On this day in 1865, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was assassinated by well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth while attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
Shot in back of the head with Booth’s derringer as he watched the play, Lincoln passed the following morning at 7:22 a.m., in the Petersen House opposite the theater. He was the first American president to be assassinated and the subsequent funeral and burial marked a deep and extended period of national mourning, altering the course of American history.
Occurring near the end of all Civil War hostilities and five days after Gen. Lee’s official surrender, the assassination was part of a larger conspiracy intended by Booth to revive the Confederate cause by eliminating the three most important officials of the United States government. Conspirators Lewis Powell and David Herold were assigned to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, and George Atzerodt was tasked with killing Vice President Andrew Johnson.
Beyond Lincoln’s death the plot failed; Seward was only wounded and Johnson’s would-be attacker lost his nerve. After a dramatic initial escape, Booth himself was killed at the climax of a 12-day manhunt, and several other conspirators were later hanged.
Succeeding the beloved Lincoln, who’d been seen by many as the very savior of the Nation, Andrew Johnson became the 17th President. An erratic and imperious Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, Johnson favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to the former slaves, he opposed the 14th Amendment and African American citizenship.
Isolated and ever angry, Johnson came into heated conflict with his own cabinet and the Republican-dominated Congress, finally culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. He was acquitted in the Senate by one vote, and for his piss-poor leadership, craven conduct and disruption of the delicate dawn of Reconstruction, he is regarded by most historians as the worst president in American history up to January 20, 2017.