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

Letter V: A Solution Of The Conspiracy

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Here began the first resolve, which, in its mere animal estate, we may name courage. Booth found that a tragedy in real life could no more be enacted without greasy-faced and knock-kneed supernumeraries than upon the mimic stage. Your "First Citizen," who swings a stave for Marc Antony, and drinks hard porter behind the flies is very like the bravo of real life, who murders between his cocktails at the nearest bar. Wilkes Booth had passed the ordeal of a garlicky green-room, and did not shrink from the broader and ranker green-room of real life. He assembled around him, one by one, the cut-throats at whom his soul would have revolted, except that he had become, by resolve, a cut-throat in himself.

About this time certain gentlemen in Canada began to be unenviably known. I abstain from giving their names, because unaware of how far they seconded this crime, if at all. But they seconded as infamous things, such as cowardly raids from neutral territory into the states, bank robbings, lake pirating, city burning, counterfeiting, railway sundering, and the importation of yellow fever into peaceful and unoffending communities. I make no charges against those whom I do not know, but simply say that the confederate agents, Jacob Tompson, Larry McDonald, Clement Clay, and some others, had already accomplished enough villainy to make Wilkes Booth, on the first of the present year, believe that he had but to seek an interview with them.

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He visited the provinces once certainly, and three times it is believed, stopping in Montreal at St. Lawrence Hall, and banking four hundred and fifty-five dollars odd at the Ontario bank. This was his own money. I have myself seen his bank-book with the single entry of this amount. It was found in the room of Atzerott, at Kirkwood's Hotel. From this visit, whatever encouragement Booth received, he continued in systematic correspondence with one or more of those agents down to the commission of his crime. I dare not say how far each of these agents was implicated. My personal conviction is that they were neither loth to the murder nor astonished when it had been done. They had money with discretion from the confederacy, though acting at discretion and outside of responsibility, and always, at every wild adventure, they instructed their dupes that each man took his life in his hand on every incursion into the north. So Beale took his, raiding on the great lakes. So Kennedy took his, on a midnight bonfire-tramp into the metropolis. So took the St. Albans raiders their lives in their palms, dashing into a peaceful town. And if these agents entertained Wilkes Booth's suggestion at all they plainly told him that he carried his life in his dagger's edge, and could expect from them neither aid nor exculpation.

Some one or all of these agents furnished Booth with a murderer. The fellow Wood or Payne, who stabbed Mr. Seward and was caught at Mrs. Surratt's house in Washington. He was one of three Kentucky brothers, all outlaws, and had himself, it is believed, accompanied one of his brothers, who is known to have been at St. Albans on the day of the bank-delivery. This Payne, besides being positively identified as the assassin of the Sewards, had no friends nor haunts in Washington. He was simply a dispatched murderer, and after the night of the crime, struck northward of the frontier, instead of southward in the company of Booth. The proof, of this will follow in the course of the article.

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

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