History’s Impact: Lincoln Assassination

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On this month, April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln is shot and critically wounded at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln would linger for several hours but died at 7:22 am the following day April 15th. A debate still rages among historians as to how broad based was the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Regardless, the historical record is clear that the murder of Lincoln was a major setback for Black rights and progress in America – not because Lincoln was so great but because the man who replaced in the White House was so bad.

A bit of background is due at this point. Booth was a racist who supported slavery and the South during the Civil War. Originally, he was part of a plot to kidnap Lincoln and hold him in exchange for captured Confederate soldiers. But on April 9, 1865, Confederate troops under Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Later that day, Lincoln gave a speech suggesting that the ex-slaves be given the right to vote. The speech infuriated Booth and thus the plot to kidnap Lincoln was converted into a plot to assassinate him. Booth escaped capture for 12 days. But on April 26, 1865 he was cornered by federal forces and shot and killed during a gun battle. Four of his fellow conspirators, including one woman, were tried and hanged.

The assassination of Lincoln changed the course of history for Blacks. While Lincoln was not as great a supporter of Black rights as he has often been portrayed, he was a much greater supporter than the man who replaced him in office – Vice President Andrew Johnson. Johnson actually sympathized with the Southern slave owning aristocracy and opposed most civil and virtually all voting rights for Blacks. Indeed, during a meeting at the White House which included the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas, Johnson infuriated Blacks by making it clear that he would oppose voting rights for the former slaves.

Thus, the bulk of the pro-Black legislation of the Reconstruction period was normally passed over Johnson’s objection or veto by a group of pro-Black legislators known as the “Radical Republicans.� Top among them were Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. They not only wanted to aid Blacks (giving each ex-slave “40 acres and a mule� was their idea) they also wanted to punish the South for having started the Civil War by seizing lands from the plantation class and turning it over to Blacks. But Johnson fought against the idea and even helped defeat the “forty acres and a mule� proposal.

Thus, while Reconstruction was definitely a positive period for Blacks educational, politically and socially, Johnson and his supporters were successful in severely limiting economic progress. If the Sumner and Stevens attempts to seize lands from the plantation elites and turn them over to former slaves had been successful, Blacks would have started free life in America on a much more solid economic footing and many of the problems which now plague African Americans would have been avoided.

If Lincoln had lived, there is every reason to believe that this would have been done. Instead, Johnson’s actions emboldened the white South and he is one of the primary reasons the Reconstruction period only lasted 12 years. He helped lay the foundation for the Jim Crow period beginning around 1880 during which time Black political and civil rights were systematically taken away. This probably would not have happened if Lincoln had not been assassinated.

Compiled for The Black Star News by Robert N. Taylor Media Services.
Taylor is editor of the Black History Journal and welcomes comments at
SirajT12@yahoo.com or 202-486-8103.

“Speaking Truth To Empower.� To contact The Black Star News write
editor@blackstarnews.com or call (212) 481-7745. Subscribe to this newspaper and advertise to build power.

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