53 pages 1 hour read

James L. Swanson

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2009

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Important Quotes

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“As Lincoln spoke, Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, a free black woman, standing a few steps from the president, remarked that the lamplight made him ‘stand out boldly in the darkness.’ The perfect target.” 

(Pages 7-8)

This quote highlights that Lincoln’s assassination could have, and perhaps should have, been foreseen. Lincoln was not only unprotected by guards but illuminated and on display. One could reasonably assume that the vanquished South might chafe at their defeat, and Lincoln’s assassination could have been an easy catalyst for a renewed appetite for civil war.

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“Twenty-six years old, impossibly vain, an extremely talented actor, and a star member of a celebrated theatrical family, John Wilkes Booth was willing to throw away fame, wealth, and a promising future for the cause of the Confederacy.” 

(Page 10)

This quote throws Booth’s overweening hubris in stark relief and points to possible motives. While he may have legitimately cared more for the Confederacy than himself, his “star[dom]” inside and outside his family led him to strive for what he would consider heroism, however misguided.

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“If he was serious about assassinating Lincoln, all he had to do was stroll over to the Executive Mansion, announce that the famous actor John Wilkes Booth wished to see the president, await his turn—which nearly always resulted in a private talk with Lincoln—and then shoot Lincoln at his desk.” 

(Page 26)

Here Swanson implies that the successful assassination was just as victim to random happenstance as the rest of the events in the novel. Modern audiences assume orchestrated conspiracies, but the events depicted in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer remind readers that history-changing events occur in an everyday manner and aren’t necessarily under anyone’s control. In addition, this quote signifies that Booth’s motives weren’t necessarily pure, even by his own evil standards. He didn’t simply want Lincoln dead; he wanted to assassinate Lincoln in as public a way possible where he still had a chance of escape.