John Wilkes Booth and the Politics of Assassination

The reading assignment from chapter 27 from our text entitled, “John Wilkes Booth and the Politics of Assassination” written by James W. Clarke discusses the authors belief that Abraham Lincoln’s death was brought on by political ideologies and not because of mental health issues as some have widely claimed. The author believes that what were happening at that period in time were the breeding grounds for Booth’s drive to assassinate Lincoln.

Clarke writes, “political context of the assassination facts such as Lincoln’s unpopularity in the North as well as in the South, the vicious opposition within his cabinet and Congress along with the controversy surrounding his re-election of 1864” (306) were the true reasons behind his motives. Clarke uses examples from Booth’s childhood as everyone viewing him with a positive view and that view was shared by many including his friends and family. He points to his happy and health childhood as fact to his mental stability.

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Booth’s education was exceptional and along with his aspirations of following in his fathers footsteps into acting made him a very stable and intellectual man. He was considered to have gaiety and a passion for life. Clarke goes on to discuss how at 14 Booth lost his father and soon after, 3 years, he began acting. But when he began he had very harsh reviews that were critical of his ability in acting or his inexperience. Clarke believes he took these in stride and pushed forward in earnest to make a name all his own.
Because the South seemed to praise his acting abilities more than the North, some theorize that this changed his attitude and he began to favor Southerner in lifestyle and beliefs that directed him to assassinate. Clark contends that although Booth did favor Southern audiences, the Northern audiences soon began to appreciate the actor’s abilities. Clarke asserts that women loved him and men from all walks of life wanted his friendship because they saw him as a man with wit and magnetism.
The author maintains that this is the evidence for his motives being political instead of being pathological. Political events of 1864 such as the Civil War and the horrors of that bloody war along with the hatred the nation felt for Lincoln motivated the actor. So this sympathy for the South and because of his passions of justice and duty gave way to Booth’s actions. I find this very difficult to swallow. In my eyes and from what I read, Booth was a very self centered person and a very passionate actor that helped to make him feel invincible.
The proof was in Clarke’s article when over and over he kept discussing Booth’s physical attractiveness and popularity among women as well as men. I believe that in Booth’s mind the assassination was a performance and felt he would gain even more popularity by his actions. I believe Booth did have some mental issues because anyone who kills another, for whatever motives has to have some level of mental illness. I’m sure that many at the time considered killing Lincoln, but only one person actually did the act.
Charlie Manson was politically motivated when he told his followers to kill, but that didn’t diminish the fact he was totally insane. The same I holds true for Booth. Many can put excuses to another person’s actions, and especially when that person has been dead for quite sometime, but the fact remains that murder is an abnormal act in society; it’s against the societal norm and anyone who kills for whatever reason has mental health issues. Reference: Roberts, R. & Olson, J. S. (1986). American Experiences. Glenview, Ill. : Scott, Foreman.

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