This Is What John Wilkes Booth Said After Shooting Abraham Lincoln

In what is now among the most high-profile assassinations of a public official in U.S. History, the 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. on April 14, 1865. As most at this point are aware, at the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, John Wilkes Booth was a Confederate sympathizer who snuck into the president's box at Ford Theatre and fired a bullet into the back of Lincoln's head. Severely injured, Lincoln died one day later. Those details aside, what's perhaps less well-known is what happened before and after that moment, and the significance of what Booth shouted to the stunned theater audience on that fateful night (via History).

According to Britannica, John Wilkes Booth was part of one of the most famous acting families in the 19th century. Both Booth, and his brother Edwin Booth, were distinguished stage actors, who had starred in some of the country's biggest plays. Born in Maryland, Booth remained in the North throughout the Civil War but had sided with the Confederacy. During that period, he was a known supporter of slavery and an outspoken critic of Lincoln. As an actor, Booth knew his way around a theater, and not only that, he could put on a grand performance, with a fiery attitude and a flair for the dramatic. All combined, Booth intended to make a big scene by not only shooting Lincoln but what he planned to say to the crowd after the deed was done.

Booth hoped Lincoln's assassination would make a statement

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was part of a larger plan that Booth hatched with his co-conspirators. Though the Civil War had all but wound down, there were still many Confederate sympathizers hiding in plain sight. According to the U.S Army Heritage and Education Center, Booth hoped that Lincoln's assassination would be just what the Confederacy needed to rise again, and he assumed that everyone who supported the Confederacy would publicly agree with his decision to kill the president. At first, Booth and those who plotted against Lincoln intended to simply kidnap Lincoln and take him to Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. Those plans were foiled when Lincoln failed to materialize where Booth and his collaborators lay in wait. 

Soon after, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Richmond and the war was over, as History goes on to note. Because of this, Booth and the plotters decided assassination was their only option, but that was just one part of their full, elaborate scheme. After Lincoln was killed, he and several other conspirators intended to take down the entire federal government in one fell swoop by killing all the top officials at the same time, including President Lincoln, but also Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward, and all at 10:00 pm on April 15th, 1865 (via Britannica). That plan would ultimately fail. Only the assassination of Lincoln was successful, and all the other assassination attempts were either abandoned or thwarted.

Booth planned a dramatic exit

John Wilkes Booth intended an extravagant exit after President Lincoln was killed. Booth thought he would jump from Lincoln's theater box onto the stage and then make his escape. According to History, though, after leaping from the theater box, Booth broke his left leg as he landed. At that point Booth had successfully shot the president, but the grand finale had not gone as planned, and notably, Booth's broken leg played a part in how he was finally caught. That jump from the theater box was not all that Booth had in mind for his exit, though. He also intended to shout a certain phrase in Latin with meaning not only to the state of Virginia, but also to the Confederacy.

Part of Booth's post-assassination plan was to shout "sic semper tyrannis," the Virginia state motto which to this day appears on the state flag, translating to "thus always to tyrants" in Latin, according to State Symbols USA. After Booth broke his left leg when he jumped from Lincoln's theater box, he did manage to quickly shout that famous line. In the end, Booth was discovered hiding in a barn on a tobacco farm in Virginia, injured, and unable to travel further (via Smithsonian Magazine). He was shot and killed. 

In the end, Booth's arrogance had finally caught up with him, and despite his belief that most would support his killing of Lincoln, even the most southern newspapers mourned the loss of the president. In a twist Booth could not have predicted, the death of President Lincoln only strengthened the healing country.