The Reason Lincoln Had to Die
by Don Thomas

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Lincoln: An Inside Job

by Don Thomas

The Reason Lincoln Had to Die is a documented history about domestic terrorism that on the surface seems so impossible to be true it poses the question, “How could a terrorist attack against the U.S. government ever be covered up?” For a century and a half, the assassins John Wilkes Booth and Lewis Powell have been rumored to have been working for the Confederate government, but never has a single mastermind been identified. The simple answer to why the Lincoln assassination conspiracy has remained unsolved is because this terrorist attack was planned, orchestrated, investigated and tried by a domestic enemy under the authority of the U.S. military. The attack was designed to appear to be the work of the Confederacy.

The assassination plot against Lincoln’s administration was an inside job that involved planning and cooperation by a large coalition of high-ranking military personnel, backed by wealthy civilian capitalists and elected government officials. Their shared motive was a single-minded determination to keep a northeastern state majority in the United States Congress by stopping Lincoln’s reconstruction plan. The War Department conspired with this coalition to frame their assassinations of President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward on the completely demoralized Confederate government. To continue with Lincoln's use of "federal powers" (even after the Southern states had surrendered) the coalition would argue that Booth was a Confederate agent and his attack on the President created a new act of war.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton spearheaded this diabolical military coup and employed the collaboration of his loyal officers, who supported the coalition's self-serving motives for murder, justifying it in their own minds using a perverse sense of patriotism. To seize control of the United States legislature, the crime had to be covered up and attributed to a believable scapegoat. This began with Stanton’s appointment of three Army Colonels as Special Commissioners to head the War Department's conspiracy investigation. Col. John A. Foster, Col. H.S. Olcott and Col. H.H. Wells handled the investigation and evidence until April 29, after which Col. H.L. Burnett took over as chief investigator and Brevet Judge Advocate for the conspiracy trial. [1]

Weeks before this terrorist attack against top U.S. officials, Booth only had plans to kidnap the President [2], with the aid of an unseemly band of followers, most of which abandoned Booth and his plot in March. When Booth and Powell launched their simultaneous strikes against President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward, succeeding at killing one, they had only three former kidnapping associates remaining in Washington: George Atzerodt, David Herold, and one of William Seward's closest aides, James Donaldson. [3]

On April 14th, the day of the assassination, Booth had plans to attend Grover's Theater. It was mid-day before the theater staff of Ford's Theatre learned that the President had changed his plans to attend their establishment that night. The President's state box at Ford's had been prepared ahead of time to aid Booth in killing Lincoln and making an escape. Booth and his convicted accomplices (Atzerodt and Herold) did not have the intelligence, ability or time to make these preparations. Only an operative within the Federal government would have known the President's plans for that evening. Furthermore, the newspapers announced that same afternoon that General Grant would be accompanying Lincoln at Ford's. However, Grant was persuaded not to attend at the last minute by Edwin Stanton. Still, it would later be alleged Booth and his accused accomplices were also plotting to kill Grant as well, even though Booth arrived at the theater armed with only a single-shot pistol, correctly having no expectations whatsoever to encounter Grant or presidential guards.

The simultaneous attack on William Seward was also pre-arranged, using inside knowledge that no one other than James Donaldson could have provided to Booth. Seward, at the time, was bedridden from a carriage accident, with James Donaldson attending him at his bedside. Only this State Department employee in Booth's gang (Donaldson) could have given Lewis Powell his excuse to enter Seward's home (a bottle of Seward’s prescription medicine and his doctor's name) and the location of Mr. Seward's bedroom in his four-story house. It was also proven beyond any question that Booth and his accomplice were promised immunity after assassinating Lincoln and Seward. [4] Such a guarantee could only be offered, and made believable to Booth, coming from a representative from within the United States government, which Donaldson was.

Donaldson’s Role

Booth's original kidnapping plans began to take shape around the first week of March, 1865. Even before this time, Donaldson was already a major member of Booth's gang and it was Donaldson who stored in his home the weapons and supplies Booth had purchased in New York for the kidnapping plot. Later that same week Donaldson carried those supplies to the Tee Bee post office. Booth’s other kidnapping accomplices, John Surratt, David Herold and George Atzerodt, picked up the supplies from Tee Bee and carried them to John Lloyd’s Tavern in Surrattsville, five miles south of Tee Bee. Surrattsville was the hiding place to store the weapons and supplies until Lincoln's abduction was ready. Lloyd was just one of many who would later testify as a military prosecution witness to keep from being hanged as an accomplice in the assassination plot. [5]

Around midnight of March 15, Booth instructed Donaldson to gather Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold for a meeting at Gaither's Saloon to plot a kidnapping attempt for March 17.  The kidnapping attempt never materialized, and after that debacle the kidnapping gang broke apart. Michael O'Laughlin and Samuel Arnold left Washington and returned to Baltimore. After late March only Donaldson, Herold and Atzerodt remained with Booth. The kidnapping weapons and supplies lay hidden in the Surrattsville Tavern until Booth shot Lincoln and made his escape from Washington. David Herold carried one of the two carbines away while Booth left the second carbine behind at the Tavern along with the other useless kidnapping supplies (rope, monkey wrench, handcuffs).

One of Booth’s three accomplices, George Atzerodt, confessed that on Wednesday, April 12, he saw Donaldson talking with Booth on Pennsylvania Avenue and he overheard them agree to meet again on Friday, April 14.  That Friday evening, Donaldson was scheduled to sit with at the bedside of the previously injured Mr. Seward, but he changed his shift with George Robinson, who had just recently been hired only two days earlier. Around 10:15 PM that night, Lewis Powell attacked Secretary Seward with a knife, also stabbing Robinson and three other people in Mr. Seward's home, while at the same time Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford's Theatre.

Donaldson Goes Free

Two of Booth's accomplices (Atzerodt and Herold) were captured and hanged for being Confederate saboteurs. John Surratt, one of Booth's estranged kidnapping collaborators, was captured two years later, but found not guilty of assassination conspiracy, only guilty of being complicit in the aborted kidnapping plot.

None of the seven conspirators who were found guilty during the conspiracy trial were able to provide Booth and Powell with the inside knowledge and assurance they would need to carry out such coordinated and professionally-planned attacks in the heart of Washington. The War Department’s investigators and all the military judges for the conspiracy trial knew Secretary Seward’s assistant, James Donaldson, was as a major accomplice in Booth's gang [6], yet Donaldson was never arrested or investigated, nor was he mentioned in any trials or history books, UNTIL NOW.

Footnotes

[1]  Steers, Edward and William C. Edwards. The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence. University of Illinois Press, 2009, p. 222 (footnote 1), 228 (footnote 1), 251.

[2]  The fact that Booth and Powell had no plans to assassinate any government officials until the very day of the attacks is substantiated by no fewer than eight documents:

  1. Booth's diary;
  2. Booth's letter to his mother, written the morning of the day of the assassination, showed no indication he intended to leave Washington;
  3. the account of Reverend Abraham Gillette, who took the last statements of Lewis Powell, in which Powell said he was given instructions, including the layout of Seward's home, Seward's medicine and doctor's name on the day of the strike (Gillette, Abraham D. “The Last Days of Payne.” New York: World, Sunday, April 3, 1892, p. 17);
  4. in 1867, during the Impeachment Investigation against Andrew Johnson, members of Congress were persuaded that Booth had only kidnapping plans until the day of the assassination (DeWitt, David M. The Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson: Seventeenth President of the United States. New York, McMillan & Co., 1903, p. 215;
  5. the May 1, 1865, confession of George Atzerodt specified Booth said nothing of killing Lincoln "until the last night (Friday)";
  6. the April 17 confession of Samuel Arnold, who abandoned Booth mid-March, only described (and in great detail) Booth's kidnapping plot;
  7. Booth's "Manifesto," written late in 1864 when he first resolved to kidnap the President to barter him for Confederate prisoners, specifically lists making Lincoln a captive of the South; and
  8. the War Department's Chief Detective, Lafayette Baker, indicated on page 486 of his memoirs that his spies had infiltrated a band of would-be kidnappers with the aid of an informant in the Surratt House (thus, Booth's gang), which he determined to not be a threat (apparently because they disbanded).
     
    More indicators affirming a last-day plan to assassinate exist, several of which are explained in The Reason Lincoln Had to Die.

[3]  This same James Donaldson was a central operative in Booth's kidnapping and assassination plots, plus a years-long aide to Secretary of State William Seward. Attesting to this are numerous sources, including, but not limited to:

  1. The Confession of George Atzerodt names and describes Donaldson as a key figure among Booth's kidnapping accomplices.
  2. The Confession of Samuel Arnold describes Donaldson and his role in Booth's intended kidnapping.
  3. The photograph (Library of Congress reproduction no. PPMSCA-23732) of James Donaldson with his boss, William Seward, perfectly matches the detailed description of his appearance and attire given by both Atzerodt and Arnold.
  4. The U.S. Congressional Serial Set, Vol. 1097, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1861, p. 2, indicates James Donaldson and Emerick W. Hansell were hired together as State Department employees. Hansell was one of five people stabbed by Powell during his assassination attempt at the Seward House.
  5. The diary of Seward's daughter, Fannie, indicates that Donaldson had been attending the Secretary of State at his bedside prior to the attacks, was absent for the assassination attempt, but reappeared at the Seward house just after the assassination attempt. (Seward, Frances A., Patricia Carley Johnson, editor. Sensitivity and Civil War: the selected diaries and papers, 1858-1866, of Frances Adeline (Fanny) Seward. University of Rochester, 1964.)

[4]  The promise of immunity to Booth and Powell is evidenced by numerous factors, including, but not limited to:

  1. Booth's diary, written days after the assassination, spoke specifically of returning to Washington to clear his name.
  2. The 1867 United States Congress, persuaded that Booth was expecting a pardon from the highest level of the Federal government, formed a five-man investigative team, headed by Massachusetts Congressman Benjamin Butler, to discover who promised Booth immunity, but dropped the investigation when it failed to implicate Andrew Johnson.
  3. Powell, after his assassination attempt against Seward, did not even bother to leave Washington DC.

[5]  The functions in Booth's kidnapping gang and plot of James Donaldson and John Lloyd were described in detail in the April 17th and May 1st confessions of Samuel Arnold and George Atzerodt, respectively. Numerous particulars of both confessions (such as Atzerodt's activities April 14-15, and Arnold's itemization of materials and travels) were corroborated by evidence and witnesses in the investigation and trial, and there is no reason to suspect their accounts of Donaldson were false.

[6]  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, chief prosecutor Joseph Holt, and the judges of the conspirators' trial, were all privy to Atzerodt's confession and Booth's diary, both of which were hidden from the public by the War Department in 1865, a fact that both Stanton and Judge Advocate John A. Bingham admitted before Congress in 1867. Booth's diary resurfaced by subpoena two years later, but pages had been removed and replaced via lamination after the book was recovered from Booth's body (substantiated by Johnson's impeachment investigation transcripts, plus an FBI forensic analysis in 1977). Atzerodt's confession disappeared from the records of the War Department and the National Archives (along with other evidence), but a copy among the records of Atzerodt's attorney, Captian William Doster, was discovered in the 1970s.

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