The Life, Public Services and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln

By Henry J. Raymond

Official Announcements

E. IMPORTANT LETTER FROM J. WILKES BOOTH.

HIS ORIGINAL PURPOSE WAS TO TAKE MR. LINCOLN A PRISONER.--HIS REASONS FOR HIS ACTION.

[From the Philadelphia Press, April 19.]

WE have just received the following letter, written by John Wilkes  Booth, and placed by him in the hands of his brother-in-law, J. S. Clarke.  It was written by him in November last, and left with J. S. Clarke in a  sealed envelope, and addressed to himself, in his own handwriting. In  the same envelope were some United States bonds and oil stocks. This  letter was opened by Mr. Clarke for the first time on Monday last, and  immediately handed by him to Marshall Milward, who has kindly placed  it in our hands. Most unmistakably it proves that he must for many months have contemplated seizing the person of late President. It is,  however, doubtful whether he imagined the black deed which has  plunged the nation into the deepest gloom, and at the same time awakened it to a just and righteous indignation:--

-----, -----, 1864.

MY DEAR SIR:--YOU may use this as you think best. But as some  may wish to know whenwho, and why, and as I do not know how to  direct it, I give it (in the words of your master):--

"To whom it may concern."

Right or wrong, God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or  bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression.  For four years have I waited, hoped, and prayed for the dark clouds to  break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer  would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved  as idle as my hopes. God's will be done. I go to see and share the bit ter end.

I have ever held that the South were right. The very nomination of  Abraham Lincoln, four years ago, spoke plainly war--war upon Southern  rights and institutions. His election proved it. "Await an evert act."  Yes; till you are bound and plundered. What folly! The South were  wise. Who thinks of argument or patience when the finger of his enemy  presses on the trigger? In a foreign war, I, too, could say, "Country,  right or wrong." But in a struggle such as ours (where the brother tries  to pierce the brother's heart), for God's sake choose the right. When a  country like this spurns justice from her side, she forfeits the allegiance  of every honest freeman, and should leave him, untrammelled by any  fealty soever, to act as his conscience may approve.

"People of the North, to hate tyranny, to love liberty and justice, to  strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The  study of our early history will not let me forget it, and may it never.

This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And,  looking upon African slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble  framers of our Constitution, I, for one, have ever considered it one of the  greatest blessings (both for themselves and us) that God ever bestowed  upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I  have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment  from master to man than I have behold in the North from father to son.  Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be more willing to do more for the  negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

But Lincoln's policy is only preparing the way for their total annihilation. The South are not, nor have they been, fighting for the continuance  of slavery. The first battle of Bull Run did away with that idea. Their  causes since for war have been as noble and greater far than those that  urged our fathers onEven should we allow they were wrong at the  beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice have made the wrong be come the right, and they stand now (before the wonder and admiration  of the world) as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of  their deeds, ThermopylŠ will be forgotten.

When I aided in the capture and execution of John Brown (who was a  murderer on our western border, and who was fairly tried and convicted,  before an impartial judge and jury, of treason, and who, by-the-way, has  since been made a god), I was proud of my little share in the transaction,  for I deemed it my duty, and that I was helping our common country to perform an act of justice. But what was a crime in poor John Brown is  now considered (by themselves) as the greatest and only virtue of the  whole Republican party. Strange transmigration! Vice to become a  virtue simply because more indulge in it!

I thought then, as now, that the abolitionists were the only traitors in  the land, and that the entire party deserved the same fate as poor old  Brown; not because they wish to abolish slavery, but on account of the  means they have ever endeavored to use to effect that abolition. If  Brown were living, I doubt whether he himself would set slavery against  the Union. Most, or many in the North do, and openly, curse the Union  if the South are to return and retain a single right guaranteed to them by  every tie which we once revered as sacred. The South can make no  choice. It is either extermination or slavery for themselves (worse than  death) to draw from. I know my choice.

I have also studied hard to discover upon what grounds the right of a  State to secede has been denied, when our very name, United States,  and the Declaration of Independence, both provide for secession. But  there is no time for words. I write in haste. I know how foolish I shall  be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on the one side, I  have many friends and every thing to make me happy, where my profession alone has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars  a year, and where my great personal ambition in my profession has such  a great field for labor. On the other hand, the South has never bestowed  upon me one kind word; a place now where I have no friends, except  beneath the sod; a place where I must either become a private soldier  or a beggar. To give up all of the former for the latter, besides my  mother and sisters, whom I love so dearly (although they so widely differ  with me in opinion), seems insane; but God is my judge. I love justice  more than I do a country that disowns it; more than fame and wealth;  more (Heaven pardon me if wrong), more than a happy home. I have  never been upon a battle-field; but oh! my countrymen, could you all  but see the reality or effects of this horrid war as I have seen them (in  every State, save Virginia), I know you would think like me, and would  pray the Almighty to create in the Northern mind a sense of right and  justice (even should it possess no seasoning of mercy), and that he would  dry up this sea of blood between us, which is daily growing wider.  Alas! poor country, is she to meet her threatened doom? Four years  ago I would have given a thousand lives to see her remain (as I had  always known her) powerful and unbroken. And even now I would  hold my life as naught to see her what she was. Oh! my friends, if the  fearful scenes of the past four years had never been enacted, or if what  has been had been but a frightful dream, from which we could now  awake, with what overflowing hearts could we bless our God and pray  for his continued favor! How I have loved the old flag can never now be  known. A few years since, and the entire world could boast of none so  pure and spotless. But I have of late been seeing and hearing of the  bloody deeds of which she has been made the emblem, and would shudder  to think how changed she had grown. Oh I how I have longed to see  her break from the mist of blood and death that circles round her folds,  spoiling her beauty and tarnishing her honor. But no, day by day has she  been dragged deeper and deeper into cruelty and oppression, till now (in  may eyes) her once bright red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face  of heaven. I look now upon my early admiration of her glories as a  dream. My love (as things stand to-day) is for the South alone. Nor do  I deem it a dishonor in attempting to make for her a prisoner of this  man, to whom she owes so much of misery. If success attend me, I go penniless to her side. They say she has found that "last ditch" which  the North have so long derided and been endeavoring to force her  in, forgetting they are our brothers, and that it is impolitic to goad an  enemy to madness. Should I reach her in safety, and find it true, I will  proudly be permission to triumph or die in that same "ditch" by her  side.

A Confederate doing duty upon his own responsibility.

J. WILKES BOOTH.

 

 

Book Navigation Title Page Preface Illustrations Memorandum Table of Contents   ► Chapter I.   ► Chapter II.   ► Chapter III.   ► Chapter IV.   ► Chapter V.   ► Chapter VI.   ► Chapter VII.   ► Chapter VIII.   ► Chapter IX.   ► Chapter X.   ► Chapter XI.   ► Chapter XII.   ► Chapter XIII.   ► Chapter XIV.   ► Chapter XV.   ► Chapter XVI.   ► Chapter XVII.   ► Chapter XVIII.   ► Chapter XIX.   ► Chapter XX.   ► Chapter XXI. Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln.   ► Mr. Lincoln's Sadness   ► His Favorite Poem   ► His Religious Experience   ► His Sympathy   ► His Humor, Shrewdness, and Sentiment   ► The Emancipation Proclamation Appendix. Letters on Sundry Occasions.   ► To Mr. Lodges, of Kentucky   ► To General Hooker   ► To John B. Fry   ► To Governor Magoffin   ► To Count Gasparin   ► The President and General McClellan   ► Warnings Against Assassination Reports, Dispatches, and Proclamations Relating to the Assassination.   ► Secretary Stanton to General Dix   ► The Death-Bed   ► The Assassins   ► Reward Offered by Secretary Stanton   ► Flight of the Assassins   ► The Conspiracy Organized in Canada   ► Booth Killed. Harold Captured   ► Reward Offered by President Johnson   ► The Funeral Official Announcements   ► Acting Secretary Hunger to Minister Adams   ► Acting Secretary Hunter to his Subordinates   ► Orders from Secretary Stanton and General Grant   ► Orders from Secretary "Welles   ► Order from Secretary McCulloch   ► Order from Postmaster-General Dennison   ► Proclamation by President Johnson of a Day of Humiliation and Mourning.   ► Secretary Stanton to Minister Adams   ► Important Letter from J. Wilkes Booth   ► Indictment of the Conspirators   ► The Finding of the Court