Thursday, December 27, 2007

Andrew Johnson and the death of Lincoln

The death of Lincoln has always fascinated me. Over the years many conspiracy theories have developed concerning the death of Lincoln. Despite these theories there still seem to be more questions than answers. Was Booth a tool in a larger conspiracy? Was Booth solely responsible for Lincoln's murder? Was the Confederate government involved? Did Jefferson Davis know about the plot to abduct/kill Lincoln? These questions always seem to find a way to suck me in. I still wonder which theory I believe in more. Nearly twenty years of studying materials haven't brought me any closer but today I want to discuss one of these theories.

Theory "#1": Was Vice-President Andrew Johnson involved in Lincoln's murder?

Anybody who has read a book on the Lincoln assassination knows that John Wilkes Booth left his calling card at Andrew Johnsons hotel. The card was really simple "Don't wish to disturb you Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth."

Was Johnson involved? Mary Todd Lincoln certainly thought so and she took the time to explain her feelings in a 1866 letter. " Johnson, had cognizance of my husband's death - Why, was that card of Booth's, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed - I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man." For the rest of her life Mary Lincoln firmly believed that Johnson had played a role in her husbands murder.

Since 1865 several authors have pointed out the fact that the two might have been acquainted. Hamilton Howard in Civil War Echoes (1907) made a claim that Booth and Johnson shared mistresses while the actor was touring in Union occupied Tennessee. John Rhodehamel who edited "Right or Wrong, God Judge Me" The Writings of John Wilkes Booth states on page 146 that the two met in Nashville, Tennessee in 1864. (I did a book review of Rhodehamel's book in a previous blog) These things don't mean that Johnson was a murderer but they do point out that the two were associated. It should be no surprise that Booth left his calling card at Johnsons hotel room. I feel that Booth was trying to implicate Johnson in the assassination. Booth did a great job implicating the members of his conspiracy and he tried to finger other people as well. This still doesn't mean that Johnson was involved and it remains just another conspiracy theory.

Congress did investigate the theory and found no evidence linking Andrew Johnson to Lincolns murder. Since no direct evidence exists that links Johnson to the Lincoln Assassination one can go either way with this.

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