The Murder of President Lincoln

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The Murder of President Lincoln

W. T. Stead, The Gateshead Observer (April 29, 1865), reprinted in The Magazine of History with Notes and Queries, Vol. 21, No 1, pp. 5-7

One of the foulest deeds in the annals of crime has been committed at Washington.

President Lincoln, sitting in the theatre, accompanied by his wife, was shot to death on the 14th inst, by an assassin who unfortunately escaped, and had not been apprehended when the “Nova Scotia,” which reached Liverpool, left New York.

No wonder that so dreadful a murder, so far as Mr. Lincoln is concerned and so great a calamity for the country which he governed with an ability which even his adversaries have not been the last to admit, has aroused the indignation of every people to think its perpetration has been known; and warmed even the coldest heart into sympathy with her who has been deprived not only of a hus- band, but of one whose management of State affairs has illuminated a brighter page in the history of his country than any which has emblazoned since the death of Washington.

The crime indeed the more it is looked at intensifies in atrocity, for Mr. Lincoln at the moment of his assassination, and in the hour of victory it is well known, and as we always believed would be the case, was desirous of securing peace with the least possible humiliation to the defeated party, and with a view to an impartial promotion of the interests of every State of the Union, the restoration of which was the great object of his incessant labour, and as he (we believe most honestly) believed the one thing needful to secure the power and happiness of the Republic.

The utter hopelessness of further resistance in the South had been proved by the surrender of General Lee, with all that remained of his Army, to the Union Commander.

The terms given by the victorious General Grant to his gallant though unsuccessful opponent were of themselves an indication of that clement policy on which the President was said to be resolved.

There was no humiliation – no captivity for either officers or men – all the honours of war were allowed by the victor, and the parole d’honneur of the vanquished was considered sufficient security that no resumption of arms would be resorted to by soldiers whose conduct in the field had secured them respect both in the cabinet and the camp of the conquerors.

The ruffian in striking down the President struck at the same time at the heart of a Nation desirous of forgetting past differences and of changing a bloody war into an everlasting peace.

He was the murderer, not only of the President, but of this disposition towards forgiveness which was beginning to manifest itself in almost every department and class of the northern states.

Indeed it is difficult to say whether the deed ought to be most bitterly execrated in the Northern or in the Southern States.

The death wound of the President, it is true laid a great man low, but it produced a paroxysm of anguish at the same time in every city, nook, and corner of the vast territories which he ruled, and we have not the least doubt in those also which are endeavouring to secure their independence.

Murder in its ordinary acceptation is a thing unknown to honourable warfare, and as such we verily believe, this sad and sanguinary act will be regarded in the Confederate States.

It is to be deplored that so great a criminal as Wilkes Booth (as the wretch is called) even temporarily has escaped. That he will succeed in evading justice for any considerable length of time we cannot believe. No community even of literal savages would harbour such a monster.

The mark of Cain will be upon him, and we fain trust will facilitate his apprehension. We only hope he may have gone to some Confederate State, because we cannot but believe that, despite all the asperities of which civil strife has been productive, he would in that case be immediately given up to the National authorities, and the doing so would tend to dispel the suspicion which in some quarters seems to prevail, that the murder was planned not by one or two individuals only, but by the government of the Southern Confederacy – an atrocity of which we believe the latter to be utterly incapable.

That there were two persons bent on murder on the 14th is evident; while Booth was shooting Mr. Lincoln, another ruffian whose name is unknown and who has also escaped, was endeavouring to stab to death Mr. Seward, although lying in a state of great suffering consequent upon a recent serious accident; and not only was the life of Mr. Seward jeopardised, but his son was grievously wounded by the assassin’s dagger while endeavouring to protect his father against the man of blood. Indeed it was at first reported that young Seward had died of his wounds, but this has since been contradicted.

We sincerely hope that both father and son may yet live to serve their country and earn its gratitude. It is an eminently creditable as well as consolatory fact that in every portion of the United Kingdom the news of the bloody scene in the Washington Theatre produced a thrill of horror and indignation, and that all classes, from the Queen on her throne to the very humblest of her subjects, are desirous of testifying to the people of America their detestation of the crime and their sympathy with those whom the assassin’s dagger has deprived at once a father, a ruler, a statesman and a friend.