The assassination of Abraham Lincoln provided Youth’s Companion with a chance to express not just grief and Northern patriotism, but outrage against the theater and sensational literature. Though early 19th-century America had a thriving theater culture, actors were considered beyond the pale of polite society; and the fictions enacted on the stage were as suspect to some as novels.
[Scraps for Youth] “The Great National Tragedy” (from Youth’s Companion, April 27, 1865; p. 66)

[Transcriber: On this page and the one facing, the usual solid borders separating stories are thicker than usual, reflecting the mourning of the nation.]

On Friday, the 14th of April, between 9 and 10 o’clock in the evening, our beloved President was shot through the head with a pistol by John Wilkes Booth, a stage-actor.

The desperate boldness with which this terrible deed was executed can only be equalled by the deliberate wickedness with which it was planned.

As long as last February it is now known from letters found in his trunk that this man meditated the murder of the President. He was to have committed the crime on the 4th of March, at the time of Mr. Lincoln’s second inauguration, but appears to have been persuaded by his more cautious accomplices to postpone it. Indeed, he seems to have been repeatedly advised, even by his companions in sin, to abandon entirely his monstrous purpose, but, like the reckless and unscrupulous villain that he was, he hardened his heart, and nursed his fiendish determination until he found opportunity to carry it into effect. About the first of April he hired a stable in the rear of Ford’s Theatre, and took care to have a fleet horse ready there for him, while he spent much of his time by day in practising with pistols and by night at the performances of the theatre. Visiting the box-office on Friday morning, Booth learned that the company were to play “Our American Cousin,” and that President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, Vice-President Johnson and Gen. Grant would be there to witness it. Upon this he appears to have matured his plans immediately. In the evening he entered a restaurant near the theatre with five suspicious-looking men, supposed now to be his accomplices, with whom he drank some brandy, and after shaking hands with them bad them “good-by,” in a wild, excited manner, and went out. From here he repaired, as it seems, to his stable and ordered his horse to be saddled and brought around to the back door of the theatre, entering himself soon after at the front door. The President had already seated himself in the “State Box,” which was near the stage and draped with flags, and the cheering which greeted him on his entrance had subsided, when Booth was seen to crowd up through the dress circle and make his way towards him. As the play proceeded and the spectators became absorbed in it, he passed unnoticed to the box door. Here he was stopped by a guard, but whispering some distinguished name in the sentinel’s ear, he was allowed to enter, when, instantly drawing his pistol, he fired upon Mr. Lincoln and lodged a bullet in his brain. The excitement in the theatre on the report of the pistol, and at the sight of the President falling forward in his chair, was intense. The assassin lost no time in escaping. Leaping from the front of the box upon the stage, and stabbing right and left with a dagger at all who opposed him, he fled down one of the passages behind the scenes, mounted his horse and escaped. The shrieks of Mrs. Lincoln, and cries for vengeance from the agitated spectators filled the theatre. Miss Laura Keene, the chief actress in the play of the evening, made her way to the box, and taking the bleeding head of the President in her lap, tried in vain to administer to him a stimulating draught. He was already unconscious. The murderer had done his fiendish work too well.

The attendants carried the dying man to the nearest dwelling house, and surgeons, quickly summoned, rendered kind but ineffectual aid. Senator Sumner stood at the bedside and wept over the prostrate form of his beloved chief. There, too, stood the members of the cabinet, and other high officers of the government and the army, and mingled their tears with his. Mrs. Lincoln was almost frantic, sobbing and moaning, and calling at intervals on her unconscious husband to speak to her once more. He would never speak again.

Meantime the appalling news spread like lightning through the city, and soon the excitement was heightened to frenzy by the added information that Secretary Seward had been stabbed in his bed, and an assassin had been found lurking at the door of Secretary Stanton. Washington, lately so jubilant, was full of mourning and alarm.

In the morning, at twenty-two minutes past seven, the great and good Abraham Lincoln died. So noble of soul, so tender of heart, so pure of life, so wise, upright and strong—how can we lament him enough! We are sorry that he should have received his death-wound in a theatre. For some reason it seems to be required of men very high in station, and much honored, that they should consent to receive some of their popular honors at the theatre, and probably Mr. Lincoln’s education had not rendered him fully sensible of its wrong. But we are sorry he was there. The fearful opportunities for sin and crime afforded by the theatre have made it fatal to more than one. The wailing cry of Mrs. Lincoln, as she was borne from the death-scene to her home, past the front of the Ford Theatre, may ring in the ears of the nation, “That dreadful house! that dreadful house!”

But what shall we say of the spirit that urged on the hand of the murderer and his accomplices? Surely, nothing in the pure life of President Lincoln could have provoked such inconceivable wickedness. The answer is ready. The President was the emancipator of the slaves, and the ruffianly deed of John Wilkes Booth, and the attempts of his fellow conspirators, are the natural sequel to the spirit of slavery, the terrible system of perverted morality which encourages irresponsible violence, which has plunged the country in a sea of bloodshed, starved to death sixty thousand helpless prisoners, and now, in the last struggles of its broken and punished power, hesitates at nothing possible in the catalogue of crimes. Who will not pray that God will aid us under our new President to put it down forever and bring the perpetrators of this last tragedy, who acted for it, and all the leaders of the Great Rebellion, who fought for it, to the just recompense of their capital offences!

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