The Assassin   Leave a comment

The Maryland-born Booth already held strong political opinions when he began his 1860 tour through the South. The previous year, as a member of a Virginia militia company, he had stood guard near the scaffold when John Brown was hanged. Though he detested Brown’s radical abolitionism, Booth found himself enthralled by the bearded prophet’s willingness to suffer obloquy and death for the sake of his principles. “John Brown was a man inspired, the grandest man of this century!” he later wrote to his sister.

Booth arrived in Montgomery two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was elected and stayed there nearly a month and a half. Spending that pivotal period in a hotbed of secession, he likely heard fire-eating Southern orators heaping scorn upon antislavery activists, Republicans and the new president-elect. In early December, not long after his departure, he scrawled out a rambling, spelling-challenged political speech – apparently never delivered or published – railing against the abolitionists. “Men have no right to entertain opinions which endanger the safety of the country,” he wrote. “Such men I call traitors and treason should be stomped to death and not alowed to stalk abroad in any land. So deep is my hatred for such men that I could wish I had them in my grasp And I the power to crush. I’d grind them into dust!”

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“The Abolition party must throw away their principals,” Booth continued, with more Shakespearean passion than coherence. “They must be hushed forever. … By justice that demands the blood of her oppressors. By the blood of those, who in wounding her have slain us all, with naught save blood and justice. Ay blood, in this case, must season justice.”

The Montgomery Theatre, where the young actor first appeared as Richard III, was demolished long ago. Its former sitelies a few hundred feet from a more famous historic spot: the corner where Rosa Parks boarded a bus on Dec. 1, 1955 – exactly 95 years to the day after Booth made his leap into stardom.

On that distant antebellum night, as the tyrant king lay dying onstage, no one in the audience could have foreseen the eerie resonance of the play’s final lines, spoken by Richmond as he stands with bloodstained sword over the body:

Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again,
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Let them not live to taste this land’s increase
That would with treason wound this fair land’s peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say amen!

Posted December 1, 2010 by dmacc502 in government, History

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