When John Wilkes Booth put a bullet in Abraham Lincoln’s head at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th.1865, he jumped over the balcony rail onto the stage, broke his leg, then stood up, faced the audience, and proclaimed “Sic semper Tyrannis”, or “thus always to tyrants!”
That is also the motto of Virginia, which Booth called home, and which had just been defeated by Lincoln’s Union armies. For those of you who don’t read much, Virginia was the most prominent state of the confederacy that had seceded from the Union in 1860, largely because Lincoln had just been elected president, believing he would carry through with the Republican Party’s platform to end slavery.
But by seceding from the Union the 11 confederate states denied Lincoln the chance to do that, bequeathing him a giant civil war to “preserve the union” instead, costing six million lives.
Slavery was not ended officially until Dec, 1865, by the 13th Amendment, 7 months after Lincoln’s death, although his Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the 11 seceding states in 1863, only Union armies had not entirely secured the territory to actually liberate them. You might call it a gesture.
So, what kind of person is it who goes around calling a man who liberates people a “tyrant”?
What sort of reasoning, or logic is behind it? Educated? Not?
Well, of the little personal history we have of him, we know Booth very much looked down on “colored people”, even the free ones he would have found in Maryland and the District. But as a class or as a race? I don’t know if anyone has actually inquired.
But we do know there is almost an entire class of people in America today who look down on our lower classes in almost the same way as Booth did Negroes. And by far the greater number of them are of the wealthy educated Left. (A prominent few, sadly, also still refer to themselves as “conservatives”…in the process rendering that term almost meaningless.)
What they all share in common is to use demeaning terms to define Donald Trump, including Booth’s “tyrant”, as well as “Hitler”, “Nazi”, as well as a list of non sequiturs to define some personal characteristic of Trump; boorish, braggart, super-model wives, over-the-top flashy, the sort who would attach a Rolls Royce front to his gold cart, a la Rodney Dangerfield, none of which he’s actually done, but would do for it is from his class that such things are done. Trump represents “declasse” writ large, or more succinctly, “not like us”, as what it must look like when a machine operator at a Ford plant wins the lottery.
They never really have to lie about him, they have the media’s gophers do that…there is a widely understood process in how this is done…and it always succeeds because it is done under the understanding that none of these elites, left or right, will ever try to correct the error, and come to this man’s defense, for he must be guilty of something like that.
In size and magnitude, this is relatively new. We have always had our wealthy class, most of whom, believe it or not, were producers of something. True capitalists. Most came from pretty ordinary roots, and if educated, were engineers, not MBA’s in marketing or business, or God forbid, Sociology (most of those run America’s non-profits), but making fun of poor little rich kids goes back to the 19th Century.
Hollywood was decidedly on the side of the common people until only recently.
In truth, Donald was and still is America’s richest small businessman, and it’s true, he didn’t have to cheat on his taxes to succeed. It’s that he has always maintained the common touch that the elites probably hate most about him.
It was probably true as well with the class Booth arose from, for Lincoln also a hick, a small town lawyer-politician from the Midwest who grew up in a log cabin, slow-talker, and finally, worst, ran on a third party ticket and won, destroying the Whigs, the most venerable “conservative” party (anti-Jackson) for over 30 years. Poof, gone with the wind, to coin a phrase.
So, why would the loser of the Civil War refer to Lincoln as a tyrant? Probably the same reason a Dennison snowflake calls Trump “Hitler”…because she’s never read a book about Hitler, so never found a single common thread between the two men.
In all likelihood it was just the sort of thing a young 27-year old Shakespearean actor would say when he didn’t know anything else to say about a person he wanted to hate and couldn’t find a better reason.
John Wilkes Booth was 27, the son of a prominent English acting family who had lived in the United States for 30 years. He and his brother, Edwin, 5 years older, were well known stage actors, Edwin Booth considered the greatest American actor of the century.
Edwin was a Unionist, so John Wilkes became a Secessionist, and possibly on that account alone, for he had no skin in the game of the Southern Cause, no slaves, no ideology that anyone could tell. He wrote little and no one seems to know what he read, other than Shakerspeare, and liked opera, which could be seen on stage, which he could afford.
Since there was no social media, how did he get infused with the Southern cause (if he ever did)?
He attended the best private schools, including military school, but in all of them, he underperformed, even as he was considered a genius, repeatedly falling short, not applying himself until he moved on to the next school.
But he could perform on stage, magnificently even (it is said), only, alas along a path his older brother had already blazed.
He was earning $20,000 a year on the stage, (equivalent to half-a-million today) so wanted for nothing that money could buy. But even with a reputation as an A-lister, his brother was America’s super-A lister in the theatre. John Wilkes was always No 2.
So, was he just a spoiled contrarian? Did he choose the South because his brother has chosen the North? Common enough, even today.
Either way, he did seem to find his calling in a conspiracy to first kidnap the president, a plan changed later to kill him. He had five cohorts and they had several plans, all designed by Booth.
But after a near perfectly-executed plan of assassination Booth’s plan for escape was lacking. Booth died on the run, while the rest were hung.
These after-event failures are normal, incidentally, for both over-achieving geniuses and glory seekers. But most get a second chance. Booth didn’t. (Alpinists will tell you that most climbing deaths are on the descent, the conquest of the peak having been made, climbers congratulating themselves on the way down, becoming careless after the high. There are both psychological and physical reasons for this in the mountains, but not so easy to discern in other venues.)
If you can’t tell, I’m trying to find in John Wilkes Booth the demon seed that exists in modern America’s spoiled rich kids, who are both very, very smart, but are often filled with an insatiable hate, or some other compulsion, with some inner something to prove.
The good things that didn’t happen because of Lincoln’s death marks the real tragedy John Wilkes Booth bequeathed on America.
If it was God’s plan to provide a clear path for genuinely innocent people to finally reach their Promised Land, to be free and finally become full member of the American flock after 200 years in bondage in this land, then Satan intervened with his own plan to spoil it, for it would take 150 years in what should have taken 50 had Lincoln had things done his way.
And John Wilkes Booth was his instrument.
Booth was a type, even in 1865, and that type has proliferated by a factor of a million since. We need to study their ways, for they are capable of incalculable meanness through indifference, if not hatred. But as a free people we are limited in how we can shore up the shortcomings in educating them as about our common moral base, our history, and the general notion of what it means “to be American”.
But at one time we were pretty good at it.
But with so many of them out there, we have to reduce the odds.