The Lincoln Assassination: Crime and Punishment, Myth and Memory

By Harold Holzer; Craig L. Symonds et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

The Martyr and the Myth
The Lincoln Nobody Knows

Richard Nelson Current

[Editors' note: This chapter is reprinted, with the kind permis- sion of the author, from his 1958 classic, The Lincoln Nobody Knows.]

ON JULY 3, 1881, HAVING LIVED SOMEWHAT BEYOND HIS ALLOTted threescore years and ten, Abraham Lincoln died quietly in his sleep, after a brief illness, at his home in Springfield, Illinois.

The previous day, in Washington, an assassin had shot President James A. Garfield. This news continued to fill the headlines. The report from Illinois was not neglected, however; obituaries of Lincoln were carried in all the papers. While editors wondered about the prospects for Garfield and the nation—whether he would live or die, and what would be the consequences of his death—they also recalled the past and speculated upon one of the might-have-beens of history. Suppose the bullet from Booth's gun had reached Lincoln that April evening in 1865.…

Then Andrew Johnson would have become president. Johnson in 1865 had the reputation of a Radical, yet he was a Southerner

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