Caroline's Reviews > American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies

American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman
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May 11, 11

bookshelves: american-civil-war, american-history, biography
Read on May 11, 2011

I've read quite a few books about Lincoln but almost all of those books (obviously) end with his death, so I've never really known much about John Wilkes Booth. He was an actor; he killed Lincoln in Ford's theatre; he was treated for a broken leg by Dr Mudd; and he was shot dead in a barn. That's pretty much the sum of it. So this book was a real revelation to me, not just about Booth himself but about how many other people were involved in the conspiracy.

I had always assumed Booth was a Southern sympathiser driven to assassinate Lincoln by the defeat of the South in the Civil War. I never knew, for example, that Booth and his fellow plotters planned originally only to capture Lincoln, but once the war ended Booth decided to kill him. I never knew that plans were laid to kill Vice-President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward too. I never knew the number of people Booth drew into his plan, knowing that under the law of the day accomplices to a crime could not testify against one another. Booth deliberately incriminated a great number of mostly innocent people as an insurance policy, including Vice-President Johnson himself.

This is a fascinating read, and the sheer volume of research required to write it is very evident. Unlike the JFK assassination, for example, where the truth has been lost amidst the avalanche of evidence and counter-evidence, plots and conspiracy theories, the truth about who killed Lincoln has never been in doubt. But the details of how and why and who else was involved has been ignored and dismissed over the years, probably because there was so little doubt that the man ultimately responsible was apprehended and killed.
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