Who was John Wilkes Booth?

civilwartalk

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#1
john-wilkes-booth.png

John Wilkes Booth was born on May 10th, 1838, twenty-five miles outside of Baltimore, Maryland. His father was the well-known British actor Junius Brutus Booth, considered the best dramatic stage actors of the mid 19th century. He was also mentally unstable and an alcoholic.

Three of Junius’ sons followed in their father’s thespian footsteps. The best known was Edwin Booth who earned critical acclaim for his 100 performance Broadway run of Hamlet in 1864. John Wilkes has also received praise for his portrayal of Marc Antony in a benefit performance of Julius Caesar at The Winter Garden in New York. Dashing and handsome, John was as theatrical and dramatic offstage as he was onstage. He worked consistently between 1862 and 1864, earning as much as $20,000 a year – the equivalent of about $350,000 in today’s currency. The only flaw, as it were, was his height – Booth was only 5’8” – but some historians describe him as the Brad Pitt of his day.

The point being, this was not an anonymous struggling actor; John Wilkes Booth was famous, rich, and talented. He was in love with a 16 year-old Boston girl named Isabel Sumner. He dreamt of a life with her. But all that was shoved aside by his despair over the destruction of the south and blamed the country’s political woes on abolitionists. Ironically, the other Booth brothers supported Lincoln and voted for him. John Wilkes stood apart and in his mind, was a loyal southerner who viewed Lincoln as
a despot.

Booth’s interest in politics has begun as a young man. In the 1850s he joined the Know-Nothing Party which wanted to limit the number of immigrants coming into the United States. He was also deeply supportive of slavery and was a member of a group that helped capture John Brown and attended his execution.

In an 1864 letter, Booth wrote, “To whom it may concern: this country was formed for the white not for the black man…I, for one, have ever considered it one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation.”

It’s believed that Booth used his celebrity as an actor to work as a Confederate spy during the war, carrying quinine to troops in the south to prevent malaria. He told his sister: “I have only an arm to give. My brains are worth twenty men, my money worth a hundred. I have free pass everywhere, my profession, my name, is my passport.”

As his political dedication grew, his interest in acting waned. He began drinking and plotting with others. One plan was to kidnap Lincoln and hold him as a ransom to free all Confederate prisoners of war. But that plan fell through. After the fall of Richmond, Booth was committed to an even greater act of defiance. On April 9, 1865, the end of the war may have been within sight, but Booth was unwilling to swallow defeat.

According to Booth’s associate Louis Weichmann, both he and Booth attended the President’s speech on April 11 during which he suggested that blacks should be voting citizens. “Upon this,” Weichmann recalled, “Booth turned to the two of us and said, That means n****r citizenship. Now by God I’ll put him through!”

On the evening of April 14, Good Friday, Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.

booth-assassination-of-lincoln.jpg

After a dramatic leap to the stage, breaking his leg, Booth escaped and eluded authorities for 12 days. During that time he kept abreast of the news and was genuinely surprised that Lincoln had become a martyr in death. He had truly believed that by killing Lincoln, somehow the south could be saved. Instead, the assassination cemented the outcome.

In his diary, he wrote: “I shouted Sic semper before I fired. In jumping broke my leg…Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was. This forced Union is not what I have loved. I care not what becomes of me. I have no desire to outlive my country.” He didn’t.

Booth was shot and killed after being cornered in a barn on April 26, 1865.
 

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FourLeafClover

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#3
There is a faint UK connection here. Junius Brutus Booth left London in 1821. His brother Algernon stayed behind in England. Not best pleased by his brothers actions. He assisted with support for Junius's abandoned wife and infant son.
His own descendant Tony Booth (also actor). Was the father of Cherie Booth. Who we know better as wife of ex- Prime Minister Tony Blair.
 
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#4
Junius Booth had threatened to assassinate Andrew Jackson back in 1835 (in a written letter to Old Hickory.) What a family history. (Sorta reminds you of Mel Gibson and his dad...except I don't think either of them has killed anyone yet.)
 

DanF

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#5
Junius Booth had threatened to assassinate Andrew Jackson back in 1835 (in a written letter to Old Hickory.) What a family history. (Sorta reminds you of Mel Gibson and his dad...except I don't think either of them has killed anyone yet.)

He mut not have ever come near Jackson after that. Old Hickory probably would have shot him on sight.
 

kholland

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#6
The only flaw, as it were, was his height – Booth was only 5’8” – but some historians describe him as the Brad Pitt of his day.
Now Mike, I am not defending John Wilkes Booth at all as I think he was any number of things, and none of them are nice. But according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average height for an adult male in the United States at present is:
  • 69.2 inches, or
  • 5 feet 9.2 inches
And the average height of a Civil War era man was between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 10 inches. So at 5 feet 8 inches he was pretty average for his day.
 

unionblue

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#7
Now Mike, I am not defending John Wilkes Booth at all as I think he was any number of things, and none of them are nice. But according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average height for an adult male in the United States at present is:
  • 69.2 inches, or
  • 5 feet 9.2 inches
And the average height of a Civil War era man was between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 10 inches. So at 5 feet 8 inches he was pretty average for his day.

Kholland,

You know how that is.

EVERY actor on the stage looks bigger than they do in person. :smile:

Unionblue
 
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#8
Junius Booth had threatened to assassinate Andrew Jackson back in 1835 (in a written letter to Old Hickory.) What a family history. (Sorta reminds you of Mel Gibson and his dad...except I don't think either of them has killed anyone yet.)
Honestly didn't know that. Good thing Edwin Booth saved Robert Lincoln's life then; it helps to slightly redeem his family's peculiar presidential history.
 

Rosser

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#9
"As his political dedication grew, his interest in acting waned. He began drinking and plotting with others."
What others? Could they be Radical Republicans?
 

Waterloo50

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#10
F
There is a faint UK connection here. Junius Brutus Booth left London in 1821. His brother Algernon stayed behind in England. Not best pleased by his brothers actions. He assisted with support for Junius's abandoned wife and infant son.
His own descendant Tony Booth (also actor). Was the father of Cherie Booth. Who we know better as wife of ex- Prime Minister Tony Blair.
fascinating, I didn't know any of the above, I enjoyed watching Tony Booth in the famous British sitcom 'In sickness and in Health'. He used to play a left wing type of character, Alf Garnet was Tony Booth's make believe 'Right Wing' father in-law, us Brits knew Tony Booth by his comedy name, 'The Scouse Git'
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT1Yo8JL0q3KHOZ5i_k7R_0U-7Llj4UEPEfx6s1XStif9_wxZ7J.jpg
 



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