The Lincoln conspiracy

Posted on March 28, 2006 

The Lincoln conspiracy

Inside the plot to avenge the Confederacy

The shooting of the 16th US President in 1865 has obsessed historians ever since. As two new books piece together the events that led to the assassination, Andrew Gumbel examines how they mirrored September 11 and its aftermath.

Most people will remember that Abraham Lincoln was the first US president to be assassinated, that he was shot at close range in his box at a Washington theatre, and that his assassin was John Wilkes Booth, a sympathiser with the confederate South who had been left aghast by the outcome of the recently concluded Civil War.

What may not be so familiar, at least to non-specialists on this side of the Atlantic, are some of the other hair-raising details of the assassination plot. It was not just Lincoln, but the whole top echelon of the government that was targeted on the night of 14 April 1865. William Seward, the secretary of state, was viciously knifed in his own bed and came close to perishing nine days after he almost died in a horse-and-carriage accident. Andrew Johnson, the vice-president and eventual successor to Lincoln, would have been shot in his Washington hotel had his designated attacker not chickened out at the last moment. Ulysses Grant, the commander of the victorious Union army and future president, was originally scheduled to join Lincoln in his box at Ford’s Theatre and might not have survived had he kept the appointment.

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