On Good Friday in April of 1865, the guard on duty outside the Presidential box, John Parker, took advantage of the time President and Mrs. Lincoln would be watching the play, “Our American Cousin”, to descend the back stairs of Ford’s Theatre to the adjacent Tatavul’s saloon and ordered a tankard of ale.  At the other end of the bar sat John Wilkes Booth, building his courage with a whiskey after completing his preparations. The assassin left the tavern, and as a celebrity actor strode unimpeded through the theatre.

Booth slipped into the unguarded dark corridor leading to State Box in Ford’s Theatre.  Timing his arrival to coincide with the funniest line of the play, he hoped the laughter of the audience would cover any commotion before he took his shot.  Booth checked through the small hole he had bored in the wooden partition earlier in the day and saw the back of the president’s head.  Silently he pushed back the unlatched door, extended his arm and discharged his derringer.  The ½” ball smashed into Lincoln’s skull just behind his left ear, traversed his brain and stopped just shy of exiting near his right eye.  President Lincoln slumped forward in his chair without a cry and died the next morning across the street in the commandeered bedroom of a boarding house with his wife Mary in the next room still in the clothes stained with her husband’s blood.

Booth’s co-conspirators, George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell, were not as lethal.  Powell forced his way into the home of Secretary of State William Sewell, and with his Bowie knife repeatedly slashed the bed ridden Sewell.  After a long recovery Sewell lived.  The hapless Atzerodt was too drunk to go to Vice President Andrew Johnson’s room at the Kirkwood House.  Only Booth accomplished his part in their deadly conspiracy to destroy the top three positions in the Executive Branch of the government.  Booth was never tried and was shot through the spine while resisting capture; he died at 26.

With the survival of the barely educated Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, the aftermath of the Civil War was dramatically altered and America’s “Reconstruction” followed a bad turn.  Lincoln had made clear his intentions of leniency and reconciliation, planning to use the balance of his final term in office to lead the country through healing and opportunity for nine million freed slaves.  The brutal corruption of the “carpetbaggers” sanctioned by vengeful Congressmen and undeterred by the inept Johnson sealed in the bitter resentment of the former Confederates and the ascendency of the Klu Klux Klan.  Embedded racism and Jim Crow laws persisted for another century.  A deep wound did not heal.  What could have been had President Lincoln lived can never be known.

Ninety eight years later in November of 1963, another president fell, but this time to a lone assassin, the troubled Lee Harvey Oswald.  A former U.S. Marine with a history of court-martials, Oswald returned from a three year defection in the Soviet Union with a Russian wife and child.  He hoped to emigrate again, this time to Cuba for another try at a “purer” version of socialist utopia, but Cuba examined his record and rejected him.  In April of 1963, Oswald missed with a sniper shot at retired General Edwin Walker, hitting the window frame in Walker’s home office.  He was never a suspect until after Dallas.  Oswald got a job at the Texas Book Depository in Dallas.

Lee Harvey Oswald brought an inexpensive, 6.5 caliber mail order, bolt action Carncano scoped rifle to work the day the route of President Kennedy’s well publicized motorcade was to pass in front of the Book Depository.  Oswald set up in a sixth floor window in a nearly deserted section of the warehouse and waited.

His first shot passed through President Kennedy’s neck, probably not fatal, and seriously wounded Texas Governor John Connally, sitting in the front seat of their convertible limo.  The second shot missed.  The confused driver inexplicably slowed the limo.  The third shot slammed into the president’s head, tearing out massive portions of his brain and skull.  He was rushed to Parkland Hospital, but President Kennedy was certainly instantaneously brain dead.   Oswald later in the day murdered Dallas policeman J.D. Tippitt when Tippitt exited his patrol car to question Oswald.  He was never tried and after his capture was gut shot in jail by Dallas strip club owner and police hanger on, Jack Ruby; Oswald died at 24.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson, a former Texas Senator, was sworn in on the plane that carried the President’s body before it headed back to Washington.  Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline stood next to Johnson still in the clothes stained with her husband’s blood.

President Kennedy had spoken of pulling back from Vietnam and was a fiscal conservative. Johnson escalated the Vietnam War and ushered in the Great Society welfare entitlement that debilitated the minority population for the next fifty years.  The war and the subsequent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy five years later precipitated a generation of disillusionment, discontent and dilettante revolution, the repercussions of which ripple down to this day.  What could have been had President Kennedy lived can never be known.

Quote attributed to a homily from St. Marcarius (fourth century Egyptian monk):

“When a house has no master living in it, it becomes dark, vile and contemptible…. Woe to the house where no master dwells, to the field where no farmer works, to the pilotless ship, storm-tossed and sinking.”

1 Comment

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One response to “Assassins

  1. Rita

    I recently finished the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerns Goodwin and recommend it for anyone who wants an in depth look into Lincoln’s character. If you’ve ever visited the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC, once you’ve read this book, you will understand why it’s so massive. The assassination of this amazing man had a devastating ripple effect on the reconstruction of the South and allowed the newly freed black man to be held down for many more generations.

    Another book that follows the periods after Lincoln’s assassination is A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner. I’m in the middle of that now. African Americans, once freed, immediately formed churches, schools and entered the trades. They looked for lost family members who had been sold by plantation owners to other plantations across the south. They had intact families and only wanted to enter the labor force and be treated as equals in the economic recovery of the south and in the political recovery of the south. In some areas of the South that happened quite successfully, but as we know, Klu Klux Klan activity and white supremacy attitudes made it impossible coupled with the new administration under President Andrew Johnson who himself was a white supremacist. The assassination of Lincoln was a perfect Luciferian plot to keep the black man and his family subjugated in spite of the historical wonder of the Emancipation Proclamation and the bitter struggle of the Civil War which left hundreds of thousands of dead Americans in its fields of battle.

    Now, fast forward to the era of the Civil Rights movement in the early sixties and the eventual assassination of it charismatic, courageous and faith filled leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King brought his people once again to a place where they could begin the process of being fully integrated into American society, but his death left the field to the “black power” movement and we know the rest of that story. African Americans were at another cross roads in history, and then the demands of the Black Power leaders and the white guilt capitulation of the Great Society legislation put blacks onto the biggest plantation of all created by the welfare state. A system that robbed them of their dignity of benefiting from the work of their hands and robbed the black family of the father as AFDC encouraged fathers to leave their children in the care of the state.

    I loved Dr. King and remember the hope and enthusiasm of my generation as we watched on television this great movement of freedom, or participated in activities and the march toward the fulfillment of Dr. King’s “Dream” for his people. He was a true father of his people.

    Unfortunately, the Black community today is a fatherless ship and the Luciferian plot to keep a beautiful people subjugated continues. Ah, the ripple effect of the sin of slavery and murder…


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