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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Follow the Evidence: The Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators

Lincoln CSI Header

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth | Evidence | Prosecution | Verdict 
April 14, 1865 | The Conspirators


A defense attorney would have his work cut out for him trying to defend John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln. The biggest piece of evidence a lawyer would have to overcome is the fact that Booth jumped to the stage of the theatre after he shot Lincoln. Booth was a popular actor and would be recognized most anywhere, especially in a theatre. The eyewitness accounts alone would be nearly impossible to deny.

Lincoln CSI Lincoln knew he was hated by many in the country, especially from the south. From the time he became president-elect up until his assassination, President Lincoln received almost daily doses of hate mail. Booth's lawyer could bring these letters into evidence trying to convince the commission that Booth may have just been a figure head for a bigger conspiracy.


The compass used by John Wilkes Booth when
he tried to escape Washington D.C. after
shooting President Abraham Lincoln

 Library of Congress
 Prints and PhotographsLincoln CSI

The most likely defense might have been an insanity plea. This was a very new option for defense lawyers during this time and not often regarded as reputable. If Booth's lawyer could show that his client was pushed over the edge with the surrender of the Confederacy that Booth so believed to be in the right with the issues of slavery and to know that Lincoln would be president for another term could have just been the last straw. But many people despised President Lincoln, would talk bad about his beliefs for the nation and may have even said out loud that they wished he was dead, but in the end only one man, John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger.

 John Wilkes Booth's diary.
Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs

Lincoln CSI



John Wilkes Booth's diary.
Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs


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