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John Wilkes Booth, photo: Library of Congress (www.loc.gov)

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth was born into the limelight of the nineteenth century; his father, Junius Brutus Booth, Sr., was a famous actor in England. After fleeing to the United States with a new lover to escape his wife and child, he and Mary Ann Holmes landed in Norfolk, Virginia. They settled near Bel Air, Maryland, where they would have ten children. John Wilkes was the ninth, born on May 10, 1838.

Following Abraham Lincoln's election on November 6, 1860, fears that the American Union would disband were growing by the day. Booth, who dearly loved his native South, became inspired by its cause. He wrote:

"...when treason weighs heavy in the scale, it is a time for us to throw off all gentler feelings of our natures and summon resolution, pride, justice, Ay, and revenge to take the place of those nobler passions in the human heart, respect, forgiveness and Brotherly love."

The treason he spoke of was the abolitionist movement. He vehemently believed in slavery as a right naturally ordained by God.

In around 1864, with the Confederate army in despair in the Civil War, Booth and several others began to devise schemes of either kidnapping or assassinating President Lincoln. These conspirators hoped their work would give the Confederacy time to regroup and take back control in the war, while sending the Union into a state of panic and chaos. However, none of the plots came to fruition until April 1865.

Booth maintained his plan of kidnapping the president until late March or early April, 1865, at which time he was set on killing Lincoln. Possibly the South's surrender on April 9 in Appomattox, Virginia sparked this change.

When Booth changed his mind to assassination, he not only had dreams of sending the Union into a state of panic, but now he wanted to utterly dismantle it; he and two others would kill the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state on the same evening, April 14.

Booth assembled his crew--Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt & David Herold--to go over the final plan. Powell was to kill Secretary of State William Seward at his home and Herold would accompany him to lead him to a Maryland rendezvous point. Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson in his room at the Kirkwood Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, and Booth would kill Lincoln at Ford's Theatre.

Only Booth would succeed in his charge: Powell's attack on Seward was substantial but non-fatal and Atzerodt lost his nerve and simply wandered the streets.

After leaving the president lifeless in the Presidential box of Ford's Theatre, Booth jumped to the stage, breaking a bone in his right leg on impact. He jumped up and shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis!" Virginia's state motto which is Latin for "Thus always to tyrants."

Booth then fled to Maryland to escape and to seek the help of Dr. Samuel Mudd to fix his wounded leg. On April 26, he and Herold are still on the run when they are found in a barn near Bowling Green, Virginia by a group of soldiers. Herold gave himself up, but Booth did not. He was shot and killed by Corporal Boston Corbett.