June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Junius Brutus Booth & John Wilkes Booth – Genetically Predisposed to Assassinate?

3 min read

It is not odd to hear about generations of a family working in the same line of business. Centuries ago, it was very common for a father to pass on his skill set to his son. If one’s father was a blacksmith by trade, there was a good chance that the child would also be a blacksmith. Even today, there are still many sons that take after their fathers.

One of the most prominent examples in recent years is the Bush family. In the last twenty-five years, there have been two members of the Bush family that served as President of the United States of America.

Both Bush Presidents On January 20, 1989, George H.W. Bush was sworn in as president, and he served America for one term. Just twelve years later, another Bush would become the Commander and Chief. On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush, son of George H.W. Bush, took the Presidential Oath of Office and served two terms.

Another father and son duo that shared a similar profession was Junius Brutus Booth (father) and John Wilkes Booth (son). Both men were actors. What makes both members of the Booth family interesting is not only that they were passionate about acting, but another affinity they shared.

Junius Brutus Booth
Junius Brutus Booth

This affinity was wanting to cause harm to the President of the United States. It is true; Junius and John Booth both had the desire to assassinate the acting president of their times, but only one of them carried out this deed. As we know, John Wilkes Booth was successful, and on April 15, 1865, he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. What you may not know–and I just learned–was that when Andrew Jackson was president, Junius Brutus Booth wrote a letter to President Jackson. In this letter, one particular line stands out:

I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping.

I don’t think that anyone can dispute the intentions of the letter. It was clearly written as a threat, a threat to assassinate the president. In the letter, Booth refers to Andrew Jackson as,

You damn’d old Scoundrel

and threatens that if he doesn’t comply with his wishes, that he will be

…burnt at the stake…

A picture of the letter is below. If you want to click on it, you can zoom in on it up and read the entire letter for yourself. It is short, simple, and to the point.

How crazy is it that both father and son were actors and wanted to bring untimely demise to a serving President of the United States? Even odder–and this may blow your mind–Edwin Booth, also an actor and son of Junius and brother of John, is credited for saving the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Lincoln.

Yes, the son of the man John Wilkes Booth killed, was saved by John’s brother…

Edwin Booth saved Robert mere months before his brother carried out President Lincoln’s assassination, and at the time of the event, Edwin had no idea who it was he had saved.

In 1909, Robert Lincoln wrote a letter to the editor of The Century Magazine. The following account comes from that letter:

The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.

L-to-R: Booth's sons, John, Edwin and Junius, Jr.
L-to-R: Booth’s sons, John, Edwin and Junius, Jr.

So the lesson is: if you have a crazy father and a crazy brother, there may be hope for you yet.