This Day in History… March 20, 1865

Booth’s Failed Kidnapping Attempt 

US #77 – The Lincoln mourning stamp.

On March 20, 1865, John Wilkes Booth planned to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln.

After Lincoln was elected in 1860, he began to receive many threats on his life. Though there were a few attempts, he never took the threats seriously.

US #208a – American Bank Note Printing.

The first attempt on the president-elect’s life came when he was traveling from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, DC for his inauguration. To keep Lincoln safe, he was escorted on a secret night trip through Baltimore.

US #222 from the 1890-93 Regular Issue.

After Lincoln was reelected in 1864, the threats on his life increased. Rumors swirled that the Confederates wanted to kidnap him and use him to negotiate a peace treaty or the release of 20,000 captured Confederate soldiers. Upon hearing about some of these plans, the War Department increased Lincoln’s personal security team.

US #304 from the Series of 1902-03.

Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth was a successful actor that chose to remain in the North during the war. Lincoln had seen Booth’s acting at Ford’s Theater in 1863 and even invited him to visit the White House several times, though he refused. On March 4, 1865, Booth attended Lincoln’s second inauguration and later wrote in his diary that he wished he had taken action that day. Shortly after, Booth and six of his friends developed a plan to kidnap President Lincoln and hold him hostage in exchange for the captured Confederate soldiers.

US #369 from the 1909 Lincoln Memorial Issue.

Booth learned that Lincoln was planning to visit a hospital near the Soldier’s Home in Northwest Washington, and believed that to be his best opportunity to kidnap the president and smuggle him back to Richmond. On March 20, 1865 (some sources say March 17), Booth and his co-conspirators positioned themselves on the roadside near the hospital and waited for Lincoln to pass by. However, he never did, as he changed his plans late in the day and decided to go to the national Hotel instead. Interestingly, that was the same hotel where Booth had been staying.

According to some accounts, this failed kidnapping plot greatly angered Booth and likely influenced his decision to assassinate the president less than a month later.

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