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Friday, May 1, 2015

LINCOLN’S assassination: Of Pokers, and What-might-have-beens

Thomas Eckert, The Man who Broke Pokers
On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, President Lincoln went to see Laura Keene in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. A lone assassin, the actor John Wilkes Booth was in the theater when Lincoln arrived. The day before he had attended a rehearsal in the theater to make sure he knew what to do on his chosen night.

Just before ten that night Booth presented his calling card to the White House footman before the President’s box, and gained entry; he drew his pistol and shot Lincoln in the back of his head.

Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote Team of Rivals, describing the strong men that Lincoln surrounded himself with in his cabinet during the years of the just-ended Civil War. She describes how four men might have changed the course of history that day.

Lincoln’s bodyguard, William H. Crook, had the night off.


Goodwin writes:

“Speaker Colfax was among several people who declined the Lincolns’ invitation to the theater that evening. The morning edition of the National Republican had announced that the Grants would join the Lincolns in the president’s box that night, but Julia Grant had her heart set on visiting their children in New Jersey, so Grant asked to be excused. The Stantons also declined. Stanton, like Chase, considered the theater a foolish diversion and, more important, a dangerous one. He had fought a losing battle for months to keep the president from such public places, and he felt that his presence would only sanction an unnecessary hazard. Earlier that day, “unwilling to encourage the theater project,” Stanton had refused to let his chief telegrapher, Thomas Eckert, accept Lincoln’s invitation, even though the president had teasingly requested him for his uncommon strength – he had been known to “break a poker over his arm” and could serve as a bodyguard.”

Perhaps only one of these men needed to have changed his mind, and gone to the theater, for history to have been changed.

They did not, and Lincoln met his end, and now belongs to the ages, as Stanton said at Lincoln’s deathbed.

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