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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter III: The Murderer

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Of what avail, may we ask, on the impossible supposition that Booth's crime could have been considered heroic, was it that such a record should have dared to die for fame? Victory would have been ashamed of its champion, as England of Nelson, and France of Mirabeau.

I may add to this record that he had not been in Philadelphia a year, on first setting out in life, before getting into a transaction of the kind specified. For an affair at his boarding-house he was compelled to pay a considerable sum of money, and it happily occurred just as he was to quit the city. He had many quarrels and narrow escapes through his license, a husband in Syracuse, N. Y., once followed him all the way to Cleveland to avenge a domestic insult.

Booth's paper "To Whom it may Concern" was not his only attempt at influential composition. He sometimes persuaded himself that he had literary ability; but his orthography and pronunciation were worse than his syntax. The paper deposited with J. S. Clarke was useful as showing his power to entertain a deliberate purpose. It has one or two smart passages in it--as this:

"Our once bright red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face of heaven."

In the passages following there is common sense and lunacy:

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"I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on the one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy, where my profession alone, has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars a year, and where my great personal ambition in my profession has such a great field for labor. On the other hand, the South have never bestowed upon me one kind word; a place now where I have no friends, except beneath the sod; a place where I must either become a private soldier or a beggar. To give up all of the former for the latter, besides my mother and sisters, whom I love so dearly (although they so widely differ with me in opinion) seems insane; but God is my judge."

Now, read the beginning of the manifesto, and see how prophetic were his words of his coming infamy. If he expected so much for capturing the President merely, what of our execration at slaying him?

"Right or wrong, God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

"I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God's will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end."

To wait longer would be a crime. Oh! what was the crime not to wait! Had he only shared the bitter end, then, in the common trench, his memory might have been hidden. The end had come when he appeared to make of benignant victory a quenchless revenge. One more selection from his apostrophe will do. It suggests the manner of his death:

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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