April 14, 1865, was a day of reserved celebration for President Lincoln, the government, and citizens of the Union. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant less than a week earlier at Appomattox. Grant accepted Lincoln’s offer to attend a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. titled ‘Our American Cousin.’ However, Grant later was coerced into declining the invitation by his wife who did not want to spend the evening with Lincoln’s wife Mary who, affording respect due to a First Lady, often displayed her eccentric personality. Maj. Henry Rathbone and fiancée Clara Harris accompanied the Lincolns in place of the Grants.
When the Lincolns arrived, late, the play was delayed allowing the audience to applaud the First Couple’s entrance into the flag-draped box positioned in the rear right of the theater, above the audience. Lincoln sat facing the stage and at his back two doors, one of which had a small hole drilled in it previously by John Wilkes Booth. Booth was a somewhat famous actor who planned the assassination and later carried it out with relative ease because of the less than adequate security provided which, in retrospect, is a puzzling circumstance.
“Despite the fact that Lincoln was roundly hated by thousands of defeated Southerners (he was receiving threats on his life every day), only one guard was posted outside this vestibule door, an alcoholic policeman named John Parker, who wandered off to get a drink before the performance was half over” (Wallechinsky & Wallace, 2005).Booth was involved in a conspiracy that included the murder of Lincoln, Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward who was attacked that same night as he lay ill but survived multiple stab wounds inflicted by Lewis Paine. .