John Wilkes Booth


John Wilkes Booth was an American actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

Booth had earned fame as a gifted actor across the United States. When the American Civil War broke out, he openly supported the South while vehemently denouncing Lincoln.

His opposition to Lincoln eventually led him to assassinate the President.

Early Life and Acting Career

John Wilkes Booth was born to parents who were also Shakespearean actors, so acting was in his blood. After some early education, he embarked upon an acting career, following in the footsteps of his father and his elder brother.

Although his acting wasn’t very good initially, his athletic looks and passionate performances aroused the admiration of the audiences. Booth began his acting career in 1855 and by 1860, he was immensely successful. This success also brought him a considerable wealth.

During the American Civil War

When Civil War broke out in 1861, Booth was touching the peak of his career. He was immensely popular as an exceptional actor and many like Walt Whitman believed that he occasionally displayed true genius in his performances.

During the 1860s, the meteoric rise of Booth’s acting career continued. He played in Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Washington D.C. and New York. His performances attracted raving reviews and at least one of these was attended by President Lincoln in 1863.

Political Views

As the American Civil War broke out, Booth frequently voiced his fierce opposition to the abolitionists and their leader, President Abraham Lincoln. He believed that slavery was an important institution for the South. He also believed in the rights of the states to secede from the Union. His brother, Edwin Booth, staunchly supported the Union cause and the two often argued over their political views.

Plot to Kidnap Abraham Lincoln

In 1864, the Civil War had decisively tipped in favor of the Union forces. Booth hadn’t enlisted in the Confederate Army, despite his avowed support for the Confederate cause. Instead, he had continued to enjoy the fruits of his success at acting during the period.

Filled with remorse as the war drew towards the end, Booth decided to play a decisive role by kidnapping President Abraham Lincoln. He estimated that by kidnapping Lincoln, he would be able to force the release of Confederate troops taken prisoners, tipping the scales in favor of the Confederacy. However, his plots to kidnap the President failed.

Assassination of Lincoln

When the last major Confederate army under Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865, Booth knew that a victory for Confederacy was nearly impossible now. He now changed his plans from kidnapping Lincoln to assassinating him.

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln planned to visit the Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. Booth had frequently performed at the theater. He made plans and assassinated the President at 10 p.m. as he watched the play. He then escaped on horseback and fled towards southern Maryland.

Capture and Death

After assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth hoped to escape to Virginia. However, he was caught before he could make the escape. Booth hid in a barn and refused to surrender upon which Union soldiers set the barn on fire. Booth was also shot and he died a few hours later.