On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died from his assassin’s wounds. But if John Wilkes Booth’s plot were entirely successful, a little-known senator may have been thrust into the White House.
Booth’s full plot included killing Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. General Ulysses Grant was another possible target. But only two attacks took place on April 14, 1865, with Seward surviving an assassination attempt and Lincoln suffering from Booth’s single gunshot.
According to the rules of presidential succession in 1865, only Vice President Johnson, and not Seward or Grant, was in line to replace Lincoln if he died. If Johnson had died, an acting president would be appointed until a special election could be held to elect a new president (and not a vice president).
The acting president would have been the president pro tempore of the Senate, Lafayette Sabine Foster of Connecticut.
The Presidential Succession Act of 1792 controlled how the president was replaced if he died in office, quit, or was unable to perform his duties.
The act was changed in 1886 and 1947 to deal with different scenarios. The 20th Amendment addressed what happens if a president-elect can’t take office, and the 25th Amendment cleared up the succession of a new vice president and what happens when a president is temporarily unable to perform his or her duties.
Back in 1865, Booth had convinced George Atzerodt, an acquaintance, to kill Johnson by setting a trap at the Kirkwood House hotel where the vice president lived. However, Atzerodt lost his nerve and didn’t attempt to kill the vice president, even though he had a rented room above Johnson’s and a loaded gun was found in the room.
If Atzerodt or another assailant had succeeded, Senator Foster would have been acting president until March 4, 1866. And if Foster wasn’t available, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax would have been next, and last, in line to succeed Lincoln and Johnson.
A special election would have taken place in November 1865, with the Electoral College convening in December 1865, and the presidential inauguration being held on March 4, 1866, with the new president serving out Lincoln’s term.
The person charged with the official notification of the states to start the special election process was the secretary of state. Luckily, William Seward survived an attack by assassin Lewis Powell.
If Seward had died, that power may have devolved on the assistant secretary of state, who could perform the duties as an acting secretary of state until a new president named a replacement who was confirmed by the Senate.
The assistant secretary of state on April 15, 1865, was Frederick W. Seward, the son of William Seward. Frederick Seward was also seriously injured defending his father during Powell’s assassination attempt. (He would recover after Powell pistol-whipped him.)
From what we know about Lafayette Sabine Foster, he was a conservative Republican who was named as the president pro tempore of the Senate about a month before Lincoln’s death. Foster only remained in the Senate for another two years, failing in a re-election attempt. He was later a judge in his home state until his death in 1880.
According to his obituary, Foster was “a prominent figure in congressional life, as a clear and forcible debater upon great public questions, and as an unsurpassed presiding officer in the Senate, that he was most widely known and will be best remembered.”
Foster also was cited for being above the politics that led to his Senate defeat in 1866.
“He was no seeker after popularity, certainly he never descended to any truckling arts to secure it, and probably to some extent he lost favor by the high tone of both his character and bearing, and by the selectness of his friendships,” the obituary said.
A New York Times article from 1875 sheds some more light on Foster’s loss of his Senate seat. The Republicans picked another nominee at a caucus in 1866, and Foster signaled his agreement to run as a rival candidate supported by Connecticut’s Democrats. Foster dropped out at the last moment to accept a judge’s position in the state.
The Times article said Foster remained bitter about losing his Senate seat.
“He does not appear to be have ever recovered from the disappointment of his defeat in 1866,” the article stated.
And what would have happened in the special presidential election of November 1865? The Republican Party was already split between its Radical and Moderate wings.
General Grant may have run for president as a compromise candidate, but other prominent Republicans included Seward, Colfax, Thaddeus Stevens, and Benjamin Wade.
The Democrats were also divided and had been badly beaten in the 1864 presidential campaign. Former New York Governor Horatio Seymour, the eventual 1868 nominee, was a key player in the party, as was George H. Pendleton, the 1864 vice presidential nominee. General Winfield Scott Hancock had presidential ambitions in later years, and he had personally supervised the executions in the Lincoln assassination case.
The former Confederate states wouldn’t have been involved, since they weren’t readmitted to the union.
Benjamin Wade replaced Foster as Senate president pro tempore in 1867 and nearly became acting president in 1868, when President Johnson avoided removal from office by one vote in a Senate trial.
Posts Tagged With: Assassin
Park Sang-hak, an anti-Pyongyang defector now living in South Korea is near the top of North Korea’s hit list. The outspoken activist was recently the target of a would-be assassin equipped with three seemingly innocent, easy-to-conceal weapons plucked straight from a 007 script. A South Korea “investigation official,” speaking with CNN, described the weapons thus: A poison-tipped device built to look like a Parker ballpoint pen; a second pen equipped to shoot poison-filled bullets directly into the skin; and a small flashlight rigged to fire three bullets at close range. “You’d notice a gun,” said Park, “but these weapons are so innocuous [they could] easily kill someone [without warning]. I’d be dead immediately.” Park is hardly the first to be the target of top-secret spy weaponry. Here, eight other imaginative killing devices that have actually been produced:
1. Lipstick gun
Meet the “kiss of death.” This famous Cold War-era pistol may look like an ordinary lipstick, but it was designed by KGB operatives to let a Soviet femme fatale fire a single 4.5mm bullet at anyone unlucky enough to get caught in her cross-hairs.
2. Exploding rats
During World War II, Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) devised a clever plan to blow up enemy boilers by hiding explosive rat carcasses in German coal piles. Supposedly, an unsuspecting enemy would simply toss the dead rat into the nearby fire to dispose of the body and… kaboom! The plan went awry when German authorities seized the first consignment of the devices — and went on to showcase them in the country’s top military academies.
3. Flamethrower glove
Patrick Priebe, a cyberpunk weapons hobbyist, designed this hand-mounted flamethrower using just four lithium ion batteries, butane, a NE555 circuit board, and a transformer to spew fire right from his palm.
4. Umbrella dart gun
Just one day before his 1978 death in London, Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov felt a sharp prick in his thigh. He looked up to see a man clumsily fiddling with an umbrella before speeding off. The brolly had shot a dart loaded with a pellet of ricin, a sophisticated poison. The pellet was coated in a special wax designed to melt at body temperatures, releasing the ricin into the bloodstream. The shooter, believed to be a member of the Bulgarian secret police, was never caught.
5. Exploding chocolate
Prime Minister Winston Churchill did not like the Nazis. And the Nazis did not like Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as evidenced by a letter written by a high-ranking World War II-era British intelligence officer, referencing a bizarre Nazi assassination plot to kill the boisterous politician with explosive chocolate. “We have received information that the enemy are using pound slabs of chocolate which are made of steel with a very thin cover of chocolate,” wrote Lord Victor Rothschild of British intelligence. “Inside there is a high explosive and some form of delay mechanism.” Fortunately, British spies discovered the candy bombs, which were to be placed around the War Cabinet’s dining room, before anyone could have a taste.
6. Pistol glove
Another product of the Cold War-era KGB, this glove-cum-pistol be fired with the twitch of a finger. “It gave the wearer the ability to get within point blank range before firing a lethal shot,” says Buck Sexton at The Blaze. “Oddjob would be proud.”
7. Poisoned cigars
On August 16, 1960, a CIA official was handed a box of Fidel Castro’s favorite cigars… along with instructions to rig them with a deadly poison. The cigars were treated with a toxin called botulinum, reportedly so potent it could kill any man who attempted to light one of the cigars. Though the cigars were duly doctored, it’s unclear if they ever even made it into Castro’s vicinity.
8. CIA’s heart-attack gun
During a mid-1970s Senate testimony, it was revealed that the CIA had developed a dart gun capable of causing a heart attack. The dart — which could penetrate clothing, leave skin unmarked except for a small red bump resembling a mosquito bite, and then disintegrate — was filled with a deadly shellfish toxin. The advantage, says InfoWars, was that officials would attribute the victim’s death to natural causes in the event of an autopsy. It’s unclear if the heart attack gun was actually ever used.
Meanwhile, another conspiracy theory has been gaining currency in the mainstream media, this one slightly of historical importance, even if it covers events nearly 150 years old. Specifically, it’s the idea that John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, didn’t die twelve days after the murder but instead lived another 38 years.
Granted, this theory isn’t completely new: it was powerfully presented in the 1975 book Jesse James Was One of His Names, by Del Schrader & Jesse James III. The book’s text used to be available online for free, but alas no more. You can get a copy of the book on CD for $39.99 by contacting L.K. Shick by email or snail mail:
3700 S. Westport Ave., #2501
Sioux Falls, S.D. 57106
Some of you may be confused by the title of this book. After all, just what the hell does Jesse James have to do with the Lincoln Assassination? (And for you younger readers out there, the Jesse James we’re referring to here is the Wild West outlaw, not the dude who cheated on Sandra Bullock with a bunch of skanky whores.)
Well, to give a Cliff Notes version of the theory, the Lincoln Assassination was part of a bigger operation, involving the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society that essentially was the spy network for the Southern Confederacy. Apparently, James was a member, and his bank robberies were fund-raising activities for the Confederate underground. Another alleged member of the Golden Circle was Booth, and thus the slaying of Lincoln was a job done by the Southern intelligence apparatus. JWB’s death was faked and he was given a cover identity as a reward for his deed.
(As a side note, two leaders of the Golden Circle were “respectable” Mason Albert Pike and Bedford Forrest, the man who inspired the first name of Tom Hanks’ retarded Oscar winner. The same two men founded the Ku Klux Klan. It can then be argued the KKK evolved from remnants of hardcore racists and confederates within the Golden Circle.)
This theory has been covered pretty well on the Internet, though it’s a bit hard to find now. Brian Redman of Conspiracy Nation (now called Melchizedek Communique, found at http://www.shout.net/~bigred/cn.html ) did postings on it in 1999, but they’re not to be found on his Website now. Dave McGowan of Davesweb.cnchost.com also wrote about it in 2003, and this led to his inclusion in the “bonus” documentary found on the National Treasure: Book of Secrets DVD. I had a little something to do with that, as I was unavailable to be interviewed for the DVD, but recommended McGowan for the DVD based on his interest in the subject. McGowan tells the behind-the-scenes story of the interview in this funny post:
In case you didn’t see the movie (or the documentary, which has aired on the Discovery Channel by itself) the Golden Circle as the mastermind of the Lincoln Assassination is central to the movie’s plot.
Well, along comes a new TV show, the most excellent Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on the History Channel ( http://www.history.com/shows/brad-meltzers-decoded ) and they decided to investigate the angle of whether Booth actually died or faked his death. Along the way, they learned of the grave for Edwin Booth, JWB’s brother. DNA from his corpse could be compared to the vertebrae of the alleged JWB killed in 1865 found at the National Museum of Health and Medicine to settle the issue once and for all. For some reason, the National Museum of Health and Medicine is fighting this. But the DNA test has some strong supporters including historian Nate Orlowek: “If the man who killed our greatest president got away and a giant hoax was perpetrated on the American people, then we should know about it.”
To read the CNN article on this subject:
Did Abraham Lincoln’s assassin get away? DNA could end questions
December 24th, 2010