The Great Conspiracy


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While, however, Mr. Lincoln thus upheld and defended this Louisiana plan
of reconstruction, yet he conceded that in applying it to other States,
with their varying conditions, "no exclusive and inflexible plan can
safely be prescribed as to details and collaterals." The entire speech
shows the greatest solicitude to make no mistake necessitating backward
steps, and consequent delay in reconstructing the Rebel States into
Loyal ones; and especially anxious was he, in this, his last public
utterance, touching the outcome of his great life-work, Emancipation.
"If," said he, "we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of
the proposed Amendment to the National Constitution. To meet this
proposition it has been argued that no more than threefourths of those
States which have not attempted Secession are necessary to validly
ratify the Amendment. I do not commit myself against this further than
to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be
persistently questioned; whilst a ratification by three-fourths of all
the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable."

On Thursday, by the President's direction, a War Department Order was
drawn up and issued, putting an end to drafting and recruiting, and the
purchase of Military supplies, and removing all restrictions which
Military necessity had imposed upon the trade and commerce and
intercourse of any one part of the Union with the other. On Friday, the
14th of April, there was a meeting of the Cabinet at noon, to receive a
report from General Grant, in person--he having just arrived from the
scene of Lee's surrender. Later, the President rode out with Mrs.
Lincoln, and talked of the hard time they had had since coming to
Washington; "but," continued he, "the War is over, and, with God's
blessing, we may hope for four years of Peace and happiness, and then we
will go back to Illinois, and pass the rest of our lives in quiet." At
Ford's Theatre, that evening, was played "The American Cousin," and it
had been announced that both the President and General Grant would be
present. Grant, however, was prevented from attending. President
Lincoln attended with reluctance--possibly because of a presentiment
which he had that day had, that "something serious is going to happen,"
of which he made mention at the Cabinet meeting aforesaid.

It was about 9 o-clock P.M., that the President, with Mrs. Lincoln,
Major Rathbone, and Miss Harris, entered the Theatre, and, after
acknowledging with a bow the patriotic acclamations with which the
audience saluted him, entered the door of the private box, reserved for
his party, which was draped with the folds of the American flag. At
half past 10 o'clock, while all were absorbed in the play, a pistol-shot
was heard, and a man, brandishing a bloody dagger, was seen to leap to
the stage from the President's box, crying "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" His
spuired boot, catching in the bunting, tripped him, so that he half fell
and injured one leg, but instantly recovered himself, and, shouting "The
South is avenged!" rushed across the stage, and disappeared. It was an
actor, John Wilkes Booth by name, who--inspired with all the mad,
unreasoning, malignant hatred of everything representing Freedom and
Union, which was purposely instilled into the minds and hearts of their
followers and sympathizers by the Rebel leaders and their chief
accomplices in the North--had basely skulked into the box, behind Mr.
Lincoln, mortally wounded him with a pistol-bullet, and escaped--after
stabbing Major Rathbone for vainly striving to arrest the vile
assassin's flight.

Thus this great and good Ruler of our reunited People was foully
stricken down in the very moment of his triumph; when the Union troops
were everywhere victorious; when Lee had surrendered the chief Army of
the downfallen Confederacy; when Johnston was on the point of
surrendering the only remaining Rebel force which could be termed an
Army; on the self-same day too, which saw the identical flag of the
Union, that four years before had been sadly hauled down from the
flagstaff of Fort Sumter, triumphantly raised again over that historic
fort; when, the War being at an end, everything in the future looked
hopeful; at the very time when his merciful and kindly mind was
doubtless far away from the mimic scenes upon which he looked, revolving
beneficent plans for reconstructing and rebuilding the waste and
desolate places in the South which War had made; at this time, of all
times, when his clear and just perceptions and firm patriotism were most
needed,

[For his last public words, two nights before, had been: "In the
present 'situation,' as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make
some new announcement to the people of the South. I am
CONSIDERING, and shall not fail to act when satisfied that action
will be proper."]

alike by conquerors and conquered, to guide and aid the Nation in the
difficult task of reconstruction, and of the new departure, looming up
before it, with newer and broader and better political issues upon which
all Patriot might safely divide, while all the old issues of States-
rights, Secession, Free-Trade, and Slavery, and all the mental and moral
leprosy growing out of them, should lie buried far out of sight as dead-
and-gone relics of the cruel and devastating War which they alone had
brought on! Abraham Lincoln never spoke again. The early beams of the
tomorrow's sun touched, but failed to warm, the lifeless remain of the
great War-President and Liberator, as they were borne, in mournful
silence, back to the White House, mute and ghastly witness of the sheer
desperation of those who, although armed Rebellion, in the open field,
by the fair and legitimate modes of Military warfare, had ceased, were
determined still to keep up that cowardly "fire in the rear" which had
been promised to the Rebel leaders by their Northern henchmen and
sympathizers.

The assassination of President Lincoln was but a part of the plot of
Booth and his murderous Rebel-sympathizing fellow conspirators. It was
their purpose also to kill Grant, and Seward, and other prominent
members of the Cabinet, simultaneously, in the wild hope that anarchy
might follow, and Treason find its opportunity. In this they almost
miraculously failed, although Seward was badly wounded by one of the
assassins.

That the Rebel authorities were cognizant of, and encouraged, this
dastardly plot, cannot be distinctly proven. But, while they naturally
would be likely, especially in the face of the storm of public
exasperation which it raised throughout the Union, to disavow all
knowledge of, or complicity in, the vengeful murder of President
Lincoln, and to destroy all evidences possible of any such guilty
knowledge or complicity, yet there will ever be a strong suspicion that
they were not innocent. From the time when it was first known that Mr.
Lincoln had been elected President, the air was full of threats that he
should not live to be inaugurated.

That the assassination, consummated in April, 1865, would
have taken place in February of 1861, had it not been for the timely
efforts of Lieutenant-General Scott, Brigadier-General Stone, Hon.
William H. Seward, Frederick W. Seward, Esq., and David S. Bookstaver of
the Metropolitan Police of New York--is abundantly shown by
Superintendent John A. Kennedy, in a letter of August 13, 1866, to be
found in vol. ii., of Lossing's "Civil War in America," pages 147-149,
containing also an extract from a letter of General Stone, in which the
latter--after mentioning that General Scott and himself considered it
"almost a certainty that Mr. Lincoln could not pass Baltimore alive by
the train on the day fixed"--proceeds to say: "I recommended that Mr.
Lincoln should be officially warned; and suggested that it would be
altogether best that he should take the train of that evening from
Philadelphia, and so reach Washington early the next day." * * *
General Scott, after asking me how the details could be arranged in so
short a time, and receiving my suggestion that Mr. Lincoln should be
advised quietly to take the evening train, and that it would do him no
harm to have the telegraph wires cut for a few hours, he directed me to
seek Mr. W. H. Seward, to whom he wrote a few lines, which he handed to
me. It was already ten o'clock, and when I reached Mr. Seward's house
he had left; I followed him to the Capitol, but did not succeed in
finding him until after 12 M. I handed him the General's note; he
listened attentively to what I said, and asked me to write down my
information and suggestions, and then, taking the paper I had written,
he hastily left. The note I wrote was what Mr. Frederick Seward carried
to Mr. Lincoln in Philadelphia. Mr. Lincoln has stated that it was this
note which induced him to change his journey as he did. The stories of
disguise are all nonsense; Mr. Lincoln merely took the sleeping-car in
the night train.

Equally certain also, is it, that the Rebel authorities were utterly
indifferent to the means that might be availed of to secure success to
Rebellion. Riots and arson, were among the mildest methods proposed to
be used in the Northern cities, to make the War for the Union a
"failure"--as their Northern Democratic allies termed it--while, among
other more devilish projects, was that of introducing cholera and yellow
fever into the North, by importing infected rags! Another much-talked-
of scheme throughout the War, was that of kidnapping President Lincoln,
and other high officials of the Union Government. There is also
evidence, that the Rebel chiefs not only received, but considered, the
plans of deperadoes and cut-throats looking to the success of the
Rebellion by means of assassination. Thus, in a footnote to page 448,
vol. ii., of his "Civil War in America," Lossing does not hesitate to
characterize Jefferson Davis as "the crafty and malignant Chief
Conspirator, who seems to have been ready at all times to entertain
propositions to assassinate, by the hand of secret murder, the officers
of the Government at Washington;" and, after fortifying that statement
by a reference to page 523 of the first volume of his work, proceeds to
say: "About the time (July, 1862) we are now considering, a Georgian,
named Burnham, wrote to Jefferson Davis, proposing to organize a corps
of five hundred assassins, to be distributed over the North, and sworn
to murder President Lincoln, members of his Cabinet, and leading
Republican Senators, and other supporters of the Government. This
proposition was made in writing, and was regularly filed in the
'Confederate War Department,' indorsed 'Respectfully referred to the
Secretary of War, by order of the President,' and signed 'J. C Ives.'
Other communications of similar tenor, 'respectfully referred' by
Jefferson Davis, were placed on file in that 'War Department.'" All the
denials, therefore, of the Rebel chieftains, as to their complicity in
the various attempts to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, ending with his
dastardly murder in April, 1865, will not clear their skirts of the
odium of that unparalleled infamy. It will cling to them, living or
dead, until that great Day of Judgment when the exact truth shall be
made known, and "their sin shall find them out."

[The New York Tribune, August 16, 1885, under the heading "A NARROW
ESCAPE OF LINCOLN," quotes an interesting "Omaha Letter, to the St.
Paul Pioneer Press," as follows:

"That more than one attempt was made to assassinate Abraham Lincoln
is a fact known to John W. Nichols, ex-president of the Omaha Fire
Department. Mr. Nichols was one of the body-guard of President
Lincoln from the Summer of 1862 until 1865. The following
narrative, related to your correspondent by Mr. Nichols, is
strictly true, and the incident is not generally known:

One night about the middle of August, 1864, I was
doing sentinel duty at the large gate through which entrance was
had to the grounds of the Soldiers' Home. The grounds are situated
about a quarter of a mile off the Bladensburg road, and are reached
by devious driveways. About 11 o'clock I heard a rifle shot in the
direction of the city, and shortly afterwards I heard approaching
hoof-beats. In two or three minutes a horse came dashing-up, and I
recognized the belated President. The horse was very spirited, and
belonged to Mr. Lamon, marshal of the District of Columbia. This
horse was Mr. Lincoln's favorite, and when he was in the White
House stables he always chose him. As horse and rider approached
the gate, I noticed that the President was bareheaded. After
assisting him in checking his steed, the President said to me: 'He
came pretty near getting away with me, didn't he? He got the bit
in his teeth before I could draw the rein.' I then asked him where
his hat was, and he replied that somebody had fired a gun off down
at the foot of the hill, and that his horse had become scared and
jerked his hat off. I led the animal to the Executive Cottage, and
the President dismounted and entered. Thinking the affair rather
strange, a corporal and myself started in the direction of the
place from where the sound of the rifle report had proceeded, to
investigate the occurrence. When we reached the spot where the
driveway intersects with the main road we found the President's
hat--a plain silk hat-and upon examining it we discovered a bullet
hole through the crown. The shot had been fired upwards, and it
was evident that the person who fired the shot had secreted himself
close to the roadside. We listened and searched the locality
thoroughly, but to no avail. The next day I gave Mr. Lincoln his
hat and called his attention to the bullet hole. He rather
unconcernedly remarked that it was put there by some foolish
gunner, and was not intended for him. He said, however, that he
wanted the matter kept quiet, and admonished us to say nothing
about it. We all felt confident that it was an attempt to kill
him, and a well-nigh successful one, too. The affair was kept
quiet, in accordance with his request. After that, the President
never rode alone."']

That this dark and wicked and bloody Rebellion, waged by the upholders
and advocates of Slavery, Free Trade, and Secession, had descended so
low as to culminate in murder--deliberate, cold-blooded, cowardly
murder--at a time when the Southern Conspirators would apparently be the
least benefitted by it, was regarded at first as evidencing their mad
fatuity; and the public mind was dreadfully incensed.

The successor of the murdered President-Andrew Johnson-lost little time
in offering (May the 2d) rewards, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, for
the arrest of Jefferson Davis, Jacob Thompson,

[The same individual at whose death, in 1885, the Secretary of the
Interior, ordered the National flag of the Union--which he had
swindled, betrayed, fought, spit upon, and conspired against--to be
lowered at halfmast over the Interior Departmental Building, at
Washington, D. C.]

Clement C. Clay, Beverly Tucker, George N. Sanders, and W. C. Cleary,
in a Proclamation which directly charged that they, "and other Rebels
and Traitors against the Government of the United States, harbored in
Canada," had "incited, concerted, and procured" the perpetration of the
appalling crime.

On the 10th of May, one of them, Jacob Thompson, from his place of
security, in Canada, published a letter claiming to be innocent;
characterized himself as "a persecuted man;" arrayed certain suspicious
facts in support of an intimation that Johnson himself was the only one
man in the Republic who would be benefited by President Lincoln's death;
and, as he was found "asleep" at the "unusual hour" of nine o'clock
P.M., of the 14th of April, and had made haste to take the oath of
office as President of the United States as soon as the breath had left
the body of his predecessor, insinuated that he (Johnson) might with
more reason be suspected of "complicity" in "the foul work" than the
"Rebels and Traitors" charged with it, in his Proclamation; so charged,
for the very purpose--Thompson insinuated--of shielding himself from
discovery, and conviction!

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