Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Right or Wrong, God Judge Me!" Book Review #3

Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth have a lot more in common than some historians are willing to admit. Both were unable to testify at a trial or state on public, police records why they chose to murder a president. Reading their own words is crucial to understanding their motives and ideas. Such is the case of John Wilkes Booth whose writings appear in this one-volume by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper.
Rhodehamel works as a Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library. Louise Taper, a noted Lincoln collector, owns the largest extant collection of John Wilkes Booth letters in the known world. Both authors put this book together, included all known Booth writings in their entirety and provide commentary on each manuscript. Moreover, a short biography on Booth is provided a long with a marvelous introduction that explains how Booth's signature is worth more money than Abraham Lincolns.
The book is indispensable to anyone wanting to study Lincoln's murder and Booth motives. One of the best items is a letter that Booth wrote to his mother that discusses his reasoning for the murder. You can really see that Booth was a total "Momma's boy" and he really kisses his mothers butt. Being a theatre man, Booth calls out Shakespeare in a lot of his writings by using the English author as a basis for his motives. He really thought that he was Brutus and Lincoln was Caesar. Also, discusses is the pre-murder conspiracy that tried to kidnap Lincoln and hold him until the Union armies agreed to exchange Confederate prisoners.
Another letter that is included is Booths "To Whom it may concern" letter. In this document Booth calls himself a confederate doing his duty. Another document is Booth's letter to the newspapers that he gave to a friend to publish. Booth explains his motives further from the time that he changed his kidnapping motives to murder. The friend destroyed the document after Lincoln's murder because he was afraid of being implicated in the death. He later "rewrote" the document for the Lincoln investigators but it is surprising that he could remember the entire thing in its entirety. However, Booth later refers to the document in one of his last writings while fleeing from Union troops.
The diary of Booth, written while he was on the run from Union forces is included and this document Booth is a beaten man who feels that he is being hunted like a wild animal. "I can never repent it, though we hated to kill: Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment." That quote says it all about Booth and how much hatred he felt towards our 16th President of the United States. In his second and final diary entry Booth states that he will fight it out because that is all he has left in the world. You can read Booths diary in its entirity just click here.
I highly recommend this book to all Civil War buffs. To understand the man you gotta read what the man wrote and you need to go out and buy Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The writings of John Wilkes Booth.

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