4. A Star Actor Killed Abraham Lincoln
No American president has ever faced as many challenges as did Abraham Lincoln. The main one was the US Civil War, which killed about 700,000 to 900,000 Americans. Prorated to current population, that would be the equivalent of about 9 million deaths today. He navigated his way through that bloodbath without the extensive support staff and bureaucracy that modern presidents can lean on to ease and streamline their workload. In so doing, he weathered setback after setback, and bumbling and incompetence by generals who piled up humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat.
In addition to armed rebellion in the South, he had to contend with treason in the North; vicious attacks from opposition Democrats and from his own Republican party; accusations of incompetence and treason and tyranny; disloyalty inside his own cabinet; plots and schemes and terrorism; plus a threat of foreign war against Britain and France. In the middle of all that, his favorite son caught a fever and died, aged 11. And he had to cope with all the preceding while also coping with a crazy wife, who literally suffered frequent bouts of insanity.
Lincoln handled all those challenges with nearly superhuman poise, grace, dignity and determination. After going through hell on earth, he finally prevailed, and the rebellion was crushed. Less than a week after the main Southern army surrendered, when he could finally try and relax, he went to see a play at Ford’s Theater, only to be shot in the head by a Southern sympathizer.
John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor, was a Confederate sympathizer. During the war, he lacked the courage of his convictions to take up arms and join the Confederate armies in the field. When it was all over and the Confederates had been defeated, he found enough courage – or at least bitterness – to finally do something. He hatched a plot to assassinate the president and leading cabinet members, and on the night of April 14th, 1865, the conspirators fanned out across Washington, DC.
Booth’s coconspirators failed to carry out their parts of the plot, but Booth managed to get into Ford’s Theater, snuck into the president’s private box, and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. He then made a dramatic escape, and went on the run for 12 days before a massive manhunt finally tracked him to a barn in Virginia, where Booth was killed during a shootout with his pursuers.