The death of Abraham Lincoln & the history of political assassinations in the United States

Shown in the presidential booth of Ford's Theatre, from left to right, are assassin John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Clara Harris, and Henry Rathbone

On April 15, 1865, 155 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was killed while attending a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., with his wife Mary. The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of the most memorable cases of political assassination in the United States to date besides, of course, the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In the History of the United States, four of 45 American presidents have been killed while serving. There are also 12 failed assassination attempts. The four were Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. All American presidents after World War II had experienced assassination attempts except Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gerald Ford.

The escort system has also changed due to the cases above. Before the Assassination of William McKinley in 1901, presidential security was not handed over to the Secret Service. After the Kennedy assassination, the president was not allowed to ride in an open-topped car, and the number of the Secret Service members jumped from 179 personnel to 6,500.

The reasons for the presidents being killed or undergoing assassination attempts vary greatly. However, there were important events that occurred during the murder.

Lincoln was shot just weeks before the American Civil War ended, which marked the dissolution of Confederate forces representing southern states supporting slavery. Lincoln was on the Union side, the northern states wanting to abolish slavery.

The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln (Alonzo Chappel)

President Garfield had not yet been able to issue a controversial policy when he ruled for six months. However, several important policies took places, such as post office reform and the expansion of the post-Civil War democratic vision by appointing a number of black people as public officials.

Meanwhile, McKinley was killed several years after the US went through an economic recession. Under his rule, the US annexed Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

Kennedy, reigned between 1960-1963, was killed a year after the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the first incident, the Kennedy administration sent militias of Cubans in exile to overthrow Fidel Castro. In the second event, the US reacted to the Soviet Union's planned missile installation in Cuba. In 1961, the US officially entered the Vietnam War after France withdrew from its former colony.

Lincoln's killer was John Wilkes Booth, a famous Maryland-born actor. The Booths were divided between the pros and the cons of slavery as were many families in the South. Ahead of the Civil War, Booth expressed his support for the Confederacy.

When the bloody incident occurred, the Confederacy had not dispersed, and several of its troops still carried out guerilla raid in the South.

Appomattox Courthouse, site of "The Surrender" (Timothy H. O'Sullivan)

Booth was not alone. He liaised with other Confederate supporters who were caught before the action. Lincoln's assassination was designed to revive the remnants of Confederate forces that had been pressed. Booth was hanged nearly two weeks after Lincoln's murder.

After slavery was banned, racism was still a problem in the South. The Confederate flag was still free to be hoisted in public places until 2016 when President Obama banned its raising, following a series of violent acts carried out by white supremacist groups.

Two other presidential killings of Garfield and McKinley were related to the "food business."

Charles J. Guiteau, Garfield's killer, was a young freelance worker. Failing to start a career in law, he wrote a theology book. Guiteau later turned into a paid speechwriter. He wrote a speech in support of Garfield which was passed out during the Republican National Committee meeting.

Guiteau convinced that he was behind Garfield's victory. He felt that he should be awarded the post of ambassador in Vienna or Paris. Two months after Guiteau's requests were rejected, he fired two bullets into Garfield's body. Guiteau was hanged in 1882.

President James A. Garfield with Secretary of State James G. Blaine after being shot by Guiteau (A. Berghaus and C. Upham)

The McKinley's killer was an anarchist. Leon Czolgosz, an immigrant from Poland, was fired from his job due to the Panic of 1893. Five years later, he became acquainted with anarchist readings.

At the turn of the century, anarchists throughout the world were highlighted as security threats in Europe and America. Terror against the head of the state was a daily phenomenon. In 1881, Russian Emperor Alexander II was killed. A bomb was put in his carriage by a Russian anarchist.

In 1900, Italian King Umberto I was shot dead by an anarchist. Czolgosz was reportedly inspired by the murder of Umberto I.

Historian Roger Pickenpaugh said the McKinley assassination marked the first wave of Red Scare in the US. The next Red Scare occurred in 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and throughout the 1950s when people suspected of being affiliated with the Communist Party USA were wanted by the government.

Czolgosz was executed in October 1901.

Czolgosz in jail

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy is the most remembered by the American public and the world to this day. The documentation is fairly complete from photos to videos, something that did not exist in the cases of the assassination of the American presidents before Kennedy.

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 also raised Red Scare in that decade and produced conspiracy theories to this day.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the murderer, was once a registered marine. In 1959, he flew to Moscow to apply for citizenship, one thing that caused him to be suspected as a Soviet agent. In his application, he wrote, "I want citizenship because I am a communist and a worker. I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves."

His application was refused. Oswald attempted suicide and was sent home three years later after working in a factory.

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was killed during his visit to Dallas. Oswald, who was arrested a few hours later, had no time to be executed. He was killed by Jack Ruby, a nightclub businessman who was closed to the underworld.


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