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Historian On John Wilkes Booth Killing Lincoln: 'He Was Motivated By Racism'

By Rich Zeoli

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Adam Goodheart, author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening, addressed the plot to kill President Abraham Lincoln on the 150th anniversary of his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.


Goodheart told Rich Zeoli on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT that Booth and his accomplices want to bring the entire government down.

"It really was a conspiracy. They planned to decapitate the Federal Government. Not only was it a conspiracy of a group of individuals in Washington who plotted this and planned also to kill Lincoln's Vice President and members of his cabinet, but there are also indications that this went all the way back to the Confederate Government. That is something historians still argue about."

He explained Booth acted mostly out of racism, but also had an inflated sense of self.

"Anybody who decides to kill the President of the United States, you can debate their mental soundness a bit. He was certainly and unusual personality who was just an out sized ego. As we know, he was a famous actor. He played a lot of parts on stage of people who had heroically assassinated leaders, which was a whole theatrical genre in the 19th century. He, clearly, had begun to conflate his own self important with these characters a little bit. But mainly, he was motivated by politics and he was especially motivated by racism, by Lincoln's actions to emancipate the slaves and, more immediately, by some of Lincoln's statements that he took as meaning African Americans would get full citizenship."

Goodheart also said that in many parts of the country, Lincoln's death was cheered.

"Looking back, we think about the entire nation grieving and, in fact...there were a lot of Americans who celebrated, especially in the South. Lincoln was a very controversial President in his time, like Presidents that we can think of more recently. There were people who thought that he was a hero and the savior of the Union. There were people who thought he was a Satanic figure who had actually destroyed America."

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