Thursday, May 26, 2016

Alt History Scenario #21: What if Abraham Lincoln Wasn't Assassinated?

Five days after General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate States of America surrendered at the Appomattox Court House, President Abraham Lincoln was convinced by his wife Mary Todd to attend Ford's Theatre to watch the popular play Our American Cousin, a British comedy. Unbeknownst to Lincoln, a plot was afoot by Confederate sympathizers, lead by actor John Wilkes Booth, to kill the President, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward, crippling the Union at the moment of victory, and hopefully convincing the Confederates to rise up again.

Booth himself went after Lincoln, but Lincoln's bodyguard, standing inside the door to private box was hit as Booth opened it. In the commotion that followed, Lincoln turned around in time to see the would-be assassin. Booth tried to shoot his pistol at Lincoln, but the President managed to leap out of the way. Lincoln's guest in the box, Major Henry Rathbone and the guard managed to subdue Booth as Lincoln rose up. The audience and actors below looked up to see the President standing, and he gave the immortal words to the silent crowd: "Worry not for me. The show must go on."

I honestly have no idea what Lincoln would have said. Something motivational most likely.
Although Lincoln survived his attack, Secretary Seward was not as lucky. Recovering from a carriage accident from a few days before in his Washington home, the bedridden Seward was attacked by Lewis Powell, using a knife to strike Seward after gaining admittance into the home claiming to be delivering medicine from the doctor, and overpowering Seward's son. Despite the jaw splint used to repair Seward's injuries from the accident, Powell's knife sliced open Seward's jugular vein, and within moments Seward was drowning in his own blood and he choked to death.

Andrew Johnson, on the other hand, escaped unscathed, as the assassin got cold feet and drank the night away.

The news the next morning of the attempt on Lincoln's life, and the death of Seward, shocked Washington, and quickly the nation. Radical Republicans in Congress immediately blamed a secret plot of the dying Confederacy, and advocated for even harsher Reconstruction, including removing Second and First amendment rights on anyone in the South, and to burn every plantation and cotton bale as punishment. However, Lincoln wasn't going to be pushed by the Radicals, instead advocating for a "rebuilding of the United States, and not strangling half of it." Lincoln's eulogy at Seward's funeral was used to calm the nation, saying that he held no ill will against those that believed they were doing right. It wouldn't save John Wilkes Booth or Lewis Powell however, as they would be tried for attempted murder and murder, and sentenced to hanging.

Hanging: the old fashioned way to say that you really don't like someone.

By the middle of May, Lincoln gave what would be called the "Richmond Address." Just over a month after the end of the war, Lincoln traveled to the former capital of the Confederacy, and gave an outline of his plan for Reconstruction. In return for Negro enfranchisement, 10% of the male voters of a state signing an oath to the US, and passing the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments within a year of being re-established with a state government, states that had been in rebellion against the US government could be readmitted into the union, and would be given large grants by the federal government to rebuild the war torn areas and to modernize the economy, as well as a paid emancipation for all slaves in territory that remained in the union (and a fractional payment in areas where the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect).

This was a dangerous gamble: Radical Republicans wanted a military occupation of the South until all vestiges of the Confederacy were destroyed and didn't want to give a single cent to those that owned slaves, while Democrats and the Southern Elite were horrified of granting blacks the right to vote. But Lincoln, knowing that he was at least giving something to both sides, held the line. After the 1866 House Elections gave a slight minority to moderate Republicans and Democrats that were willing to support Lincoln's plan, the appropriate legislation was passed. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were passed in 1865, 1868 and 1869 respectfully, and the reconstruction of the US continued apace.

Lincoln left office in 1869, considered a hero in the north, and a worthy opponent in the south. However, his efforts at Reconstruction and dealing with both those that thought he was going to far, and those that said he wasn't going far enough, along with the pressures of the war, left him mentally and physically drained and exhausted, and he died in Chicago in 1873 after a long illness. General Ulysses S. Grant, with the help of the black vote in the south, easily won the 1868 election for President on a platform of continuing Lincoln's Reconstruction policies, and Republicans would be in the White House until 1884, and dominate Congress until 1896.

Though, 2016? I have no idea...

However, organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, along with the so-called "Jim Crow" Laws, seemed designed to undo all the work that was done. The later issue was dealt with when the Federal Government took the State of Georgia to court over several of the quickly passed laws in 1868, and in 1871 the Supreme Court, dominated by Republicans, ruled the laws unconstitutional in light of the newly passed amendments. Radical Republicans also strengthened the "Freedman's Bureau," under Senator Charles Sumner, giving it the power to give medical aid and physical protection in the face of the KKK, especially after newspapers in the north printed sensationalist headlines of the atrocities caused by the "men in white." The US Army under General Sherman was also instrumental in protecting African-Americans, intervening in the Nashville Riots to keep blacks and white separated and from lynchings. The Freedman's Bureau, which also helped poor whites and veterans of the Civil War besides African Americans, was later to become the foundation of the Department of Labor, Education and Health in the US.

By 1875, Reconstruction had done it's job. While racism was still prevalent and the KKK continued to be a thorn in the side of the US government and those states that supported and even tried to woo the support of the enfranchised blacks, slavery was gone, the South had been extensively modernized with new factories, railroads, and mechanized agriculture, and peace in North America was assured. However, the influx of cheap labor in both the north and south, and the rise of capitalism, lead to another major issue, the rise of Socialism in the US. A coalition of poor black laborers in the south, impoverished immigrants in the north, and struggling farmers in the west, in the face of high prices of consumer goods, low wages in factories, racism and expensive education and healthcare, and quickly became the Socialist Party of the US, and become a major third party in the government and challenged the status quo. But it wouldn't be until after the First Great War that the US was dragged in by Republican President Teddy Roosevelt in 1910 and the anger at the casualties and expense, and the Great Depression in the 1920s and 30s, that the Socialist Party would claim the White House and build a newly social-democratic state in the US.

This would most likely still apply though.

Notes: The US Civil War is a topic I don't usually talk about, mostly due to my admitted lack of knowledge in the area. However, I was always fascinated about what would happen if Lincoln was in charge of Reconstruction, which I think would meant that the US would go in a more moderate, less racist and possibly more socialist by the 1930s.

But what do you think? What would have happened had Lincoln dodged the bullet at Ford's Theatre? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

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