Attack on Abraham Lincoln: conspiracy theories

Attack on Abraham Lincoln: conspiracy theories

An actor shot Abraham Lincoln from behind in April 1865. But for many Americans, the crime has still not been solved. There are absurd conspiracy theories about the death of the US President.

The shot hit the president in the head from behind. Then the assassin jumped onto the stage. "Sic semper tyrannis!", He shouted into the audience - in German: "That's how it should be for all tyrants!" It was the sentence that Brutus is said to have called when he stabbed Caesar.

The more than 1,500 spectators at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. were thrilled. The audience believed that the performance was part of the play. The outcry of the President's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was drowned out by the noise and laughter. It was only when the murderer John Wilkes Booth limped laboriously towards the exit that people realized that Abraham Lincoln was injured. Too late. Booth escaped from the crime scene on horseback with a mate.

Helpers carried the badly wounded Lincoln to a neighboring guest house in a hurry. The hurried doctors were helpless. "It is impossible to survive," said medical doctor Charles Leale. A few hours later he was dead - the president who had won the civil war and freed the slaves only six days earlier.

All over the country, police officers and soldiers swarmed out after the bloody attack to face the presidential killer. Booth was a well-known actor, called "the most beautiful man in America". As a fanatic supporter of the defeated southern states, he wanted to take revenge on Lincoln's murder.

Booth had successfully carried out his assassination attempt. But his accomplices all failed: George Atzerodt was supposed to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson. Instead, he got drunk and did nothing. Lewis Powell could only wound Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward. And Booth also only partially implemented his plans. In fact, together with Lincoln, he should have killed the Union Army commander-in-chief. Ulysses S. Grant, however, stayed away from the performance.

Deeply disappointed, Booth hid in a barn in Virginia. In fact, he had hoped for fame and recognition for his assassination in the south. Instead, there was outrage at the murder. On April 26, soldiers finally surrounded Booth's refuge. Lincoln's killer died just like his victim from a shot. "Pointless, pointless," should have been his last words. Four members of his conspiracy group died soon after of the gallows.

Did justice really win? Or did the real masterminds get away with Lincoln's death? To date, around a third of Americans doubt that Booth and his group acted alone. Like almost a hundred years later when John F. Kennedy was murdered, conspiracy theories flourished. Why was Lincoln's guard drinking in the bar instead of guarding the door to the box? Who benefited from his death?

Lincoln's wife, Mary, was particularly suspicious of Vice President Andrew Johnson. Like her husband, she thought he was completely incapable. Johnson was a member of the Southern Democratic Party who owed his office solely to political balance. Booth had written him a card before the assassination attempt. The fact that an assassination attempt on him was planned but not carried out only made him more suspicious. An investigative committee, however, identified Johnson, who now serves as Lincoln's successor, as an innocent man.

Suspicions were quickly directed against the hostile Confederate States. However, the head of state of the South, Jefferson Davis, was genuinely shocked when the news of Lincoln's death arrived, according to eyewitness accounts. "The news was very bad for me," Davis said of his grief. "Because I felt that Johnson was a vindictive man, far from the magnanimity that had distinguished Lincoln." Another committee of inquiry was unable to prove Davis' complicity in Lincoln's death.

Later, more and more absurd conspiracy theories were circulating - including anti-Semitic ones. The Rothschild Jewish banking dynasty is said to have been involved in the murder plans via Davis' Foreign Minister Judah Benjamin. They speculated that cotton prices would rise as soon as Lincoln was removed from office. However, no evidence of this assumption was ever found.

In addition to the Jews, the Pope was suspected. In 1885, ex-priest Charles Chiniquy claimed in his memoirs that the Catholic Jesuit order had eliminated the American president on behalf of the Vatican. Supposedly to weaken the largely Protestant USA.

The speculations did not stop decades later. Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was the focus of suspicions in 1937. In a book, the Austrian immigrant Otto Eisenschiml accused the politician. Stanton allegedly prohibited General Grant, who should have been in the box with Lincoln, from going to the theater. And hired an incompetent bodyguard for the president who preferred to have a drink rather than guard the door. On top of that, Stanton had ensured that Booth was able to escape from the capital after the murder.

In fact, Grant's no-show had a simple reason. As it later emerged, Grant's wife had no sympathy for Mary Todd Lincoln - and persuaded her husband not to attend the performance.

Jews, Freemasonry, political enemies - there is hardly a group that should not have pulled the strings in the presidential assassination. The defeated Southerners developed their very own theory: According to this, a group of influential business people from the north had Lincoln removed because he stood in the way of their plans in the south. The murdered president wanted to bring the defeated southern states back to the Union with leniency.

Followers of this theory saw themselves confirmed by the words of the New York Democrat Benjamin Allen. In 1864 he prophesied: "If you can't beat Lincoln at the ballot box, you will do it with the bullet."