7 July 1865 – the Lincoln Conspirators

Lincoln Conspirators

On the scaffold

Although the man who actually shot Abraham Lincoln was killed while on the run, the rest of his gang met their demise side-by-side in Washington DC.

Triggerman John Wilkes-Booth had originally only intended to kidnap Lincoln and to use his hostage to bargain for the release of prisoners of the American Civil War. However, when the President made a speech outlining his plans to introduce voting rights for blacks, a furious Booth set his mind to assassination.

Plot thickens

The actor persuaded fellow Southern sympathisers Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, John Surratt and Surratt’s mother, Mary, to join his cause and set about concocting a plan.

Booth figured if he could kill Lincoln, the Vice-President Andrew Johnson and William Seward, the Secretary of State, the government would be thrown into chaos giving the Confederates time to mount an attack and win the war.

Scene of the crime

While Booth set his sights on Abraham’s trip to the theatre, a reluctant Atzerodt was assigned to Johnson and Powell and Herold were sent to kill Seward.

However, while Lincoln never got to see the end of the play ‘Our American Cousins’, his fellow officials got away with their lives. Atzerodt got drunk and wandered off into the night without firing a shot and Powell and Herold botched their collective attempt on Seward.

Sons and mothers

In the aftermath, most of the gang were quickly apprehended except Booth, who was shot by a soldier named Boston Corbett, and John Surratt, who went into hiding. Mary Surratt was put on trial alongside the more involved members of the plot – their hope was to flush out her son, but he never showed up.

So, she became the first woman to be hanged by the American government, when she was executed alongside Atzerodt, Powell and Herold in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on 7 July 1865.

Surratt did eventually surface some years later. Although he was put on trial for the lesser crime of plotting to kidnap, he was let off and lived the rest of his days as a model citizen.

By killing Lincoln, had Booth achieved what he set out to achieve? It was quite the opposite actually. Lincoln became somewhat of a martyr and embodied all things decent and honest, indeed his death is commemorated as a public holiday. Southerner Andrew Johnson, a right-wing Democrat took over, but he was no match for the Republicans left behind by Lincoln and he only served four years before he was replaced by another Republican.

Also on this day

7 July 1826 – Jereboam Orville Beauchamp

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One Response to “7 July 1865 – the Lincoln Conspirators”

  1. Andrew Johnson is nothing more than a murderer. Mrs. Surratt did nothing wrong and Johnson knew it. That is why he is one of the worst Presidents ever to take office.

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