John Wilkes Booth
Assassin of Abraham Lincoln
I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy ... to give up all ... seems insane; but God is my judge. I love justice more than I do a country that disowns it, more than fame or wealth.
- Name John Wilkes Booth
- Birth 10 May 1838
Bel Air, Maryland, U.S.
- Death: 26 April 1865
Port Royal, Virginia, U.S.
Few names from U.S. history are as notorious as John Wilkes Booth, the man that shocked a still-divided nation by assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. In the time leading up to his desperate last act, Booth had already achieved a certain amount of fame as a gifted actor. But the events of that fateful night at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. cemented his name in infamy for generations that know him only as one of the world's greatest villains.
Booth was born into an acting family, the youngest child of Junius Brutus Booth, an actor from London, England that named his son John Wilkes after an 18th century member of the British Parliament known for being a radical. Booth's two brothers were also well known actors, his brother Edwin being considered the foremost American actor of the 19th century.
John Wilkes Booth was passionate about politics and the South. His passion led to a powerful hatred of Abraham Lincoln, a symbol of Northern victory and the man behind the proposed abolition of slavery, outcomes that would change the South forever.
Booth's hatred led to his infamous act. After shooting the president, Booth dropped awkwardly to the stage (breaking his leg), uttered his infamous words "Sic semper tyrannis" (latin for "Thus always to tyrants"), and disappeared out the stage door to a waiting horse. For 12 days he and a co-conspirator made their way south, avoiding federal troops on back roads and through swamps, forests, and thickets. On 26 April, an army detachment from Washington D.C. caught up to the two fugitives in a barn in northern Virginia. Booth was mortally wounded when a soldier fired upon him against orders, and died a few hours later.