July 1865 The Civil War


Three months after Lincoln’s murder, The Atlantic seeks to make sense of it.

Whether Booth was the agent of a band of conspirators, or was one of a few vile men who sought an odious immortality, it is impossible to say. We have the authority of a high Government official for the statement that “the President’s murder was organized in Canada and approved at Richmond”; but the evidence in support of this extraordinary announcement is, doubtless for the best of reasons, withheld at the time we write. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that the assassination plot was formed in Canada, as some of the vilest miscreants of the Secession side have been allowed to live in that country … But it is not probable that British subjects had anything to do with any conspiracy of this kind. The Canadian error was in allowing the scum of Secession to abuse the “right of hospitality” through the pursuit of hostile action against us from the territory of a neutral …

That a plan to murder President Lincoln should have been approved at Richmond is nothing strange; and though such approval would have been supremely foolish, what but supreme folly is the chief characteristic of the whole Southern movement? If the seal of Richmond’s approval was placed on a plan formed in Canada, something more than the murder of Mr. Lincoln was intended. It must have been meant to kill every man who could legally take his place, either as President or as President pro tempore. The only persons who had any title to step into the Presidency on Mr. Lincoln’s death were Mr. Johnson, who became President on the 15th of April, and Mr. Foster, one of the Connecticut Senators, who is President of the Senate … It does not appear that any attempt was made on the life of Mr. Foster, though Mr. Johnson was on the list of those doomed by the assassins; and the savage attack made on Mr. Seward shows what those assassins were capable of. But had all the members of the Administration been struck down at the same time, it is not at all probable that “anarchy” would have been the effect, though to produce that must have been the object aimed at by the conspirators. Anarchy is not so easily brought about as persons of an anarchical turn of mind suppose. The training we have gone through since the close of 1860 has fitted us to bear many rude assaults on order without our becoming disorderly. Our conviction is, that, if every man who held high office at Washington had been killed on the 14th of April, things would have gone pretty much as we have seen them go, and that thus the American people would have vindicated their right to be considered a self-governing race. It would not be a very flattering thought, that the peace of the country is at the command of any dozen of hardened ruffians who should have the capacity to form an assassination plot, the discretion to keep silent respecting their purpose, and the boldness and the skill requisite to carry it out to its most minute details: for the neglect of one of those details might be fatal to the whole project. Society does not exist in such peril as that.

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