New information? Lincoln’s assassination remains controversial

By Annie Pearl, CNN • Updated 4th December 2017

More information may have been revealed of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth by biographer William Manchester recently when he said from his deathbed in his own handwriting that Booth “laughed out loud” at President Lincoln.

For decades, historians have noted the controversial document. However, some of those writing about the assassination since then were unaware this section of the 1903 book “America’s 16th President” contained this new information.

For example, the current president of the Committee on Memory of Abraham Lincoln said a National Parks Service worker informed him of the contents after he read the book last month. Stephen Coughlin said the discovery would hopefully make American history more accessible to his 2.5 million Twitter followers.

Stephen Coughlin Credit: Steven Smedley/ Wikimedia Commons

“There should be biographies of all those people who were murdered in the murder that never received the attention they deserved,” said Coughlin. “I’d like to see more of that, more attention given to our founding fathers.”

Then again, biographies have always had their share of controversy.

“It’s a tendency we have to make heroes of people you would never meet,” said historian Lauren DePhillips. “I think about who we glorify — we glorify the traitors. We glorify the murderers.”

There was no government requirement to publish the record of the assassination, and it’s unknown if Carroll published anything concerning “America’s 16th President.”

“We don’t know how much the gossip came out of that the president was alive and he was there that day and that this was very explicit in the dying moment of his life,” said DePhillips.

“It gives you a different perspective of the events themselves.”

One historian wonders if the recent discovery of some information about Booth can reshape America’s history.

“A biographer or person who writes about someone who is a compelling character is responsible for the revisionist or the revisionist view of this,” said Douglas Trumbull, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Gore Vidal.

“So, John Wilkes Booth is on my list of very fascinating biographical characters because he’s no more fascinating than any other character that you could invent.”

Trumbull was not privy to the detail that Manchester thought came from Booth.

“It’s not necessarily going to change our perspective on him,” said Trumbull. “All of this is backlit by the incident that happened in April 1865 and went into the history books.”

Speaking to Coughlin, Trumbull said: “Your message is, don’t write the biography unless you can tell the story of what’s in the biography. And that’s exactly right.”

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