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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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While I assert that the Canadian agents knew Booth and patted his back, calling him, like Macbeth, the "prince of cut-throats," I am equally certain that Booth's project was unknown in Richmond. No word, nor written line, no clue of any sort has been found attaching Booth to the confederate authorities. The most that can be urged to meet preposterous claims of this sort is, that out of the rebellion grew the murder; which is like attributing the measles to the creation of man. But McDonald and his party had money at discretion, and under their control the vilest fellows on the continent. Their personal influence over those errant ones amounted to omnipotence. Most of the latter were young and sanguine people, like Beale and Booth; their plots were made up at St. Catharine's, Toronto, and Montreal, and they have maintained since the war began, rebel mail routes between Canada and Richmond, leading directly passed Washington.

If Booth received no positive instructions, he was at any rate adjudged a man likely to be of use, and therefore introduced to the rebel agencies in and around Washington. Doubtless by direct letter, or verbal instruction, he received a password to the house of Mrs. Surratt.

Half applauded, half rebuffed by the rebel agents in Canada, Booth's impressions of his visit were just those which would whet him soonest for the tragedy. His vanity had been fed by the assurance that success depended upon himself alone, and that as he had the responsibility he would absorb the fame; and the method of correspondence was of that dark and mysterious shape which powerfully operated upon his dramatic temperament.

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What could please an actor, and the son of an actor, better than to mingle as a principal in a real conspiracy, the aims of which were pseudo-patriotic, and the end so astounding that at its coming the whole globe would reel. Booth reasoned that the ancient world would not feel more sensitively the death of Julius Csar than the new the sudden taking off of Abraham Lincoln.

And so he grew into the idea of murder. It became his business thought. It was his recreation and his study. He had not worked half so hard for histrionic success as for his terrible graduation into an assassin. He had fought often on the boards, and seen men die in well-imitated horror, with flowing blood upon his keen sword's edge, and the strong stride of mimic victory with which he flourished his weapon at the closing of the curtain. He embraced conspiracy like an old diplomatist, and found in the woman and the spot subjects for emulation.

Southeast of Washington stretches a tapering peninsula, composed of four fertile counties, which at the remote tip make Point Lookout, and do not contain any town within them of more than a few hundred inhabitants. Tobacco has ruined the land of these, and slavery has ruined the people. Yet in the beginning they were of that splendid stock of Calvert and Lord Baltimore, but retain to-day only the religion of the peaceful founder. I mention it is an exceptional and remarkable fact, that every conspirator in custody is by education a Catholic. These are our most loyal citizens elsewhere, but the western shore of Maryland is a noxious and pestilential place for patriotism. The county immediately outside of the District of Columbia, to the south, is named Prince Gorgia's and the pleasantest village of this county, close to Washington, is called Surrattsville. This consists of a few cabins at a cross-road, surrounding a fine old hotel, the master whereof, giving the settlement his name, left the property to his wife, who for a long time carried it on with indifferent success. Having a son and several daughters, she moved to Washington soon after the beginning of the war and let the tavern to a trusty friend--one John Lloyd. Surrattsville has gained nothing in patronage or business from the war, except that it became at an early date, a rebel postoffice. The great secret mail from Matthias Creek, Virginia, to Port Tobacco, struck Surrattsville, and thence headed off to the east to Washington, going meanderingly north. Of this poet route Mrs. Surratt was a manageress; and John Lloyd, when he rented her hotel, assumed the responsibility of looking out for the mail, as well the duty of making Mrs. Surratt at home when she chose to visit him.

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

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