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The Hidden History Of The Abraham Lincoln Assassination

On April 14, 1865, a man crept up the back staircase of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. with a gun in his hand. Soon, it would take that gunman, John Wilkes Booth, mere seconds to fatally shoot President Abraham Lincoln through the back of the head and violently alter the course of American history itself.

However, though few may realize it, the wider Abraham Lincoln assassination plot was much larger than the murder of just one man. It was actually part of a three-pronged attack designed to destabilize the entire Union government.

As Booth aimed his pistol at the back of Lincoln’s head, former Confederate soldier Lewis Powell had almost made it to his destination, the home of Secretary of State William Henry Seward. A few blocks away from Ford’s Theatre, George Atzerodt tried to work up his courage while sitting in the bar of the Kirkwood House hotel where the new vice president, Andrew Johnson, had a room. Had Powell and Atzerodt completed their murderous missions, Seward and Johnson would have also been killed.

Thus the complete Abraham Lincoln assassination plot was not just about killing the president, but also about taking out the men next in line for the presidency and throwing the country into chaos as the Civil War limped to a bloody end.

The murder of Lincoln himself did indeed throw the country into chaos. And that portion of the Abraham Lincoln assassination story is well-known.

Ever since Lincoln had expressed support for black suffrage in a speech given on April 11, 1865, in the waning days of the Civil War — the last public address he would ever give — Booth became determined to murder the president. “That means n*gger citizenship,” Booth said of the speech. “Now, by God, I’ll put him through.”

Three days later, the plan sprang into action. Booth, after shooting the president in the skull behind his left ear, then leaped from the president’s box and onto the stage below while the horrified audience looked on (though some apparently believed initially that he was part of the play). Accounts vary, but many sources claim that Booth then cried “sic semper tyrannis” (“thus always to tyrants”) before catching his spur on a large flag hanging from Lincoln’s box and breaking his leg as he landed on the stage.

Nevertheless, he managed to dash across the stage, stabbing orchestra leader William Withers Jr. on his way out, exit through a side door and into a waiting carriage on the street, thus escaping to safety. It would take authorities twelve days to track Booth to a farmhouse in northern Virginia where he was shot and killed.

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