“Sic semper tyrannis”
The 16th and tallest — he was 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in) —president, Abraham Lincoln was elected on 6 November 1860, the first Republican president. On 11 February 1861 Lincoln left his home for the White House; a plot was hatched to kill Lincoln when the train stopped at the Calvert Street Depot in Baltimore, Maryland, on 23 February. Allan Pinkerton, who was assigned to protect Lincoln, discovered the plan and it was foiled. In his inauguration address, Lincoln said that he had no lawful right to interfere with slavery and nor did he intend to do so.
In September 1864, as the American Civil War was nearing its end, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Lewis Powell (aka Paine), John Surratt, Jr, and actor, John Wilkes Booth, formulated a plan to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. On 11 April 1865 Lincoln, in his last public speech, spoke outside the White House in favour of enfranchizing blacks.
Booth became so enraged by the idea that he changed his mind about kidnapping Lincoln and decided to assassinate him instead. The president, Mrs Lincoln, Major Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris were scheduled to attend a performance of the play, Our American Cousin, starring Laura Keene at Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday 1865. President and Mrs Lincoln and their guests arrived at the theatre at 9pm and were taken to the presidential box (number 7). Around this time Booth arrived at the back of the theatre where he was known to the stage door staff.
Meanwhile, Lincoln’s bodyguard, John F. Parker, was no longer in position, having left to get a drink. Booth quietly entered the box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a .44 calibre Deringer.
Major Rathbone tried to stop Booth escaping but was stabbed in the arm for his troubles. Booth climbed onto the parapet to jump but was again grabbed by the major who was stabbed again. As Booth jumped, his spur caught on the Treasury flag and he fell awkwardly, breaking his left leg. He yelled out, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants”, the state motto of Virginia) before limping away.
The mortally wounded president was taken to the William Petersen House at 516 10th Street. Lincoln never regained consciousness and was officially pronounced dead at 7.22:10am the following day. He was 56 years old.
Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW Washington DC, USA
10.15pm Friday 14 April 1865
Booth and Herold fled to the home of Dr Samuel Mudd whom Booth knew. He put Booth’s leg in splints. On 23 April Booth and Herold crossed the Potomac and then the Rappahannock and travelled to a barn belonging to Richard H. Garrett. On 26 April soldiers found them locked in the barn. Called upon to surrender, Herold gave himself up but Booth refused to leave the barn. The troops set the barn on fire and Sergeant Boston Corbett, a religious monomaniac, moved in close and shot Booth in the neck despite orders not to fire.
Booth was carried to the porch of Garrett’s house and lingered until around 7pm, when he died. His last words were, “Tell Mother – tell Mother – I died for my country.” The other conspirators were arrested and tried by a military tribunal. On
5 July all the defendants were found guilty. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt were sentenced to death by hanging and went to the gallows in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on 7 July. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen were sentenced to life in prison. John Surratt stayed in hiding in Canada, went to Europe and returned to America in December 1866. He became a teacher and died of pneumonia at 9pm on 21 April 1916.