Forgot your password?

New Insights Emerge - Why John Wilkes Booth Killed President Abraham Lincoln

By Edited Jun 2, 2015 4 7

The Conspiracy

President Abraham Lincoln(165925)

What motivates men is passion and fear.   Love stirs young men to desperate acts.   American textbooks dribble facts, but often omit the emotions behind the behavior of those it documents.  John Wilkes Booth killed President Lincoln not for love of the Confederacy, but for love of a woman. Who?  There is an untold story and connection between the Booth family and the Lincoln family.

Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln
Robert Todd Lincoln, the first son of President Lincoln, was born in Springfield, IL and attended the prep school Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH.  While attending the private school as a teenager, Robert took a fancy to Lucy Hale of Dover, NH.  Lucy was an energetic, flirtatious, young girl with blue eyes and a quirky smile.  She was a “local cutie-pie” as described in a note to his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln.  Yes, as her first child, Robert was special to Mrs. Lincoln and she insisted his middle name be Todd, her maiden name.

There is a local park at Stratham Hill near Exeter, NH that recognizes Robert’s time in NH.   Located on a windy path about ½ way up the small hill is a granite boulder with a bronze plate attached to it. The plate notes “Robert T. Lincoln – A student of Phillips Exeter Academy, son of Abraham Lincoln, read the Declaration of Independence on this rock, July 4, 1860”. It appears Robert was proud of his father’s accomplishments and appreciated the free spirited society he lived in.  I sat on the boulder several years ago while in the region. Few trees obstructed my view from the rocks perch as I soaked the sun.  I glanced across the horizon towards the ocean and wondered if Robert’s butt was as sore as mine from learning against the rock for ½ an hour.

Lincoln Boulder on Stratham Hill
Robert Lincoln Bronze Marker

Another note - Robert knew Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, as it is well documented that Edwin had assisted Robert once when Robert slipped and fell at a new Jersey rail road station two years prior to the President’s assassination.  Following the assassination, an observer of the event in New Jersey had mentioned that he thought it unusual that Robert thanked Edwin as though he knew him personally. Later in life, Robert confirmed to a local magazine that he indeed knew Edwin prior to the incident as Edwin was a famous actor at the time and he once saw him perform.

Lucy Hale

Lucy Hale
Lucy, the daughter of U.S. Senator John Hale, was born in 1841 in Dover, NH.  John Hale had a lengthy history in politics.  He served in a variety of political posts in NH and later served nationally as a U.S. Senator during Lincoln’s administration.  Lucy was an outgoing person and socialite when the family moved to D.C. during her father’s political tenure.  As part of the social scene of the time, she often attended local theater productions to be seen with the “in” crowd. 

One night she noticed a group clustered around an individual who appeared to have a gift for gathering attention.  The center of attention was an actor named John Booth.  Lucy, thirsty for attention and anxious to be noticed in society, asked one of her father’s friends to introduce her to Mr. Booth.  Enjoying the limelight, Lucy Hale was later engaged to John Wilkes Booth and was John’s fiancée at the time of Lincoln’s assassination.  A photo of Lucy was found on John Wilkes Booth when Federal troops searched his body after being shot in Virginia following the assassination. Yes, the same Lucy Hale who was the fiancee of John Wilkes Booth, the person who assassinated President Lincoln in April 1865, had previously dated a horny teenager named Robert Todd Lincoln while Robert attended prep school in NH.  And the plot thickens.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth
John Booth was born in Maryland in 1838 and had an older brother, Edwin, who also followed in the family tradition of performing on the stage.  John’s father, Junius Brutus Booth, was a British actor and his mother, Mary Holmes, his father’s mistress.  John grew up with infidelity a common household trait.  His father’s wife, Adelaide Booth, filed for divorce in the mid 1850’s.  John left school at the age of 14 when his father passed away and resented the academic elite and the regimental structure of school.

John met Lucy Hale while performing in D.C.  The attention he drew from theater goers after the show, also drew Lucy’s attention as she was a small town girl looking to be seen in society.  Lucy was a Paris Hilton of the time.  John became smitten with Lucy and they were engaged shortly after meeting.  Some would say “the actor was played by a better performer” and several historians infer her gift of performance was provided horizontally.   Lucy was a flirt and, as you might guess, Lucy was a bit of an opportunist.

Their relationship was dismissed by Lucy's father as he continued his political pursuits.  As Charlie Sheen would say, this girl had "Daddy issues" and wanted attention.

The Assassination

The night of the assassination, Robert Lincoln turned down an invitation to go with his mother to Ford’s Theater mentioning he was “fatigued” from riding in a wagon from the battlefront.  What most don’t realize is, while Robert was commissioned in the Army in February 1865 and assigned to duty with Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, he never saw combat as the Harvard University student labored on paperwork and documents for the General.  Others at the White House believed Robert’s fatigue that day to be from spending time with Lucy Hale the prior night while she was in D.C. visiting her father and other mutual acquaintances.

John Wilkes Booth, having found out about Lucy’s affair, was humiliated.  That afternoon, John heard the Lincoln’s would be attending a show at Ford’s Theater that evening.  He devised a plan for his revenge.  As he cracked open the door to the balcony intending to shoot Robert, he was stunned Robert wasn’t there.  In a panic and enraged, John took his anger out on Robert by assassinating his father, President Lincoln. 



Mar 19, 2014 7:19am
A fascinating hypothesis and well written (except for the excessive use of bold typeface in incongruent places; a bit distracting).

It does not mention, however, the fact that JWB was already pro-South and pro-slavery--he was a member of the volunteer militia who went to Harpers Ferry to put down John Brown's slave rebellion. And he violently HATED Pres. Lincoln.

But I'd you may be right on the jealousy angle as a subset of why he did it (though killing a rival's dad rather than the rival doesn't make a lot of sense, it would be along the lines of "Yeah, I hate your politics, and also your son stole my woman!").

I loved this article, and it does provoke one to think about motivations behind behaviors. Some of history's niggest moments have been brought about by such picayune human emotions. Maybe Booth really DIDN'T shoot Lincoln over some loftier ideal--he very well MAY have done it for reasons you suggest. Hmmmm . . . BIG thumb's up for putting this out there (and also +1'd, pin'd, and tweeted!)
Mar 19, 2014 10:32am
Hi Vic,

Glad you enjoyed it
I agree there were many factors that influenced John’s behavior. I do wonder, though, if the relationship twist between Lucy/Robert may have contributed to John’s emotions erupting (or possibly had been the emotional tipping for John knowing Robert Lincoln was in touch with his fiancé Lucy Hale).

Those reporting news during that period would have focused more on National events tied to Booth and less on personal issues in Booth’s life. The thought of mentioning Robert Lincoln’s tie to Lucy Hale would have been struck by any newspaper Editor during that time period and would have been viewed as merely a young man’s indiscretion. Back then was certainly a different culture than that of today’s event reporting.

Thanks for your feedback and for sharing the article with others. (much appreciated)

Mar 19, 2014 10:44am
Things like this--motivations--are very complex and your piece probably added yet another facet (a "tipping" point for Booth) that's why I thought this was such a good piece. Again, good job!!
Mar 21, 2014 4:42am
Strong feelings are always behind terrible things. Those feelings might be of LOVE, HATE or any other feeling.
Mar 21, 2014 2:45pm
@searchub -

I agree. Love/Hate... Passion/Fear... all powerful motivators - for good and evil behavior.

Hard to tell what emotional impact Lucy added to John Booth's behavior that night, but her prior relationship with Robert Lincoln certainly wasn't in our US History books in high school.

Thanks for your comment and for sharing the article with others.

Mar 22, 2014 12:32pm
I enjoyed reading your article. This is an interesting angle on Lincoln's assassination. Thumbs Up!
Mar 24, 2014 4:39pm
Nice post - I can certainly understand that angle.
Add a new comment - No HTML
You must be logged in and verified to post a comment. Please log in or sign up to comment.

Explore InfoBarrel

Auto Business & Money Entertainment Environment Health History Home & Garden InfoBarrel University Lifestyle Sports Technology Travel & Places
© Copyright 2008 - 2016 by Hinzie Media Inc. Terms of Service Privacy Policy XML Sitemap

Follow IB History