Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

XXIV
ANDREW JOHNSON BECOMES PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

AFTER the Cabinet meeting was over, in the afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln went for a drive. A load seemed to have lifted from the President, peace was at hand. He talked hopefully of their future. "Mary," he said, "we have had a hard time of it since we came to Washington; 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."1

For the evening Mrs. Lincoln had arranged a theatre party to see Laura Keene in "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre. Lincoln was not eager to go but yielded to the wishes of his wife.2 General and Mrs. Grant were to have been in the party, but the General excused himself because of his desire to see his children in New Jersey.3

The Presidential party was late in arriving, but when they appeared the orchestra broke into "Hail the Chief," and the audience rose in their seats, and waving hats and handkerchiefs cheered and cheered again. The actors stood still on the stage. When the outburst of enthusiasm had subsided the play went on.

A little after ten John Wilkes Booth, himself an actor, although not in the play, having first fortified his courage with strong drink, sneaked stealthily into the Presidential box, lifted his Derringer pistol, aimed carefully at the head of the smiling President and fired. The murderer then shook himself from the grasp of Major Rathborne and leaped to the stage. There for one brief moment he stood facing the audience, and brandishing a dagger shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis,"--alas, it was the motto of Virginia!4

The ball had entered Lincoln's brain rendering him at once

-193-

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