John Wilkes Booth, a popular 26-year-old actor who was also a Confederate sympathizer and white supremacist, had been plotting for months to abduct Lincoln and give the Confederacy another chance. But three days earlier, hearing the president talk of his plans to bring the nation together—in particular, Lincoln’s plans to grant some African-American men the right to vote—Booth’s plans turned murderous.
On the morning of April 14, Good Friday, actor John Wilkes Booth learned President Abraham Lincoln would attend a performance of the comedy Our American Cousin that night at Ford’s Theatre—a theatre Booth frequently performed at. He realized his moment had arrived.
By 10:15 that evening, the comedy was well into its last act. In the Presidential Box, President and Mrs. Lincoln and their guests, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, laughed at the show along with the audience—not knowing that Booth was just outside the door.
- How could such a thing have taken place—and in Washington, the fortified capital of the nation? How did Booth gain such access to the theatre?
- Why didn’t Lincoln’s security people stop him?
- Was it a lone act or part of a larger conspiracy?
- And, when all was said and done, what was the outcome—for those involved in the crime, for their victims, for the nation and even for Ford’s Theatre?
Conduct your own investigation below!
Consider the evidence. How do statements from different witnesses match up? Is there a difference between statements from 1865 and those from many years—even decades—later? What can the physical evidence tell you?