to the President, or at least to gain entry to the box without being searched for weapons first. Booth planned to shoot Lincoln at point-blank range with his single-shot Deringer and then stab Grant at Ford's Theatre. They were all to strike simultaneously shortly after ten o'clock.:?112? Atzerodt tried to withdraw from the plot, which to this point had involved only kidnapping, not murder, but Booth pressured him to continue.:?212?

Assassination of Lincoln

Despite what Booth had heard earlier in the day, Grant and his wife, Julia Grant, had declined to accompany the Lincolns, as Mary Lincoln and Julia Grant were not on good terms.:?45? Others in succession also declined the Lincolns' invitation, until finally Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris accepted.:?32? At one point Mary Lincoln developed a headache and was inclined to stay home, but Lincoln told her he must attend because newspapers had announced that he would. Lincoln's footman, William H. Crook, advised him not to go, but Lincoln said he had promised his wife. Lincoln told Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, 'I suppose it's time to go though I would rather stay before assisting Mary into the carriage.

The presidential party arrived late and settled into their box . The play was interrupted, and the orchestra played 'Hail to the Chief' as the full house of some 1,700 rose in applause. Lincoln sat in a rocking chair that had been selected for him from among the Ford family's personal furnishings.

Booth's Philadelphia Deringer The cast modified a line of the play in honor of Lincoln: when the heroine asked for a seat protected from the draft, the reply – scripted as, 'Well, you're not the only one that wants to escape the draft' – was delivered instead as 'The draft has already been stopped by order of the President!' A member of the audience observed that Mary Lincoln often called her husband's attention to aspects of the action onstage, and 'seemed to take great pleasure in witnessing his enjoyment.'

At one point, Mary Lincoln whispered to Lincoln, who was holding her hand, 'What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?' Lincoln replied, 'She won't think anything about it'.:?39? In following years, these words were traditionally considered Lincoln's last, though N.W. Miner, a family friend, claimed in 1882 that Mary Lincoln told him that Lincoln's last words expressed a wish to visit Jerusalem.

Booth shoots Lincoln

This Currier & Ives print implies Rathbone was already rising as Booth fired; in fact, Rathbone was unaware of Booth until he heard the shot. With Crook off duty and Ward Hill Lamon away, policeman John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the Presidential Box At intermission he went to a nearby tavern along with Lincoln's valet, Charles Forbes, and Coachman Francis Burke. It was also the same tavern Booth was waiting by having several drinks to prepare his time. It is unclear whether he returned to the theater, but he was certainly not at his post when Booth entered the box. In any event, there is no certainty that entry would have been denied to a celebrity such as Booth. Booth had prepared a brace to bar the door after entering the box, indicating that he expected a guard. After spending time at the saloon, Booth entered Ford's Theater one last time at about 10:10 pm, this time, through the theater's front entrance. He passed through the dress circle and went to the door that led to the Presidential Box after showing Charles Forbes his calling card. Navy Surgeon George Brainerd Todd saw Booth arrive:

About 10:25 pm, a man came in and walked slowly along the side on which the 'Pres' box was and I heard a man say, 'There's Booth' and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped, took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in.

Once inside the hallway, Booth barricaded the door by wedging a stick between it and the wall. From here, a second door led to Lincoln's box. There is evidence that, earlier in the day, Booth had bored a peephole in this second door.:?173?

Washington Metropolitan Police De­part­ment blotter for April 14 : 'At this hour the mel­an­choly intel­li­gence of the assas­si­na­tion of Mr. Lincoln ... was brought to this office ... the assassin is a man named J. Wilks Booth.' Booth knew the play by heart and waited to time his shot at about 10:15 pm, with the laughter at one of the hilarious lines of the play, delivered by actor Harry Hawk: 'Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal; you sockdologizing old man-trap!'. Lincoln was laughing at this line:?96? when Booth opened the door, stepped forward, and shot Lincoln from behind with a derringer.

The bullet entered Lincoln's skull behind his left ear, passed through his brain, and came to rest near the front of the skull after fracturing both orbital plates. Lincoln slumped over in his chair and then fell backward. Rathbone turned to see Booth standing in gunsmoke less than four feet behind Lincoln; Booth shouted a word that Rathbone thought sounded like 'Freedom!'

Booth escapes

Booth's dagger Rathbone jumped from his seat and struggled with Booth, who dropped the pistol and drew a knife, with which he stabbed Rathbone in the left forearm. Rathbone again grabbed at Booth as Booth prepared to jump from the box to the stage, a twelve-foot drop; Booth's riding spur became entangled on the Treasury flag decorating the box, and he landed awkwardly on his left foot. As he began crossing the stage, many in the audience thought he was part of the play.

Booth held his bloody knife over his head and yelled something to the audience. While it is traditionally held that Booth shouted the Virginia state motto, Sic semper tyrannis! either from the box or the stage, witness accounts conflict.:?739? Most recalled hearing Sic semper tyrannis! but others – including Booth himself – said he yelled only Sic semper! There is similar uncertainty about what Booth shouted next, in English: either 'The South is avenged!',:?48? 'Revenge for the South!', or 'The South shall be free!'

Immediately after Booth landed on the stage, Major Joseph B. Stewart climbed over the orchestra pit and footlights and pursued Booth across the stage. The screams of Mary Lincoln and Clara Harris, and Rathbone's cries of 'Stop that man!' prompted others to join the chase as pandemonium broke out.

Booth ran across the stage and exited through a side door, en route stabbing orchestra leader William Withers, Jr. He had left a horse in the alleyway. As he leapt into the saddle Booth pushed away Joseph Burroughs, who had been holding the horse, striking Burroughs with the handle of his knife.

Death of Lincoln

Surgeon Charles Leale Charles Leale, a young Army surgeon, pushed through the crowd to the door of Lincoln's box, but could not open it until Rathbone, inside, noticed and removed the wooden brace with which Booth had jammed the door shut.:?120?

Leale found Lincoln seated with his head leaning to his right as Mary held him and sobbed: 'His eyes were closed and he was in a profoundly comatose condition, while his breathing was intermittent and exceedingly stertorous.' Thinking Lincoln had been stabbed, Leale shifted him to the floor. Meanwhile, another physician, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted into the box from the stage.

After bystander William Kent and Leale cut away Lincoln's collar while unbuttoning Lincoln's coat and shirt and found no stab wound, Leale located the gunshot wound behind the left ear. He found the bullet too deep to be removed but dislodged a clot, after which Lincoln's breathing improved;:?121–2? he learned that regularly removing new clots maintained Lincoln's breathing. After giving Lincoln artificial respiration, Leale allowed actress Laura Keene to cradle the President's head in her lap, and he pronounced the wound mortal.:?78?

Skull fragments and probe used. Leale, Taft, and another doctor, Albert King, decided that Lincoln must be moved to the nearest house on Tenth Street because a carriage ride to the White House was too dangerous. Carefully, seven men picked up Lincoln and slowly carried him out of the theater, where it was packed with an angry mob. After considering Peter Taltavull's Star Saloon next door, they concluded that they would take Lincoln to one of the houses across the way. It was raining as soldiers carried Lincoln into the street, where a man urged them toward the house of tailor William Petersen. In Petersen's first-floor bedroom, the exceptionally tall Lincoln was laid diagonally on a small bed.:?123–4?

Lincoln's deathbed After clearing everyone out of the room, including Mrs. Lincoln, the doctors cut away Lincoln's clothes but discovered no other wounds; finding that Lincoln was cold, they applied hot water bottles and mustard plasters while covering his cold body with blankets. Later, more physicians arrived: Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes, Charles Henry Crane, Anderson Ruffin Abbott, and Robert K. Stone . All agreed Lincoln could not survive. Barnes probed the wound, locating the bullet and some bone fragments. Throughout the night, as the hemorrhage continued, they removed blood clots to relieve pressure on the brain, and Leale held the comatose president's hand with a firm grip, 'to let him know that he was in touch with humanity and had a friend.':?14?

Lincoln's older son Robert Todd Lincoln arrived at about 11 p.m., but twelve-year-old Tad Lincoln, who was watching a play of "Aladdin" at Grover's Theater when he learned of his father's assassination at Ford's Theater, was kept away. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arrived. Stanton insisted that the sobbing Mary Lincoln leave the sick room, then for the rest of the night, he essentially ran the United States government from the house, including directing the hunt for Booth and the other conspirators.:?127–8? Guards kept the public away, but numerous officials and physicians were admitted to pay their respects.

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