Why Was Lincoln Murdered?

By Otto Eisenschiml | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII How the News of the Tragedy Was Handled

STANTON had appropriated the role of distributor of all important Washington news items, and it was therefore his duty to acquaint the country as quickly as possible with the story of Lincoln's death. If the chief assassin were to be caught, it was extremely important that his name and description be instantly flashed as far as the powers of the Washington government extended. With this in mind, it is difficult to understand why the first dispatch of the Secretary of War was not written out until one-thirty A. M., more than three hours after Booth's murderous deed; it actually did not leave Washington until fifteen minutes past two. Stanton had then been at Lincoln's bedside for at least three hours.

The early morning editions of the metropolitan papers and practically all smaller dailies would go to press between two and two-thirty in the morning, and every minute's delay might defer or prevent the printing of the news. The Associated Press, of course, could be expected to supply the information to its members, regardless of Stanton's actions; besides, some of the papers in the large centers of population had their own correspondents in the nation's Capital. The bulk of the daily journals, however, depended on the War Department's official messages for their Washington news. Even those who had independent service probably were apprehensive when they used their special telegrams without official endorsement. Stanton's censorship was strict and merciless, and the printing of so sensational a story as that of Lincoln's assassination, if the report had been proved untrue, would have led unfailingly to a suspension of the guilty paper and the most

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