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Based largely on records in the National Archives that were collected during the government's investigation into the assassination and subsequent trial of Booth's cohorts, Kauffman's emphasis on primary sources gives the work a sense of immediacy and his vivid depictions of the scenes at Ford's Theatre and Lincoln's deathbed are particularly effective. In marshaling his evidence Kauffman took advantage of computer technology by constructing a database that enabled him to sort documents using a variety of criteria.

The end result is a rich, highly detailed narrative replete with numerous details and a cast of dozens of characters. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find an aspect of the assassination that Kauffman omits.

He provides the reader with a preponderance of data, including descriptions of the various horses used by the conspirators. While such minutiae can be overwhelming, there is a payoff when Kauffman employs this evidence to show how Booth used public livery stables as a means to implicate his associates in the plot. Kauffman also uses eyewitness testimony concerning Booth and David Herold's getaway horses to argue that, contrary to popular legend, Booth did not break his leg while jumping from the president's box to the stage. Instead, Kauffman concludes that Booth's horse fell on him during the ride from Washington to Southern Maryland.


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While researchers can comb through thousands of pages of evidence in the National Archives, the collected writings of Booth fill a single thin volume. Though few of Booth's writings survive, Kauffman offers some insight into Booth's character and motives by analyzing the available documents. For Kauffman, Booth "was always an actor" and he envisioned himself as a modern-day Brutus whose role was to preserve Southern liberty by assassinating the tyrant Lincoln pp.

Booth supported secession following Lincoln's election, and when Lincoln resorted to force in order to preserve the Union, Booth believed Southerners had to resist or face "either extermination or slavery for themselves. In addition to opposing Lincoln's heavy-handed policies toward the South, Booth was also quite uncomfortable at the prospect of sectional reunion under the new order wrought by emancipation.

Kauffman points out that Booth viewed the enslavement of African Americans as a "'blessing'" for both slaveholders and the enslaved p.

In a document that was probably written in November , Booth further asserted: "This country was formed for the white not the black man. The opportunity presented itself on the night of April 14, and after shooting Lincoln in the back of the head Grant had declined the invitation to accompany the Lincolns to the theater , Booth uttered the famous line, "Sic semper tyrannis" before exiting the stage. This Latin phrase meaning "thus always to tyrants" was not only the state motto of Virginia but it was also what Brutus allegedly said following the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Booth envisioned himself as a savior of republican liberty in the mold of Brutus, yet there are many contradictions between this image and the crime he committed.

Considering Kauffman's command of the subject, it is unfortunate that he does not explore these inconsistencies in greater depth. Oddly enough, Kauffman notes that the self-proclaimed Brutus's best part was the title role in Richard III --a role that certainly does not bring the defense of liberty immediately to mind.

Given Kauffman's emphasis on the Booth-Brutus connection, it seems that he could have benefited from the insights contained in Albert Furtwangler's Assassin on Stage: Brutus, Hamlet, and the Death of Lincoln , which offers a comprehensive and highly informed discussion of the relationship between Shakespeare's plays, the Booth family, and Lincoln's assassination.

Brutus is the tragic hero in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Kauffman observes that Booth has become a "romantic hero" because he "reflected the complexities of a rapidly changing time" and resisted the "advent of a new, uncertain time" p. One wishes Kauffman had devoted more attention to the question of how a presidential assassin acquired a cult following and became a mythic character in our culture. All this was successfully done under the noses of federal authorities during a period of "unprecedented paranoia" p.

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The enormity of Booth's crime tends to be submerged in the numerous details surrounding his activities. Kauffman's harshest words are reserved for the detectives who conducted a slipshod investigation and federal officials who subjected some of the co-conspirators to "barbarous" treatment and an unfair trial before a military tribunal p. General Grant declined the invitation to see the play; Union officer Henry Rathbone took his place.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln Documentary

At the same time, another conspirator, George Azterodt, made his way to the hotel where Vice President Johnson was lodging. Armed with a gun and a knife, Azterodt detoured to the hotel saloon, where he got drunk and lost his nerve. He left the bar without confronting Johnson and discarded his knife in the streets of Washington.

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American Brutus : John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln conspiracies - Anaheim Public Library

Roger J. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the library of Congress. Michael W. New York: Random House, Lincoln Archives Digital Project.

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies

John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper, eds. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, The book provides insight into Booth's role in one of the most remarkable families in American history. Already a subscriber? This website uses cookies to improve functionality and performance. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

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