Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Lincoln"
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Was the Lincoln room ever actually Lincoln's bed room? Is it really haunted or is that a different part of the white house?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but, no, the Lincoln Bedroom is not haunted. Nowhere else in the White House is haunted, either. Nothing is legitimately haunted — anywhere — because ghosts aren’t real. Unless you happen to be Scooby-Doo. If you are, indeed, Scooby-Doo, please accept my apologies as I meant no disrespect. But if you’re Shaggy, get a haircut and some pants that fit you. And if you are Scrappy-Doo, you can go fuck yourself. Nobody likes you, Scrappy — you ruined everything. Everybody knows that you’re not really tough; you’re just overcompensating because of your Napoleon complex and the embarrassment that comes from never wearing pants. Plus, you’re just biting Scooby’s style. You are a copycat…I mean…copydog. Yeah, you’re a copydog.

Sorry, I got distracted from the main point of the question because Scrappy-Doo is an asshole. Where was I again? Oh yeah, the Lincoln Bedroom.

No, the Lincoln Bedroom was not actually Lincoln’s bedroom when he lived in the White House. There was no West Wing of the White House until Theodore Roosevelt’s Administration, so the President and his staff largely worked out of offices in the area of the Executive Mansion which is now considered to be the Residence. During the Lincoln Administration, the President worked and held Cabinet meetings in offices located in the general area of where the Lincoln Bedroom and Lincoln Sitting Room are situated at today. The White House was completely gutted and renovated from 1948 to 1952, so it was during that extensive renovation that the Lincoln Bedroom (and the Lincoln Sitting Room next door) was restored and decorated in a way to honor its connection to Lincoln.

Lincoln did not sleep in what is now the Lincoln Bedroom, but he did sign the Emancipation Proclamation there when he used the room as an office. Today, along with many artifacts from Lincoln’s time, the Lincoln Bedroom also has a copy of the Gettysburg Address on display. The copy of the speech has written out by Lincoln’s own hand and signed by him; it’s one of just five such originals in existence.

Of course, the centerpiece of the Lincoln Bedroom is the massive, ornate bed which most people understandably assume was the bed that Lincoln actually slept in because (a:) it is located in the “Lincoln Bedroom”, and (b:) the bed is 8 feet long by 6 feet wide and seems as if could have comfortably accommodated the 6’4” President. But, it is not the bed used by President Lincoln when he lived in the White House. However, the bed does date from his time — Mary Todd Lincoln ordered it from a Philadelphia furniture dealer in May 1861, nearly three months after the Lincolns moved into the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln didn’t sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom or the actual bed that the room now contains, several other Presidents have slept in the bed since Lincoln’s time and many famous (and not-so-famous) visitors have found themselves situated in the Lincoln Bedroom when staying overnight as guests of the First Family. One person who was rumored to have steered clear from the room was Harry Truman’s elderly mother, Martha, an unreconstructed Confederate sympathizer whose feelings about Lincoln and the Civil War were still raw and supposedly refused to sleep in Lincoln’s bed or room.

Perhaps more White House guests would have followed Mrs. Truman’s rumored example if they had been aware of one connection that Abraham Lincoln likely did have with the enormous bed in the room which carries his name. Although it was located in a different part of the White House at the time, many historians believe that there was at least one time that Lincoln was in that big bed — a few hours after President Lincoln was pronounced dead on April 15, 1865 and following an autopsy performed in the East Room. Abraham Lincoln may have never slept in the famous bed that still hosts visitors today in the Lincoln Bedroom; however, that bed is where the first assassinated President in American history was most likely embalmed.  

On August 27, 1858, Daniel Marshall brought his young son, Tommy, into Freeport, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border, where nearly 15,000 people had gathered in a downtown square for the second of seven debates between Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln.  Marshall was a solid Democrat who had moved his family to Illinois from Indiana a year earlier and supported the incumbent Senator Douglas.

In Freeport, under the debating rules set by the candidates, Lincoln spoke first for 60 minutes, Douglas spoke next for 90 minutes, and Lincoln finished with a 30-minute-long rebuttal.  The population of Freeport tripled on the day of the debate and the proceedings took place in unseasonably cool, cloudy weather for late-August.

As Lincoln and Douglas engaged in perhaps the most newsworthy debate of their historic series, 4-year-old Tommy Marshall found himself the best seat in the house.  While Lincoln spoke, Tommy sat in the lap of Stephen A. Douglas.  When Senator Douglas responded, Tommy sat in the lap of Abraham Lincoln.

Decades later, after little Tommy Marshall had grown into Thomas Riley Marshall and became Vice President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson, sitting in the laps of history at the second Lincoln/Douglas debate remained one of his fondest memories.

I have never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence…It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. Now, my friends, can this country be saved on that basis?
Abraham Lincoln, speaking at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1861, as he headed to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration.

No two Presidents did more for Civil Rights in the United States than Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. Lincoln and Johnson also both gave classic speeches at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s speech in November 1863 dedicating the cemetery near the battlefield where thousands had fought and died months earlier is unforgettable. LBJ’s Gettysburg Address is overlooked and largely unknown to many Americans, but it is a speech just as important and worthy of attention as Lincoln’s.

At the time, Johnson was stuck in the Vice Presidency — a job that he hated and which had little power or visibility — and there’s never been a rich history of Vice Presidential oratory. But LBJ’s speech at Gettysburg brilliantly linked the sacrifices made by the soldiers who died in 1863 during the Civil War’s most famous battle with the Americans fighting in 1963 for equality and human rights. When he spoke at Gettysburg on Memorial Day 1963, LBJ was six months away from assuming the Presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and, as President, Lyndon Johnson helped turn the words that he spoke that day into actions, reinforce the ideals that Lincoln set forth in his 1863 speech, and give deeper meaning to the sacrifices so many Americans had made throughout our country’s history to truly achieve freedom and equality for everyone.

Here is the Memorial Day address by then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on May 30, 1963:

On this hallowed ground, heroic deeds were performed and eloquent words were spoken a century ago.

We, the living, have not forgotten — and the world will never forget — the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now as we join on this Memorial Day of 1963 in a prayer for permanent peace of the world and fulfillment of our hopes for universal freedom and justice.

We are called to honor our own words of reverent prayer with resolution in the deeds we must perform to preserve peace and the hope of freedom.

We keep a vigil of peace around the world.

Until the world knows no aggressors, until the arms of tyranny have been laid down, until freedom has risen up in every land, we shall maintain our vigil to make sure our sons who died on foreign fields shall not have died in vain.

As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil, too — a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and among the lives of all our people — so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain.

One hundred years ago, the slave was freed.

One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.

The Negro today asks justice.

We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, “Patience.”

It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands. Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among the civilizations of history, Americans — white and Negro together — must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.

Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.

To ask for patience from the Negro is to ask him to give more of what he has already given enough. But to fail to ask of him — and of all Americans — perseverance within the processes of a free and responsible society would be to fail to ask what the national interest requires of all its citizens.

The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed — and is not failing. We as a nation have failed ourselves by not trusting the law and by not using the law to gain sooner the ends of justice which law alone serves.

If the white overestimates what he has done for the Negro without the law, the Negro may underestimate what he is doing and can do for himself with the law.

It it is empty to ask Negro or white for patience, it is not empty — it is merely honest — to ask perseverance. Men may build barricades — and others may hurl themselves against those barricades — but what would happen at the barricades would yield no answers. The answers will only be wrought by our perseverance together. It is deceit to promise more as it would be cowardice to demand less.

In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake — it is our nation. Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision.

The Negro says, “Now.” Others say, “Never.” The voice of responsible Americans — the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here — their voices say, “Together.” There is no other way.

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware to race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.

Believe it or not, there was a time when members of Congress were seriously underpaid. When Abraham Lincoln was elected to his single term in the United States House of Representatives in 1846, members of the House and Senate received a per diem payment for each day that Congress was in session rather than an annual salary. For Congressmen who were not wealthy men or those who happened to be land rich and cash poor, serving in Washington, far away from home, could be quite difficult financially. Fortunately, there was a creative — and legal — way to supplement their income.

Getting to Washington was not easy in the first half of the 19th Century. For Congressmen who lived in the west or on the frontiers, traveling to the nation’s capital often required some combination of walking, riding on horseback, journeying by stage coach, hopping on board a steamboat, and, if they were lucky, catching one of the lightning-fast (for the time) trains that were beginning to connect urban centers throughout the young country. While the per diem received by Congressmen was often paltry, the cost of their uncomfortable and lengthy journey to Washington, D.C. was reimbursed by the federal government. So, members of the House and Senate would often take the longest route possible to get to where they were going. They weren’t really tricking anybody — in 1848, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune wrote about the practice, calling their journeys to Washington “exceedingly crooked, even for a politician” — it was simply tolerated.

In Greeley’s Tribune article about the reimbursement system, he published the names of nearly 300 members of the House and Senate along with the mileage they submitted for reimbursement. On that list was Abraham Lincoln, just one year into his single, two-year term representing Illinois in the House. According to the Tribune, Lincoln requested reimbursement for a round-trip to Washington, claiming that he journeyed 1,626 miles each way, although the shortest route from Springfield, Illinois to the nation’s capital was actually 780 miles. Lincoln’s 3,252-mile trip cost the government $1,300.80 in 1848, which Greeley noted was $676.80 more than it needed to be. In 2014 dollars, Lincoln’s journey to Washington to take his seat in Congress cost the government $38,258.82.

"There is no sure foundation set on blood,
No certain life achieved by another’s death” — William Shakespeare, King John

Shakespeare killed Kings and Princes and lovers and warriors with beauty and artistry.  With eternally evocative words as his lethal weapon, the bard snatched literary lives out of pages and off of stages in nearly every play that he penned.  Sometimes he killed out of love, sometimes he killed out of hate, sometimes he killed for power or because of weakness or in spite of strength.  When Shakespeare killed, however, he did it with purpose and poetry.  In Shakespeare’s work, murder wasn’t simply committed — it was composed and performed; and, in the centuries since that work was created, it has been left up to actors to breathe life into scenes of death.  A good actor can convince the audience to believe; a great actor can convince himself.

Contrary to what many people believe, John Wilkes Booth was neither the most famous nor the best actor in the United States when he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  Booth’s father, Junius Brutus Booth, was probably the greatest actor in the world when he was at his best and when he stayed sober.  Of the three sons (all of illegitimate birth) who followed Booth, who died in 1852, into the theater it was his second-oldest, Edwin, who was the most amazing to watch on stage.  Edwin traveled the world and not only played all of the parts made famous by his father, but arguably did it better.  An Edwin Booth performance was a mesmerizing experience for an theater-goer, and it made him a very wealthy, well-connected man.  Junius Jr. was a talented actor, but never quite had his heart completely in the theater, despite his natural abilities.  The youngest of the Booth sons, John Wilkes, was determined to be as great as his father and two brothers, but he lacked the talent that seemed instinctive with his father and inherited by his older brothers.

John Wilkes Booth’s determination and ambition, however, drove him to do things on stage that other actors wouldn’t risk.  While he wasn’t the most famous or most talented actor in America, John Wilkes was widely considered the most handsome, and women swooned over his appearance, buying stereograph pictures and anything that captured the young actor’s brooding appearance.  If John Wilkes couldn’t measure up to his father or his brother’s when reciting his lines, his physicality captivated crowds.  Uniquely athletic, Booth would take tremendous risks, performing stunts that stunned audiences and helped hide any defects in his acting ability. 

If John Wilkes didn’t play the roles as well as Edwin did, he tackled them with unparalleled energy and was certainly one of the most well-known names in entertainment by the 1860’s.  Booth played a multitude of roles, but the role that he felt suited him best — the role that inspired him in so many ways — was that of Brutus in Julius Caesar.  Booth saw Brutus in the same light as Marc Antony did in the closing lines of Shakespeare’s masterpiece — a patriot who risked everything to bring down a tyrant, and, as Antony said, “was the noblest Roman of them all”.

The Booths were from Maryland originally, a border state during the Civil War, but the two most visible members of the family — Edwin and John Wilkes — seemed to come from different worlds.  Edwin was a Unionist who lived in New York and was a friend to Presidents, Northern politicians, Union soldiers, and captains of industry.  John Wilkes was an avowed secessionist and Southern sympathizer.  When John Brown was hanged in Virginia in 1858, Booth dressed as a member of a Richmond militia group in order to get a front row seat at the abolitionist’s execution.  When the war started in 1861, John Wilkes was open about his support for the states which seceded and formed the Confederate State of America, and his vociferous opinions landed him in trouble in some of the Northern cities that he performed in.

The relationship between Edwin and John Wilkes was never strong, and the younger brother nursed a deep jealousy for the more acclaimed (and more wealthy) Edwin.  Their opposing beliefs about the Civil War further endangered their relationship and, at one point, Edwin kicked John Wilkes out of his home in New York when John Wilkes insulted President Abraham Lincoln and praised the Confederacy.  At some point, John Wilkes went from a sympathizer to an activist.  Booth smuggled medicine to the Southern states and may have been involved in deeper operations as a member of the Confederate Secret Service.  Booth’s fame and active career in the theater was helpful, as he was able to travel throughout the country with relative ease.

One thing that is clear about John Wilkes Booth is that he absolutely hated Abraham Lincoln. 

The Booths were no strangers to Lincoln.  More than anything else, Lincoln loved the theater, particularly Shakespeare, which he often read out loud to guests at the White House.  Lincoln had seen Edwin Booth on numerous occasions, and on November 9, 1863 — 10 days before he traveled to Pennsylvania to deliver the Gettysburg Address — the President watched John Wilkes Booth as Raphael in The Marble Heart at Ford’s Theatre, several blocks from the White House.  Lincoln was impressed by Booth’s performance, but one of Lincoln’s companions that night, Mary Clay, daughter of Lincoln’s Minister to Russia, remembered a portentous moment.  On several occasions, Booth — playing a villain — uttered his lines with anger while seemingly shaking his finger at President Lincoln.  Mary Clay recalls saying to the President, “Mr. Lincoln, he looks as if he meant that for you.”  Lincoln responded, “Well, he does look pretty sharp at me, doesn’t he?”  Booth reportedly refused an invitation to meet the President after the performance, but after Lincoln’s young son, Tad, watched in awe as Booth energetically performed in another play, the future assassin gave the President’s son a rose.

A performance that Lincoln certainly would have enjoyed seeing took place on November 25, 1864 in Edwin Booth’s Winter Garden Theatre in New York City.  In a special benefit, the three sons of Junius Brutus Booth performed together for the first and only time.  Edwin, Junius Jr., and John Wilkes teamed up to perform Julius Caesar, with the goal of raising money for a statue of William Shakespeare — a statue that can be found in Central Park today.  While Edwin took the plum role of Brutus and Junius Jr. played Cassius, John Wilkes played the role that would become most unlikely in hindsight: Marc Antony.  During the performance by the Booth brothers, Confederate agents set fire to buildings around New York City, including one next to Edwin’s theatre.  After a momentary panic in the building, the audience was calmed down and the show went on.  John Wilkes Booth had few acting roles left in his career, but by this point, he had decided that his final role would be Brutus. 

By the time of the Winter Garden Theatre benefit featuring the Booth brothers, John Wilkes had already been conspiring to kidnap Abraham Lincoln in order to trade the President for a significant amount of Confederate soldiers in Union POW camps and was often meeting with his fellow conspirators such as Lewis Powell, John Surratt, David Herold, George Azterodt, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen at Mary Surratt’s boarding house in Washington, D.C.  When Lincoln was sworn in for his second term on March 4, 1865, Booth and some of his conspirators were in the crowd and can be seen in a photo of the Inaugural stand at the Capitol as Lincoln gave his Inaugural Address.  Over the next two weeks, the conspirators looked for an opportunity to kidnap the President and hopefully turn the tide for the Confederacy.

On March 17, 1865, Booth and his gang planned to launch their operation when President Lincoln traveled to the Campbell Hospital on the outskirts of the nation’s capital.  Unfortunately for Booth, Lincoln’s plans changed and the abduction plot fell through.  The next night, Booth gave his final acting performance, as Duke Pescara in The Apostate, at Ford’s Theatre.


"I have no words;
My voice is in my sword” — William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Everything changed for John Wilkes Booth on April 9, 1865, as news reached Washington that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.  Two nights later, Booth was in a crowd celebrating at the White House and became enraged when he heard President Lincoln suggest in an extemporaneous speech that blacks would be given the right to vote.  That fury multiplied when Lincoln said, “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard.  Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it…I now request the band to favor me with its performance…[for] it is good to show the rebels that with us they will be free to hear it again.”  Booth took Lincoln’s words as an almost personal affront.  The abduction plan was off the table, but Booth instantly realized that he would kill Lincoln.  In his mind, he would be Brutus slaying the tyrant Caesar.

We know what happened next.  Shakespeare killed with beauty and poetry — deadly, 400-year-old lines that elicit timeless emotions.  There was no beauty in what happened at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.  President Lincoln sat in his box watching Our American Cousin.  Booth slipped into the theatre — his famous face a passport for entry.  The actor crept into the room behind the President.  The crowd laughed at a line delivered on stage and a shot rang out.  A .44 caliber lead ball slammed into the back of Lincoln’s head.  Skull fragments carried by the the bullet sliced through the President’s brain.  Lincoln slumped forward, almost certainly brain dead already.  Booth brandished a dagger and slashed Lincoln’s guest in the Presidential box, Major Henry Rathbone, and performed one last leap on to the stage — one last acrobatic move to stun an audience.  However, in an unusual move for Booth, he stumbled, caught a leg in the flags draped in front of Lincoln’s box, and landed awkwardly.  Booth’s tibula cracked and he limped off the stage, dragging his broken leg behind him.  With fire in his eyes, the youngest member of the Booth acting family turned to the crowd, and with one last act of stagecraft yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannis!”.  The line wasn’t part of a play; it was Virginia’s state motto and it meant “Thus Always To Tyrants”.  Some witnesses remember hearing Booth add, “The South is avenged!”.

Lincoln was carried across the street and his 6’4” frame was laid diagonally on a bed in William A. Petersen’s boarding house.  The powerfully-built President survived longer than most humans would survive a point-blank gunshot wound to the back of the head — even with today’s medical advancements.  At 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865, Lincoln stopped breathing, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton uttered the famous words, “Now, he belongs to the ages.”

Over the next 10 days, John Wilkes Booth rode through the war-torn countryside of Maryland and Virginia.  Shooting pain from his broken leg made every step and every breath excruciating, even after the injury was set by Dr. Samuel Mudd.  With his fellow conspirator David Herold, Booth hid from the biggest manhunt in American History, as bloodthirsty Union troops, many just back from the battlefields of the Civil War, chased the man who killed the President that guided them through that crisis. 

For 26-year-old John Wilkes Booth, there was a deeper pain.  It wasn’t just the broken leg or the hunger or the exhaustion of evading an entire army.  It wasn’t the lifelong envy of his more successful older brother, or the fact that his fellow conspirators failed in their assignments as Booth accomplished his.  For Booth, who idolized Brutus and saw himself as the Southern, if not American version of Caesar’s assassin, the pain was due to the fact that he wasn’t being celebrated for removing a “tyrant”.  John Wilkes Booth was used to seeing his name on posters that advertised his appearance, but now, his name was on wanted posters offering a $100,000 reward for his capture.  Even the South mourned the loss of Lincoln, who looked forward to a gentle reconciliation and reconstruction with the former Confederate States.  Booth’s assassination wasn’t seen as a heroic act against a raging tyrant.  Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America that Booth so deeply supported would later say that “Next to the destruction of the Confederacy, the death of Abraham Lincoln was the darkest day the South has ever known.”

Instead of Brutus, Booth was seen as one of the murderers of the the Scottish king Duncan, who told Macbeth:

"I am one, my liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Hath so incens’d that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world”


"Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage” — William Shakespeare, Macbeth

In his final days, as he was being hunted down in the woods of Virginia, and before he was cornered in a burning barn and shot to death, Booth came to the bitter realization that the assassination didn’t lead him to the glory he had always sought.  As always, though, John Wilkes Booth felt that it wasn’t his fault — that it was the world that let him down.  On the run, before he was killed, Booth scrawled a few lines in a diary that was found on him when the Union troops finally caught up to him on April 26, 1865:

"Until today nothing was ever thought of sacrificing to our country’s wrongs.  For six months we had worked to capture, but our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done.  But its failure was owing to others, who did not strike for their country with a heart.  I struck boldly, and not as the papers say.  I walked with a firm step through a thousand of his friends, was stopped, but pushed on.  A colonel was at his side.  I shouted Sic semper before I fired.  In jumping broke my leg.  I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night with the bone of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump.  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.  The country is not what it was.  This forced Union is not what I have loved.  I care not what becomes of me.  I have no desire to outlive my country.  The night before the deed I wrote a long article and left it for one of the editors of the National Intelligencer, in which I fully set forth our reasons for our proceedings…

After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gunboats till I was forced to return wet, cold, and starving, with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair.  And why?  For doing what Brutus was honored for?  What made Tell a hero?  And yet I, for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew, am looked upon as a common cutthroat.  My action was purer than either of theirs.  One hoped to be great himself.  The other had not only his country’s but his own, wrongs to avenge.  I hoped for no gain.  I knew no private wrong.  I struck for my country and that alone.  A country that groaned beneath this tyranny, and prayed for this end, and yet now behold the cold hands they extend to me.  God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong.  Yet I cannot see my wrong except in serving a degenerate people.  The little, the very little, I left behind to clear my name, the Government will not allow to be printed.  So ends all.  For my country I have given up all that makes life sweet and holy, brought misery upon my family, and am sure there is no pardon in the Heaven for me, since man condemns me so…

Tonight I will once more try the river with the intent to cross.  Thought I have a greater desire and almost a mind to return to Washington, and in a measure clear my name — which I feel I can do.  I do not repent the blow I struck.  I may before my God, but not to man.  I think I have done well.  Though I am abandoned, with the curse of Cain upon me, when, if the world knew my heart, that one blow would have made me great, though I did desire no greatness.  Tonight I try to escape these bloodhounds once more.  Who, who can read his fate?  God’s will be done.  I have too great a soul to die like a criminal…”


"O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!" — William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Cornered in a barn on Pat Garrett’s tobacco farm in Port Royal, Virginia, John Wilkes Booth refused to surrender to the Union troops who had been hunting him for twelve days, even after the soldiers set fire to the barn and Booth’s co-conspirator, David Herold, gave himself up.  Limping around in the burning barn, a bullet fired by a Union soldier sliced through Booth’s neck, paralyzing the assassin.  Soldiers dragged him from the barn, but the wound was mortal.  In the moments before he died, Booth asked to see his own hands because the bullet through his spinal cord had robbed him of the ability to move on his own.  When a soldier lifted Booth’s hands to his face, the 26-year-old actor who killed Abraham Lincoln mumbled his final words: “Useless!  Useless!”

Throughout the United States, most Americans are not too far away from something named after Abraham Lincoln.  The 16th President’s leadership through the Civil War and his sudden assassination just days after Appomattox resulted in tributes big and small which have not dissipated with time.  There are schools and streets, cities and counties, parks, hospitals, colleges, and pretty much anything imaginable that have been named in honor of Lincoln since his death in 1865.

One town, however, must have seen the promise in Abraham Lincoln before the nation as a whole came to love, honor, and iconize him.  While building a railroad through Logan County, Illinois, planners laid out a town to be used as a passenger depot and watering point for the steam trains of the day.  As the new town rose from the Illinois prairie, a gangly lawyer from Springfield who had served one two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives five years earlier was asked to help with legal questions that might come up as the town was built.

As the new town — which would also become the county seat — prepared to sell residential lots, the Sheriff of Logan County named it Lincoln, Illinois, after the friendly lawyer who had helped get the place built.  While things named after Abraham Lincoln became commonplace following his Presidency, the small town in Illinois was christened with his name on August 27, 1853 — five years before the Lincoln/Douglas Debates, seven years before his Presidential election, and nearly a dozen years before his assassination.  Four years earlier, he had returned to Illinois after a brief, two-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives and a further political career was no sure thing for Lincoln, so having a town named after him at that point in his life was an odd tribute by the town’s planners that just so happened to pay off in the future.

By the way, Lincoln himself christened the town with his name on that day in August 1853, along with his 10-year-old son, Robert Todd Lincoln.  The christening ceremony was an odd one:  Lincoln purchased two watermelons from a local merchant, squeezed some watermelon juice into a tin cup, and then poured the juice on the ground in some sort of baptismal gesture.  Then Lincoln, his son, and a handful of the town planners in attendance (some say there were just three men there besides the Lincolns) shared a snack of watermelon.  Today, a statue of a watermelon marks the spot in Lincoln, Illinois where the man who would one day save the Union christened a town prematurely named after him with watermelon juice.

April 24, 1865, Union Square, New York City, New York.

As a funeral cortege carries the body of slain President Abraham Lincoln through the streets of New York City, the small heads of two young boys are visible as they watch the procession from the second-story window of their grandfather’s home.

Forty years later, one of those boys would think back to that day as he wore a ring which contained a lock of Lincoln’s hair, placed his hand in the air and said, “I, Theodore Roosevelt, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The other little boy was Theodore’s younger brother, Elliott, the father of future First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

And you wonder why I find this stuff so fascinating.

I declare to you…that for personal considerations I would rather have a full term in the Senate — a place in which I would feel more consciously able to discharge the duties required, and where there is more chance to make a reputation, and less danger of losing it — than four years of the Presidency.

Abraham Lincoln, October 25, 1860, to a visitor shortly before his election, according to John G. Nicolay

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Which performance in a movie do you think captured any President the best?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The easy answer is Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.  I’ve been studying Lincoln all my life and before I sat in the theater and watched that movie, that’s how I imagined Lincoln spoke and moved and acted.  It was amazing.  (And after Lincoln sat in this theatre, he decided not to go to any more plays.)

Another one is Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon.  Now, Langella isn’t impersonating Nixon in there.  He’s not really trying to do an impression of Nixon like Anthony Hopkins did in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (another performance I really enjoyed for different reasons).  But Langella got inside Nixon in a way that was just remarkable.  There’s a scene at the end of the film where Michael Sheen’s David Frost character visits Nixon to say good-bye after they filmed the interviews.  Nixon tells Frost, “You were a worthy opponent,” because Nixon looked at everything in life like a battle.  

Then Frost gives Nixon a pair of fancy shoes that Nixon had noticed Frost wearing in their first meeting.  Nixon is touched and the humanity that Langella gives Nixon is just incredible.  Then he talks to Frost privately and asks him if he enjoys all the parties that Frost goes to, and Frost is like, “Yeah, of course”.  And Langella/Nixon looks at him and says, “You got no idea how fortunate that makes you.  You know?  Liking people, and being liked…It kind of makes you wonder why I chose a life that hinged on being liked.”  At the end, as Nixon is all alone, and looking at the shoes that Frost gave him, and looking out at the ocean, the look on Langella’s face (as Nixon) just breaks my heart.  I’m not even a big Nixon fan, but that’s a hell of a performance.   


Abraham Lincoln was an inveterate animal-lover throughout his life.  He always doted on pets and despised activities such as hunting and fishing.  There are many anecdotes passed down through the years which explain his affinity for animals such as the time he helped find homes for stray kittens that he found wandering around the ruins while visiting conquered Richmond, Virginia a few days after the end of the Civil War, or the time he “pardoned” a turkey that was destined for the Thanksgiving dinner table in 1863.

Perhaps no other animal touched Lincoln as deeply as his beloved dog, Fido, though.  Lincoln’s name for the golden retriever that he obtained in 1855 was derived from the Latin term “Fidelitas”, which is loosely translated as “faithful”.  The Lincoln family gave Fido the run of their house in Springfield, Illinois, allowed him to sleep on couches, fed him from the dinner table, and considered him a part of their family.

When Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he worried about bringing Fido to Washington.  Fido didn’t like loud noises such as cannon fire or trains, and the President-elect would be traveling from Illinois to Washington by train and greeted in every town along the way by celebratory cannon fire.  With a heavy heart, the distraught Lincoln decided that Fido was better off staying in Springfield as he didn’t feel that his loyal dog could survive the long train ride to the capital.  Lincoln entrusted Fido to neighbors but insisted that Fido be allowed to roam around his new home at will, eat from the dinner table, and be given lenience if he were to misbehave or make a mess.  The President-elect even gave a horsehair sofa to his neighbors because it was Fido’s favorite place to sleep.

Lincoln was devastated at his separation from Fido and shortly before leaving Springfield for the last time, the President-elect took his dog to a photo studio so that Fido could sit for pictures and Lincoln could have a remembrance of his beloved golden retriever.  While working in his White House office during the Civil War, Lincoln’s photo of Fido was never too far away.

When President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 and his body was returned to Springfield for burial, Fido greeted mourners at the home that the Lincolns formerly lived in.  Sadly, Fido’s life ended just a year after Abraham Lincoln died and in fairly similar circumstances.  In 1866, Fido met the same fate as his master when he was senselessly attacked by a drunken man with knife in Springfield.  Like his master, Fido was assassinated.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
was lincoln dying before he was shot because I saw these to portraits of him between a few months and looked much older
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

There are historians and doctors who have studied Lincoln’s medical history that believe that Lincoln was dying of heart disease at the time of his assassination.  One doctor in particular from the USC School of Medicine wrote a paper in the 1970’s that claimed Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome and that it was leading to fatal heart disease.

It’s impossible to say for sure.  There is no conclusive medical evidence that proves anything one way or the other.  Lincoln definitely aged noticeably from 1861 to 1865, but most of our Presidents age noticeably during their time in office because of the job’s difficulties.  It’s especially noticeable in modern Presidents and they didn’t have to deal with anything close to Lincoln’s burdens — a country torn apart and engulfed in a bloody Civil War.  Lincoln didn’t sleep well and the Presidency clearly took a toll on his health as it would have to anybody in his position at that time.

Would he have survived his term if he hadn’t been assassinated?  It’s just impossible to say.  His second term had just started a month before he was killed, so he had almost a full four years to go.  Had he lived, his second term would have ended in 1869.  Lincoln wasn’t that old when he died — he was only 56 years old.  Only three Presidents in history died at a younger age than Lincoln — Kennedy (46), Garfield (49), and Polk (53) — and two of them were assassinated.  Even if Lincoln was suffering from heart disease, we can’t even guess about what stage it was in and how long he could have survived.  Although the war was ending when he was shot, there was still a tough road ahead for Lincoln and the country if he had survived.  We simply don’t have enough information to make anything more than a guess about Lincoln’s health.

"The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one." — Abraham Lincoln, speech at the Baltimore Sanitary Fair, April 18, 1864