The Copy Cat Crime: Andrew Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson
On January 23, 1923, William J. Burns, by then the acting director of the Department of Justice wrote “I have gone over with considerable interest the volume entitled “The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth” by Finis L. Bates of Memphis, Tennessee… The work contains very strong evidence in support of the old belief that Booth did escape and live many years after the assassination of President Lincoln…” Here’s a relevant portion:
All the conspirators against President Lincoln met here with Andrew Johnson conversant of the purpose to kidnap the President. On arriving at the hotel, about 3 o’clock, I called on Vice-President Johnson, when we talked over the situation and the changed conditions because of the surrender of Gen. Lee; and the Confederate forces at Appomattox, which had made the purpose of the kidnapping of President Lincoln and his delivery to the Confederate government at Richmond, to be held as a hostage of war, impossible, as the Confederate government had abandoned Richmond and the war between the States was considered practically over, which left, to my mind, nothing that we could do but accept defeat and leave the South, whom we had made our best efforts to serve, to her own fate, bitter and disappointing as it was. When Vice-President Johnson turned to me and said, in an excited voice and apparent anger:
” ‘Will you falter at this supreme moment?’
“I could not understand his meaning, and stood silent, when with pale face, fixed eyes and quivering lips, Mr. Johnson asked of me:
” ‘Are you too faint-hearted to kill him?’
“As God is my judge, this was the first suggestion of the dastardly deed of the taking of the life of President Lincoln, and came as a shock to me. While for the moment I waited and then said:
” ‘To kill the President is certain death to me,’ and I explained to Vice-President Johnson that I had just been arrested by the guard as I was coming into the city over the East Potomac bridge that morning, and that it would be absolutely impossible for me to escape through the military line, should I do as he suggested, as this line of protection completely surrounded the city. Replying to this Mr. Johnson said:
” ‘Gen. and Mrs. U. S. Grant are in the city, the guests of President Lincoln and family, and from the evening papers I have learned that President Lincoln and wife will entertain Gen. and Mrs. Grant j at a box party to be given in their honor by the President and Mrs. Lincoln at Ford’s Theater this evening.’
“At my suggestion Vice-President Johnson assured me that he would so arrange and see to it himself, that Gen. and Mrs. Grant would not attend the theater that evening with the President and his family, and would also arrange for my certain escape. I replied:
” ‘Under these conditions and assurances I will dare strike the blow for the helpless, vanquished Southland, whose people I love.’
“Mr. Johnson left the room and after a little more than an hour returned, saying that it had been arranged as he had promised, and that Gen. Grant had been, or would be suddenly called from the city, and that, therefore, he and his wife could not attend the theater that evening with the President and Mrs. Lincoln, as had been prearranged, and that such persons as would attend and occupy the box at the theater with the President and wife would not interfere with me in my purpose and effort to kill the President, and this he thought an opportune time, and that I would be permitted to escape by the route over which I had entered the city during the forenoon of that day. That is, that I was to go out over the East Potomac river bridge, that the guards would be called in from this point by order of Gen. C. C. Augur that afternoon or evening, but if there should be guards on the bridge, I was to use the password *T. B.’ or *T. B. Road,’ by explanation, if need be, which would be understood by the guards, and I would be permitted to pass and protected by himself (Mr. Johnson) absolutely in my escape, and that on the death of President Lincoln, he (Vice-President Johnson) would become president of the United States, and that in this official capacity I could depend on him for protection and absolute pardon, if need be, for the crime of killing President Lincoln, which he had suggested to me and I had agreed to perform.
“Fired by the thoughts of patriotism, and hoping to serve the Southern cause, hopeless as it then was, as no other man could then do, I regarded it as an opportunity for an heroic act for my country and not the exercise of a grudge or any feeling of malice toward the President, for I had none against him as an individual, but rather to slay the President that Andrew Johnson, a Southern man, a resident of the State of Tennessee, should be made President of the United States, to serve the interests of the South. And upon the further promise made me by Mr. Johnson that he as President of the United States, would protect the people of the South from personal oppression and the confiscation of their remaining landed estates, relying upon these promises, and believing that by the killing of President Lincoln I could practically bring victory to the Southern people out of defeat for the South. Moved by this purpose and actuated by no other motives, assured by Mr. Johnson of my personal safety, I began the preparation for the bloody deed by going to Ford’s Theater, and among other things, arranging the door leading into the box to be occupied by Mr. Lincoln, which had already been decorated for the occasion, so that I could raise the fastenings, enter the box and close the door behind me so that it could not be opened from the outside and returned to the Kirkwood hotel. I then loaded afresh my derringer pistol so that she would not fail me of fire, and met Vice-President Johnson for the last time and informed him of my readiness to carry out the promise I had made him. About 8:30 that evening we * left his room, walked to the bar in the hotel and drank strong brandy in a silent toast to the success of the bloody deed. We walked from the barroom to the street together, when I offered my hand as the last token of goodbye and loyalty to our purpose, and I shall not forget to my dying day the clasp of his cold, clammy hand when he said:
” ‘Make as sure of your aim as I have done in arranging for your escape. For in your complete success lies our only hope.
“I replied, ‘I will shoot him in the brain.’
“I returned to the theater. I saw the President and party later take their seats in the box. I moved my position to a convenient space, and at the time when the way was clear and the play was well before the footlights I entered the President’s box, closed the door behind me and instantly placed my pistol so near it almost touched his head and fired the shot which killed President Lincoln and made Andrew Johnson President of the United States and myself an outcast, a wanderer, and gave me the name of an assassin. As I fired the same instant I leaped from the box to the stage, my right spur entangled in something in the drapery on the box, which caused me to miss my aim or location on the stage and threw my shin bone against the edge of the stage, which fractured my right shin bone about six or eight inches above the ankle. (At this point St. Helen, exposing his shin, called attention to what seemed to be a niched or uneven surface on the shin bone. This I did not notice closely, but casually it appeared to have been a wound or fracture.)
“From the stage I reached my horse in safety, which by arrangement was being held by David E. Herold, back of the theater and close to the door of the back entrance. With Herold’s assistance I mounted my horse and rode away with full speed without hindrance, and reached the bridge at the East Potomac river, crossing the same with my horse at full pace. When I came to the gate across the east end of the bridge there stood a Federal guard, who asked me a question easy to answer:
” ‘Where are you going?’
“I replied, using the simple letters ‘T. B.’ as I had been instructed, and the guard then asked: ” ‘Where?’
“I then replied, ‘T. B. Road,’ as I had been instructed by Mr. Johnson, and without further question the guard called for assistance to help raise the gate quickly, when I at once again urged my horse to full speed and went on to Surrattville, where I waited for Herold to overtake me, as prearranged, whom I expected to follow closely behind. After waiting a few minutes Herold caqie up and . we rode the remainder of the night until about 3 o’clock on the morning of the 15th of April 1865, when we reached the home of Dr. Mudd, where Dr. Mudd, by cutting a sfitin it, removed my riding boot from the injured right foot and leg and proceeded to dresd it by bandaging it with strips of cloth and pieces of cigar boxes, and the riding boot was left at the home of Dr. Mudd, where we remained during the rest of the day, and at nightfall proceeded on our journey, my bootless right foot being covered only by the sock and the leg as bandaged and splinted by Dr. Mudd.
“ESCAPE AND SUICIDE OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH ASSASSIN OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN” BY FINIS L. BATES 1907