Thinkin' Lincoln

Abraham LincolnThe third Monday in February is known unofficially as Presidents Day, but officially, it is still called Washington's Birthday. It has been, since 1971, the federal holiday set aside to celebrate the birthdays of American presidents. It is not a uniform holiday; in other words different states celebrate it differently. Many celebrate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809) and George Washington (February 22, 1732).

We have all heard or read about Abraham Lincoln, but many of the things we think we know about them are not necessarily factual.

For example, we have all read about “Honest Abe” Lincoln who bought coffee at a store and was given too much change and once he realized it, trudged back to the store to return it. We have all heard about the fact that he taught himself to read in a log cabin by candle light.

And of course, we all remember that John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln and was himself killed shortly thereafter.

But here are some of the things you might find surprising about Abraham Lincoln.

First of all, we all learned that he was born in a one-room log cabin in what was Hardin County (and is now in LaRue County), Kentucky, and that his parents were Nancy Hanks and Thomas Lincoln. But it turns out that there is plenty of evidence that this was not the case.

According to various letters, eye witness accounts, and other ephemera, Nancy Hanks, a servant in the Bryson City, North Carolina, household of one Abraham Enloe, Mr. Enloe fathered the 16th president, much to his wife's consternation. Mrs. Enloe, according to such accounts, was wild with anger and banished Nancy Hanks from the house. Mr. Enloe sent the girl and young Abraham to live with his daughter and son-in-law in Kentucky, where she met and married Thomas Lincoln. The judge who married them who told people that Nancy's young son Abraham was present at the wedding.

Mr. Enloe was a very tall man who was a slave trader, justice of the peace, a horse trader, and a pillar of his community.

Mr. Lincoln was opposed to killing animals, even for food, hence, he never hunted. He was virulently against slavery from a young age. And he is the only U.S. President to not officially declare a religion. Although he quite frequently quoted from the bible, particularly after Civil War broke out, there is much controversy about his faith, ranging from assertions that he was raised Christian and never wavered to those which stated he underwent a "Damascus experience" during his presidency.

Another little-known but interesting piece of trivia about the sixteenth President is the fact that in order to get to his first inauguration in 1861, he disguised himself as a woman. This was due to the fact that there was found to be a plot to kill him. The would-be killers had a plan to essentially hijack the train upon which he was traveling when it got to Baltimore and kill him.

The fact that Lincoln was 6' 4" tall made disguising him difficult, but it was decided that he would don a shawl and a cane, hunch over in order to appear to be a frail woman. He would then board the 10:10 pm train, whose attendants were told that they would be transporting a rich society woman to the inauguration. When his wife and children arrived in Baltimore after he had left, they were confronted by an angry mob which appeared to be trying to intercept Lincoln.

We all know the story of his murder at the hands of John Wilkes Booth as the President and his wife watched "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater. And we all learned that the assassin shouted "Sic semper tyrannus!" as he ran to his horse to make his escape. Translated from Latin, that phrase means “Thus always to tyrants!”

What most of us did not learn, however, was that Booth's murder of President Lincoln was only part of a much larger conspiracy whose other targets were Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Wiliam Seward.

The goal of these conspirators was to decapitate the entire Lincoln Administration, thereby destabilizing the federal government. And even the most studious of high school history students never knew about the trial of eight co-conspirators in front of a military commission which was appointed just for the purpose of trying the Confederate sympathizers.

According to testimony and evidence, at almost exactly the same time that Booth was firing his gun, David Herold and Lewis Powell, friends of Booth, arrived at the Secretary Seward's home. Seward, who was recovering from a carriage accident, was upstairs in bed.

One of his sons was pistol-whipped by Powell, fracturing his skull and leaving him in a coma for more than two months. He then stabbed the elder Seward's bodyguard in the forehead. Finally, he got to the bed where the already-injured Seward lay and stabbed him several times while shouting, "I'm mad!  I'm mad!" The bodyguard and some of the servants wrestled Powell to the ground, saving Seward. Powell got away and ran downstairs to where Herold waited with the horses.

George Atzerodt, Johnson's would-be assassin, lost his nerve and fled Washington, D.C. to Maryland, where he was arrested nine days later.

Shortly thereafter, Booth and Herold met in the town of Surrattsville in a tavern kept by John Lloyd. Lloyd handed over a bottle of whiskey and two rifles which were delivered to him by the tavern's owner, Mary Surratt.

The two of them rode to Maryland where the found a doctor, Dr. Mudd, to attend to Booth's leg, which had been broken when he made his escape after killing the President.

Booth died after being shot and was never brought to trial, but his co-conspirators, said to be Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell, Edmund Spangler, and Mary Surratt, were all found guilty.

Powell, Herold, Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt were hanged for their involvement. Five of the jurors who found Mary guilty signed a letter to President Johnson asking for clemency for her, but Johnson denied it, making Mary Surratt the first woman ever hanged by the United States government. Arnold, Mudd, and O'Laughlen were sentenced to life in prison. Spangler was sentenced to six years in prison. Mary's son, John Surratt, the postmaster of Surrattsville, Maryland, was eventually released due mostly to technicalities.

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