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Sic Transit John Wilkes Booth

Death of Booth

 

 

Judging from his melodramatic “Sic, Semper Tyrannis!” at Ford’s Theater after murdering Lincoln, Booth perceived his role of assassin as  being his greatest role, a chance to play in real life a doomed Romantic hero, an avenger of a wronged people.  The last twelve days of his life, as he eluded capture must have been disappointing for him, as the newspapers he read, including those who had been highly critical of Lincoln, universally condemned his action.  Perhaps he perceived that instead of  being a hero, he was fated to be cast as a minor villain, remembered solely due to his slaying of a great hero.  Booth wrote in his diary, “With every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for … And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat.”

His last stand in a burning  barn on April 26, 1865 lacked the heroic drama he sought, Booth being shot in the neck and paralyzed.  Dragged from the barn and lingering for three hours his last words perhaps summed up Booth’s verdict on his final performance:  “Useless, useless.”

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

4 Comments

  1. Yesterday’s WSJ published a reveiw of a recent book on the US Cavalry trooper (that had been paroled from Andersonville Prison) that shot Booth.
    .

  2. Sadly, Booth coming through Maryland in this escape route, visited a doctor to set his broken leg. That doctor, doing his medical duty and not recognizing Booth who was in disguise, was Dr. Samuel Mudd. Later Dr. Mudd, a civilian, was tried by a military court and found guilty of planning the conspiracy. He was a Catholic. He was not murdered but sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off Key West. His health was ruined there. Later on he was ‘pardoned’ but not declared innocent. The term “Your name will be Mudd” comes from this event.

    People were out for blood and even hung Booth’s land lady, Mrs. Surratt who was also a Catholic and daily communicant and almost certainly had nothing to do with the conspiracy.

  3. In thinking of John Wilkes Booth, one cannot but recollect the words of Lamartine on Charlotte Corday, the assassin of Marat, the People’s Friend.

    “In the face of murder, history dares not praise, and in the face of heroism, dares not condemn her. The appreciation of such an act places us in the terrible alternative of blaming virtue or applauding assassination… There are deeds of which men are no judges, and which mount, without appeal, direct to the tribunal of God. There are human actions so strange a mixture of weakness and strength, pure intent and culpable means, error and truth, murder and martyrdom, that we know not whether to term them crime or virtue. The culpable devotion of Charlotte Corday is among those acts which admiration and horror would leave eternally in doubt, did not morality reprove them.”

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