Chasing Lincoln’s Killer describes a successful conspiracy to kill the president, but it also shows that important historical events are often the result of unpredictable circumstances and luck. For example, John Wilkes Booth could have harmed Lincoln on two other occasions. During the President’s inauguration speech, if Booth had taken the opportunity presented to him by chance, he easily could have shot the president from the crowd. And a year earlier, Booth planned with a group of conspirators to kidnap the president to try to change the course of the war. Yet this carefully hatched plan came to nothing, demonstrating that it is important not only to plan, but also to take opportunities as they present themselves.
In the end, Booth was able to carry out his dream to assassinate the president and impact the country’s future as the result of an unexpected stroke of luck. It was only because Booth unexpectedly discovered that Lincoln would be watching a play at Ford’s Theater that he could carry out a plan to assassinate the president. He was then able to use his knowledge of the theater and his trusted position as a well-known actor among the theater’s staff to gain the access he needed to quickly plan an assassination for that very night. His co-conspirators, on the other hand, who were tasked with killing other important figures in the government, did not have a lucky circumstance fall into their lap, and they all failed in carrying out their murderous missions.
Booth was not the only one to assume that a conspiracy would be necessary to achieve a great crime like the murder of the president. When they learned about the assassination of Lincoln and the attack on Secretary of State Seward, the authorities in Washington assumed that these acts were part of a conspiracy directed by the Confederate authorities. While they were right that Booth had planned his actions and directed a group of his followers, the assassination was not part of a larger conspiracy planned by the leadership of the Confederacy.
As both Booth and the Union authorities were to learn, however, events that change the course of history are not necessarily the result of carefully hatched schemes, but can come about as a result of planning, chance, or both.
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected ThemeTracker
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Quotes in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
All Atzerodt had to do was knock on his door and the moment Johnson opened it, plunge the knife into his chest or shoot him dead. Compared with the challenges that faced Booth and Powell, Atzerodt had the easiest job of all. But that night, Johnson escaped death. Atzerodt could not do it. He drank in the hotel lobby, and the more he drank, the worse the plan sounded. He did not knock on Andrew Johnson's door. He left the bar and walked out. Abandoning his mission, Atzerodt got on his horse and rode away. He wasn't sure what to do next.
Within a few minutes of the assassination, the news began spreading, first by word of mouth from Ford's, then by messenger. It traveled no faster than a man could run on foot or ride on horseback. Between 10:30 and 11:00 P.M., more than fifteen hundred people spilled out from the theater onto the streets. They fanned out in all directions, like an unpaid army of newsboys shouting, "Extra!"
Traveling light had served him well in the first part of his escape, but left him unprepared for this unanticipated phase of his journey. He left Washington wearing the equivalent of a modern-day business suit, unsuitable for camping out. Without a change of clothing, his garments quickly became dirty, ruining a key element of Booth's trademark, winning style—his beautifully dressed, well-groomed appearance. He and Herold could not bathe or wash clothes and, unshaven, they looked and smelled worse each day. They looked like the fugitives they were. Their looks might even jeopardize their ability to receive a proper reception at the fine Virginia households they planned to call on across the river.
While Booth and Herold tarried, the government pursued them with new energy. The evidence gathered at Mudd’s farm, plus alleged sightings of the fugitives southwest of his farm, suggested that the assassins were making for Virginia. They knew Booth was lame, on crutches. They knew he had shaven off his mustache. Horse-mounted couriers and telegraph wires were alive all day with instructions to troops to enlist the help of fishermen and others on the river to capture the fugitives.