The known conspirators involved in the assassination of President Lincoln are a matter of record. Yet there has always been the suspicion among some historians that the plot ran deeper than what was revealed in the military tribunals held after Lincoln’s death. How far did the Booth Conspiracy extend and who else were involved?
In part I, we looked at some of the evidence that others may have been involved in the assassination conspiracy. But there is one important witness whose testimony has not been heard from; that is the widow of the President herself—Mary Todd Lincoln.
Mary Todd Lincoln was actually the first to speak out about those she believed were involved in a wider plot regarding her husband’s murder. Despite, or perhaps because, of her accusations, those she accused never fell under official suspicion.
When an uninformed layman hears how Booth snuck into the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, the first thing that comes to mind is: why were there no guards present at the door to the box to guard the President? Well, there was indeed a guard assigned to protect the President–but he was mysteriously absent from his post at the time of the assasination.
Officer John Parker of the DC Police, was supposed to be on duty that night at Ford’s Theater, guarding the entrance to the balcony. Supposedly, Parker had gone next door to the Star Saloon during intermission for some liquid refreshment; it is suspected he never returned from the bar to his post at the door to the box seat. By a strange coincidence, however, another man who was also in the saloon did go next door to Ford’s–John Wilkes Booth. Did the two men collude? What is known is that when Booth crept up there, the entranceway was unguarded and Booth easily obtained entry to the box seat.
Officials hauled in hundreds for questioning on the slightest hint of involvement in the Booth Plot–yet the negligent bodyguard got off scot-free. But Mary, never one to hold her tongue, spoke out and accused him of complicity to his face. Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, recalled the following confrontation between the president’s widow and Parker: “So you are on guard tonight,” Mrs. Lincoln yelled, “on guard in the White House after helping to murder the President!…..I shall always believe that you are guilty.”
Mary’s accusing finger also pointed to someone higher up in the administration; none other than Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Johnson was an odious character to start with, a man prone to public drunkenness and crude in his behavior. Lincoln apparently chose him as a running mate for political reasons; he was a Southern loyalist, had been Military Governor of Tennessee and even late in the war Lincoln had hopes of luring many Southerners back into the Union fold.
Mary was blunt about it: “that, that miserable inebriate Johnson had cognizance of my husband’s death. Why was that card of Booth’s found in his box–some acquaintance certainly existed. I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought that he had an understanding with the conspirators and they knew their man….As sure as you and I live, Johnson had some hand in all this.” –Mary Todd Lincoln, March 15, 1866.
In fact, when Johnson was Military Governor of Tennessee, John Wilkes Booth played Nashville and performed in a Wood’s Theater there. During his stay Booth made the acquaintance of Johnson. More than that, Booth cultivated his friendship. It is known that besides carousing in the bars there, they shared the physical intimacy of two women, sisters, who were known to be of “loose virtue.” Booth was considered quite handsome and had any number of women chasing after him; it is likely that Booth procured the services of one or more for Johnson. Yet this connection of Johnson’s with Lincoln’s assassin was never properly investigated by the military tribunal that investigated the conspiracy.
Modern Historians have tended to accept the judgment of the Washington establishment of the day that Mary Todd Lincoln was “hysterical” and later that she was “crazy.” She was hated by the Southern sympathizers in Washington (there were many) as a traitor to the South; and by northerners she was equally disliked because most of her family had sided with the Confederacy. Mary was cultured and well-educated–more so than most of the male politicians of the day–and worse still, she was not afraid to speak her mind, something that women simply didn’t do in those days. It very well may be that Mary Todd Lincoln had a better handle on who was behind her husband’s murder than all the “experts” did.
For more about the Booth conspirators and their post mortem existence, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for the events leading up to the assassination also see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.