Even more mysteries surround the assistance provided Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. In a recent article, the Washington Post described Booth as “embittered,” the term used by Psychology Today to “analyze” Lee Harvey Oswald. Other more scholarly studies have argued that Booth was originally plotting not the murder but the abduction of Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson, and Secretary of State Seward. This was part of a coherent strategy to throw the determination of the next president into the hands of the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Roger Taney had already shown in the Dred Scott case that he was pro-slavery and sympathetic to the South.
Speculation of a cover-up about Booth has abounded since the time that four of his associates in the crime were swiftly hanged. A benign explanation for the cover-up would be the desire to avoid dealing with the possibility that Booth had been guided or at least assisted in his plotting by the Confederate Secret Service. This was suspected almost immediately when a Vigenère Cipher table (a code used by the South) was discovered among Booth’s effects. At that time a strong need to restore unity to a divided nation would have been an ample motive to present Booth, like Oswald a century later, as an embittered loner.
It is now pretty well established, by historian Thomas Goodrich and others, that Booth had traveled widely to Canada and elsewhere as a spy and courier for the Confederate Secret Service. Other historians have concluded, in the words of David Herbert Donald, that “at least at the lower levels of the Southern secret service, the abduction of the Union President was under consideration.”