Was John Wilkes Booth a hired assassin?
Was John Wilkes Booth a hired assassin?

Was John Wilkes Booth a hired assassin?

The 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s murder is one more reminder from the past of a distinctive feature of the American system. This is that some American presidents reach office by assassination, not by election. More importantly, when this happens, a lot of facts are usually going to be left at best unexplained, and often covered up.

Few Americans know, for example, that in 1991 the body of President Zachary Taylor, who died in 1850 after a year in office, was exhumed and found to contain suspicious amounts of arsenic. But the New York Times announced that further analysis showed the amounts of arsenic were no more than what is normally found in the body, confirming that Taylor died a natural death.

Same Junk Science used in JFK Assassination

Wikipedia claims that this is proven by Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, citing an article on the Lab website that is forbidden to the public. Wikipedia does not mention that NAA analysis on the same Isotope Reactor was used four decades ago to analyze the bullets killing John F. Kennedy. (The use of NAA analysis of lead in bullets, once used to bolster the “single bullet theory” of Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt, has since been decisively discredited by other U.S. Government experts at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. In September 2005 the FBI announced that it would no longer rely in criminal cases on the inaccurate evidence produced by comparative bullet lead analysis.)

Even more mysteries surround the assistance provided Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. In a recent article, the Washington Post described Booth as “embittered,” the term used by Psychology Today to “analyze” Lee Harvey Oswald. Other more scholarly studies have argued that Booth was originally plotting not the murder but the abduction of Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson, and Secretary of State Seward. This was part of a coherent strategy to throw the determination of the next president into the hands of the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Roger Taney had already shown in the Dred Scott case that he was pro-slavery and sympathetic to the South.

2Speculation of a cover-up about Booth has abounded since the time that four of his associates in the crime were swiftly hanged. A benign explanation for the cover-up would be the desire to avoid dealing with the possibility that Booth had been guided or at least assisted in his plotting by the Confederate Secret Service. This was suspected almost immediately when a Vigenère Cipher table (a code used by the South) was discovered among Booth’s effects. At that time a strong need to restore unity to a divided nation would have been an ample motive to present Booth, like Oswald a century later, as an embittered loner.

It is now pretty well established, by historian Thomas Goodrich and others, that Booth had traveled widely to Canada and elsewhere as a spy and courier for the Confederate Secret Service. Other historians have concluded, in the words of David Herbert Donald, that “at least at the lower levels of the Southern secret service, the abduction of the Union President was under consideration.”

Whether Booth was following orders in his activities or was acting on his own is less clear. But it is certain that Booth was able to elude capture for 12 days after the assassination by using safe houses in Virginia along an escape route which the Confederate Secret Service had previously organized.

The cover-up about Booth has long survived any original motive for it. Only in the last half century have we begun to see books like William Tidwell’s Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln. Yet from time to time we still continue to hear from authors like Jim Bishop and Bill O’Reilly, who write profitable best-sellers, one arguing that Booth, the other that Oswald, was essentially a loner.

An egregious attempt to present Booth as a loner was that of former CIA Director Allen Dulles, at an early executive session of the Warren Commission on January 16, 1964. Dulles explained that, according to a book he was handing out to members of the Commission, European assassinations were the work of conspiracies—but American assassins acted alone.

Given that two of Booth’s targets, Lincoln and Seward, were attacked almost simultaneously in different parts of the city (Seward was stabbed by Lewis Powell in his bed during the Lincoln assassination), John J. McCloy promptly objected, arguing that “the Lincoln assassination was a plot.” Undeterred, Dulles shot right back: “Yes, but one man was so dominant that it almost wasn’t a plot.” Dulles was using his authority to indicate what he thought the Commission should conclude. Seven months later the Warren Report amply fulfilled his wish and declared that the death of Kennedy was, too, the work of a loner.

Same Old Story—False, Ongoing, and Interconnected

Dulles’s intervention indicates to me that American cover-ups of what I call “deep events”—events about which we are denied the truth—are themselves an on-going and interconnected story. For example: in a special section of the Warren Report, written to discredit “Speculations and Rumors” of a possible conspiracy in JFK’s death, Commission staffer Alfred Goldberg began by noting that:

“Myths have traditionally surrounded the dramatic assassinations of history. The rumors and theories about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln that are still being publicized were for the most part first bruited within months of his death.”

Goldberg is also co-author of Pentagon 9/11 which is, possibly, another example of an ongoing coverup.

Goldberg was quite right in acknowledging the persistence of myths about assassinations. And we will never move beyond myths to a clearer understanding of what took place, who ultimately was responsible, what it meant, and how best to restore democracy to this country, until we fully grasp the role of Allen Dulles and others like  him in sustaining those myths.

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I’m curious. If both Vice-President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward had been assassinated, who would have been next in line to be president?

EDITED: Oops. I found out that the Secretary of State was not next in line after the Vice-President at the time of Lincoln’s assassination.

Greg Day

same mistake was made when Reagan was shot- BY THE SOS!!!

Steven Hager

At the time of Johnson’s impeachment trial, Senator Ben Wade was in line to succeed the President. Wade and Thaddeus Stevens were involved in the assassination, along with Thomas Eckert and Edwin Stanton.

Steve Sperdacion

doubt that


A book called “Dr. Mary’s Monkey” had another theory for Kennedy’s assassination.


Yes, and pay attention. The Polio Virus is now being experimented with to Kill Cancer? Just two weeks ago announced on 60 minutes and a few other places… Ed Haslam may be saving huge portions of the human population with his clues he has provided the medical field… Mary, Ferrie and the Monkey Virus was the first book and I would say required reading. God Bless him and the brave Medical folks that have pushed for review of this history…

gustave courbet

You might appreciate the book ‘Me and Lee’ by Judith Vary Baker in which she describes her romantic relationship with Oswald during that period in New Orleans (Baker was a tech for ‘Dr. Mary’ and her cancer research).


Thank you, Peter Dale Scott, for this anniversary essay, so relevant today. And thanks to Russ Baker and crew for running this essay today. I hope all readers are aware how essential it is to financially support this enterprise. There is no other investigative journalism going now in this country that rises to the standard of WhoWhatWhy. The truth is rigorously pursued, without regard to the media gatekeepers, who would rather that the relentless “deep state” digging just go away. So, make sure to contribute to the site, regularly if possible. This kind of real journalism needs all the help it can get. We are a lot better off with WhoWhatWhy.


Peter Dale Scott needs to correct his errors.

gustave courbet

Scott is generally pretty conscientious in his writing. I’d bet that he’d appreciate any errors you’d point out to him.


political cartoon from 1865:

Greg Day

Dr Samuel Mudd was NOT hanged. He was sent to prison and later pardoned by President Andrew Johnson!!!
The writer needs to get the facts right if believable!!!


Zachary Taylor died in 1850. William Henry Harrison died in 1841, after one month in office.


Dr. Mudd was not murdered by the fedgov. He was falsely imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands until President Andrew Johnson pardoned him in 1869. Alan Dulles, like his brother, John Foster Dulles, was a traitor and enemy of liberty. http://www.amazon.com/The-actor-Secretary-1953-1959-Americanist/dp/B0006BTLX0


“Given that two of Booth’s targets, Lincoln and Seward, were killed
almost simultaneously in different parts of the city (Seward was stabbed
by Lewis Powell in his bed during the Lincoln assassination)” WHAT?!? Seward SURVIVED the attack and died in 1872!! What garbage is being posted here?


WRONG!! The quote is “Given that two of Booth’s targets, Lincoln and Seward, were ATTACKED almost simultaneously in different parts of the city.” He didn’t say KILLED. You are misquoting the author of this article. Shame on you! It is YOU who are posting garbage.


Apparently in response to my comment and that of RBinNC, the article has been edited, Laura. The quote in my comment was a cut and paste from the original article. You are naive.


Seward was not killed, he was serious wounded and lived until Oct. 1872.
Come on, at least get the simple facts right.
(Edit: I see now that that has been pointed out already.)

Steve Sperdacion

he was in on it his wounds were minor and likely didn’t even happen.


All I see is attacked and stabbed?

Steven Hager

Yes, Booth was a spook working for the Confederate Secret Service and the The Grey Ghost (Colonel John S. Mosby) on a plot to kidnap Lincoln and take him to Richmond. This conspiracy grew so large it was infiltrated by a number of double agents, one of whom was able to twist the plan into a murder. But if you look at George Atzerodt’s original confession (discovered in 1977), the center of gravity on the murder seems to have been located in New York City, and Booth made several unexplained trips there just prior to committing the act. Lincoln would not have been left unguarded as the War Department knew serious plots were afoot, unless Stanton was involved with that New York entity, who was either Jay Gould or Fernando Wood, or both working together.

Steve Sperdacion

going to theater during a war was just as dumb as cruising dallas in a convertible. death wish.

Steve Sperdacion

The rich didn’t mind slavery but they didn’t want the country to split up because they were thinking globalization and one world govt even back then. Countries splitting in two is the opposite of that. Abraham Lincoln was like JFK, a puppet who grew a heart and started to say too much truth so had to be taken out.


Authoritarianism has ALWAYS thought world domination for 10,000 years. Just ask god?!?!? LOL


I question how Booth got past security? Assisted?


His guard left to get a drink.


The myths persist partly because woefully gullible Americans believe that US spook agencies would never harm a fellow American. The same agencies dropped diseases onto several American cities, surreptitiously dosed American citizens with LSD, told us Duck and Cover would protect us in a nuke attack, etc. – so they are not above killing a president – or worse.