Chasing Lincoln’s Killer Discussion Questions

James L. Swanson

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

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Chasing Lincoln’s Killer Discussion Questions

1. For Swanson, Booth’s deed seems largely motivated by his acting vocation. Do you think that Booth would have committed this assassination if was not an actor, or is his vision of himself as a dramatic, historical figure necessary for him to commit this deed?

2. One of the most tragic figures, according to Swanson, is Edman Spangler. Though he supposedly merely held Booth’s horse, he was imprisoned for a few years. What do you think of Spangler’s imprisonment? Can his involvement be excused on his own testimony?

3. One of the figures in the biggest predicament was the now infamous Dr. Samuel Mudd. What do you think of Mudd’s plight? Is there something he could have done to rescue his reputation?

4. Would you condemn people such as Laura Keene or Everton Conger, who seem to have taken advantage of the chaos of the moment for purposes of self-aggrandizement? Can their actions be understood as acceptable under the circumstances?

5. What do you think of Swanson’s blow by blow, realistic style? He does not portray heroes and villains, but rather ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. But do such circumstances allow for us to view ordinary people as indeed extraordinary at these moments? In other words, does his no-frills method do justice to events of this magnitude?

6. Should there have been more security to protect Lincoln, or should we admire his willingness to walk openly among the public? Although now it would be impractical for the US to expose its president in such a way, is something lost in such an environment? Or is it simply necessary?

7. To play devil’s advocate, is there any way that we can see Booth’s actions as justified in light of his support for the Confederacy? What are the limits of patriotism? Does the war’s end make his action morally worse than if it happened before the end of the war?

8. Swanson notes that very few among those who helped Booth during his flight spent significant time in prison. Was the government too merciful, or is this forgiveness somehow justified?

9. Discuss your thoughts of the sometimes bizarre behavior…

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