Lincoln Dies, Johnson Becomes President

April 15, 1865

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Andrew Johnson taking the oath of office. (Library of Congress)

After being shot by his assassin John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s limp body was rushed across the street from Ford’s Theater to the boarding house of William Peterson, where he was laid horizontally across a bed too small for his lengthy frame. Though Lincoln clung to life, doctors knew the gunshot wound to the back of his head was mortal, and that it was merely a matter of time before he perished. As news of the assassination spread, the cramped bedroom where Lincoln lay began to fill with high ranking cabinet members, Union officers, doctors, and Vice President Andrew Johnson. As Mary Todd wept uncontrollably in the parlor adjacent to his failing body – with Lincoln’s eldest son Robert by her side, similarly stunned and stricken with grief – the group held vigil over their dying commander-in-chief before he eventually passed away at 7:22 in the morning on the 15th of April. Vice President Johnson, who himself narrowly escaped death when his would be assassin, George Atzerodt, got drunk rather than follow through with the plot, was sworn in as the 17th President of the United States between 10:00 and 11:00 the same morning by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. Johnson was described as being “solemn and dignified” at his swearing in, though he was also reported as saying “They shall suffer for this. They shall suffer for this,” a sad premonition of the reconstruction policies to follow.


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