Saturday, February 13, 2021

John Wilkes Booth Diary

The text of the surviving pages of John Wilkes Booth's diary is as follows:
John Wilkes Booth's diary is on display at Ford's Theatre, 511 10th Street NW, Washington, D.C. Call before visiting to verify if they are open due to COVID-19.  (202) 347-4833
"Until today nothing was ever thought of sacrificing to our country's wrongs. For six months we had worked to capture, but our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done. But its failure was owing to others, who did not strike for their country with a heart. I struck boldly, and not as the papers say. I walked with a firm step through a thousand of his friends, was stopped, but pushed on. A colonel was at his side. I shouted Sic semper before I fired. In jumping broke my leg. I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night with the bone of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump. I can never repent it, though we hated to kill. Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was. This forced Union is not what I have loved. I care not what becomes of me. I have no desire to outlive my country. The night before the deed I wrote a long article and left it for one of the editors of the National Intelligencer, in which I fully set forth our reasons for our proceedings. He or the gov'r-

After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gunboats till I was forced to return wet, cold, and starving, with every man's hand against me, I am here in despair. And why? For doing what Brutus was honored for. What made Tell a hero? And yet I, for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew, am looked upon as a common cutthroat. My action was purer than either of theirs. One hoped to be great himself. The other had not only his country's but his own, wrongs to avenge. I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone. A country that groaned beneath this tyranny, and prayed for this end, and yet now behold the cold hands they extend to me. God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong. Yet I cannot see my wrong, except in serving a degenerate people. The little, the very little, I left behind to clear my name, the Government will not allow to be printed. So ends all. For my country I have given up all that makes life sweet and holy, brought misery upon my family, and am sure there is no pardon in the Heaven for me, since man condemns me so. I have only heard of what has been done (except what I did myself), and it fills me with horror. God, try and forgive me, and bless my mother. Tonight I will once more try the river with the intent to cross. Though I have a greater desire and almost a mind to return to Washington, and in a measure clear my name - which I feel I can do. I do not repent the blow I struck. I may before my God, but not to man. I think I have done well. Though I am abandoned, with the curse of Cain upon me, when, if the world knew my heart, that one blow would have made me great, though I did desire no greatness. Tonight I try to escape these bloodhounds once more. Who, who can read his fate? God's will be done. I have too great a soul to die like a criminal. Oh, may He, may He spare me that, and let me die bravely. I bless the entire world. Have never hated or wronged anyone. This last was not a wrong, unless God deems it so, and it's with Him to damn or bless me. As for this brave boy with me, who often prays (yes, before and since) with a true and sincere heart - was it crime in him? If so, why can he pray the same?

I do not wish to shed a drop of blood, but 'I must fight the course.' Tis all that's left to me."
Chain of Custody for Booth's Diary
Mystery surrounds this diary. The little book was taken off Booth's body by Colonel Everton Conger. He took it to Washington and gave it to Lafayette C. Baker, chief of the War Department's National Detective Police. Baker in turn gave it to Edwin McMasters Stanton [1], Secretary of War (1862–1868). 
Edwin McMasters Stanton, 27th United States Secretary of War, (1862-1868).
The book was not produced as evidence in the 1865 Conspiracy Trial. In 1867 the diary was rediscovered in a "forgotten" War Department file with pages missing. Although most sources indicate, 9 separate sheets—18 pages of text were missing. Were all those pages missing since 1867?

Over the years there has been endless speculation on those missing pages including rumors that they had surfaced. Nevertheless, they remain officially missing. Two of the pages were torn out by Booth himself and used to write messages to Dr. Richard H. Stuart on April 24, 1865. To speculate on their contents makes for interesting reading, but it's essentially fruitless as no one knows for sure what the rest of the missing pages may or may not have contained.

John Wilkes Booth Missing Diary Pages
Booth's diary was a small book, which was actually an 1864 appointment book kept as a diary, was found on the body of John Wilkes Booth on April 26, 1865. The datebook was printed and sold by James M. Crawford, a St. Louis stationer. The book measured 6 by 3 1/2 inches with the pictures of 5 women found in the diary pockets. Booth's entries in the diary were probably written between April 17 and April 22, 1865. 

Mystery surrounds Booth’s diary. The little book was taken off Booth’s body by Colonel Everton Conger. He took it to Washington and gave it to Lafayette C. Baker, chief of the War Department’s National Detective Police. Baker in turn gave it to the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Despite its obvious interest in the case, the book was not produced as evidence in the 1865 Conspiracy Trial.

In 1867 the diary was re-discovered in a forgotten War Department file with more than a dozen pages missing. Conspiracy theorists became convinced that the missing pages contained the key to who really was behind Lincoln’s assassination, and several fingers pointed toward Edwin Stanton. 
Support for this theory came about in 1975 when Joseph Lynch, a rare books dealer, claimed to have found the missing pages through one of Edwin Stanton’s descendants. Despite the apparent authenticity of Lynch’s claim, his story contained a few missing pages of its own. Over the years there has been endless speculation on those missing pages including rumors that they had surfaced. Nevertheless, they remain officially missing.

In 1977, yet another administrator with the National Park Service’s National Capital properties asked the FBI to examine this little book “in order to rest any question about the possibility of invisible writing in the diary.” (The concerns of the Park Service grew from the release that same year of The Lincoln Conspiracy, a film that alleged the secret involvement of Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton in the president’s death.) In addition, the Park Service hoped that the FBI would authenticate Booth’s handwriting by comparing the hand script in the diary with the handwriting in letters known to have been composed by Booth. The FBI did disclose they felt confident no one had added to or edited the diary entries. They also confirmed nothing was written with invisible ink.

The FBI exposed the historical artifact to a variety of light frequencies, including ultraviolet, fluorescence with ultraviolet excitation, infrared, and x-ray. No hidden notations appeared. The agency judged the handwriting to be that of John Wilkes Booth. FBI's forensic laboratory has examined the diary and stated that 43 separate sheets are missing. This means that 86 pages of text are missing. 

Was Lincoln’s death part of a larger conspiracy? Did Booth write about working for the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton? Were the missing pages torn out deliberately by Edwin Stanton, or was it someone else who had something to hide? We may never know.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] While the Congress was not in session, Johnson had suspended Edwin M. Stanton and appointed General Ulysses S. Grant as secretary of war. From August 12, 1867, until January 14, 1868, Stanton was suspended from office, and Ulysses S. Grant served as Acting Secretary of War.

The impeachment of President Andrew Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act by attempting to replace Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, while Congress was not in session and other abuses of presidential power from February 24, 1868, to May 26, 1868. 

The Senate voted 35 "guilty" and 19 "not guilty," resulting in acquittal. (36 "guilty" votes necessary for a conviction). 

NOTE: Six former Confederate states were also readmitted separately from the regular election, each electing two Republicans. This increased the Republicans' already overwhelming majority to the largest proportion of seats ever controlled by the party.

Majority Party: Republican (57); Minority Party: Democratic (9); Other Parties: (0); Vacant: (8); For a total of 74 seats. 25 of the 66 (8 vacant) total of 74 seats in the United States Senate (with special elections), 34 seats needed for a majority.


  1. 43 separate sheets missing doesn't necessarily mean that 86 pages of writing are missing. Some (or all) of those pages could have been blank and never written on by Booth.


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