4 Trivia Questions about the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On the night of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth. On the anniversary of his assassination, honor Lincoln's memory by trying your luck with these trivia questions about the final days of America's 16th president.


What Warnings Were There Regarding Lincoln's Safety? # The assassination of Lincoln at Ford's Theater was the last of a string of attempts by Booth to hurt Lincoln. Photo credit: Cliff/Flickr. There had been some concern that someone would try to hurt Lincoln because less than a week earlier, Robert E. Lee, the general in charge of the Confederate Army, had surrendered at the Appomattox courthouse, effectively ending the Civil War (though there were still Confederate officers and troops fighting on their own). However, there had been no direct threats; the concern was simply a good guess. 

Interestingly, though, Booth had tried earlier in the year to kill Lincoln. Lee's surrender was only one part of an extensive list of reasons why Booth wanted Lincoln dead. So while the fear that someone would try to kill Lincoln was well-founded, it was based on the wrong event. Lincoln had actually been in danger for weeks from Booth, who had previously tried to shoot him during the inauguration. A witness who stopped Booth said it would have been possible for Booth to shoot the president then. Amazingly, Booth wasn't ejected from the inauguration -- he was seen watching it. Note that in the 1860s, the Secret Service was not present as a protective barrier; they didn't start protecting presidents until the early 1900s.

The Story Goes That Booth Wanted to Kill Lincoln, but What Did Booth Really Want to Do? # Booth was a Confederate sympathizer who was incensed at the Union's -- and thus Lincoln's -- treatment of the South. Photo credit: Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office/Flickr. Booth did want Lincoln dead, but he wanted much more than just that one death. He wanted to destroy the Union (and technically the U.S.) government completely as revenge for what they were doing to the South. Booth had a couple of groups of co-conspirators; one group went with him to try to kidnap Lincoln in March of that year; another was assigned to carry out simultaneous murders on April 14. Booth was going to shoot Lincoln; as an actor, Booth knew Ford's Theater well and had acted there before, so it wouldn't have been strange for Booth to show up there. He also knew which line in the play would get peals of laughter from the audience, which he thought would mask the sound of the gun.

Booth's plan was to take out Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and William Seward, the secretary of state. He thought that if he killed the president, and the replacement president (Johnson, he could demoralize and paralyze the Union. Two of Booth's cronies were assigned to kill Johnson and Seward; neither succeeded. In fact, the man who was supposed to kill Johnson chickened out. However, Seward was badly wounded, though he recovered. Booth had hoped to also kill Ulysses S. Grant, who was supposed to go to the theater with the Lincolns. However, Grant canceled.


Why Was Lincoln's Private Box Unguarded? John Frederick Parker, a Washington, D.C., policeman, was assigned to stand guard at the door to the theater box occupied by Lincoln and his party. Not long after the play got under way, Parker abandoned his post for a seat in the first gallery from which vantage point he could actually see the play. When intermission time rolled around, Parker went even farther afield, joining the coachman and footman for Lincoln's carriage in a trip next door to the Star Saloon for some liquid refreshment. With Lincoln's box no longer guarded, Booth had no trouble gaining access to his target.

How Did the Assassination Change the Theater Scene in Washington? Ford's Theater had been a popular venue, but after the assassination, the Secretary of War had to place the theater under constant guard. People were so upset at Lincoln's death that there were threats to destroy the theater itself. The theater was readied for a re-opening, but the populace wasn't having any of that -- there was a strong movement against ever using the theater again. The government bought the building and used it for offices for several years; after a severe structural collapse that killed workers, the building was fixed up and became a warehouse. In the 1960s, however, the building was remodeled again as a theater and began putting on performances. Eventually, the theater was assigned to the National Park Service, and it is now Ford's Theatre National Historic Site. It's also still a working theater.

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