Confession of John Wilkes Booth


Confesses that he was engaged in a Plot to Capture and Carry Off the President

The following verbatim copy of a letter, in writing which is in the hand handwriting of JOHN WILKES BOOTH, the murderer of President LINCOLN, has been furnished to us by the Hon. Wm. MILLWARD, United States Marshal of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It was handed over to that office of by JOHN S. CLARKE, who is brother-in-law are Mr. BOOTH. The history connected with it is somewhat peculiar.

In November 1864 the paper was deposited with Mr. CLARKE by BOOTH, in a sealed envelope, "or safe keeping", Mr. CLARKE being ignorant of the contents. In January last, BOOTH called at Mr CLARKE's house, asked for the package and it was given to him. It is now supposed that at that time he took out the paper and added to it his signature, which appears to be in a different ink from that used in the body of the letter, and also from the language employed could not have been put to it originally. Afterwards he returned the package to Mr. CLARKE again for safekeeping, sealed and bearing the superscription " J. WILKES BOOTH."

The enclosure was preserved by the family without suspicion of its nature. After the afflicting information of the assassination of the President, which came upon the family of Mr. CLARKE with crushing force, it was considered proper to open the envelope. There were found in it the following paper, with some Seven Thirty United States Bonds, and certificates of shares in oil companies. Mr CLARKE promptly handed over the paper to Marshal MILLWARD in whose custody it now remains. From a perusal of this paper, it seems to have been prepared by BOOTH as some sort of desperate act which he had in contemplation; and from the language used, it is probable that it was a plot to abduct the President and carry him off to Virginia. If this was meditated, it failed, and from making a prisoner of the President to his assassination was an easy step for a man of perverted principles. It also appears the BOOTH was one of the party who was engaged in the capture and execution of JOHN BROWN, of Ossawattomie, at which time he doubtless imbibed from WISE and his associates, those detestable sentiments of cruelty which have culminated in an infamous crime. The letter is as follows: --

My Dear Sir:--

You may use this as you think best. But as some may wish to know when, who and why, and as I know not how to direct, I give it (in the words of your master,) "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN"

Right or wrong, God judge me, not man. For my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure. The lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years, I have waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for the restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God's will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end. I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of Abraham Lincoln, four years ago, spoke plainly, war - war upon Southern rights and institutions. His election proved it . "Await an overt act." Yes, until you are bound and plundered. What folly! The South was wise. Who thinks of argument or patience when the finger of his enemy presses on the trigger? In a foreign war, I too could say, "country right or wrong." But in a struggle such as ours (where the brother tries to pierce the brother's heart,) for God's sake, choose the right. When a country like this, spurns justice from her side, she forfeits the allegiance of every honest freeman, and should leave him, untrammeled by any fealty soever, to act as his conscience may approve.

People of the North, to hate tyranny, to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teachings of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it,and may it never. This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking up on African slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of the Constitution, I, for one, have ever considered it one of the greatest blessings (both of themselves and for us) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power. Witness the elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the Negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition. But Lincoln's policy is only preparing the way for their total annihilation. The South have not, nor have they been fighting for the continuance of slavery. The first battle of Bull Run did away with that idea. Their causes since for war have been as noble and greater far than those that urged our fathers on. Even should we allow they were wrong at the beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice have made the wrong become the right, and they stand now (before the wonder and admiration of the world) as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of their deeds, Thermopylae* will be forgotten.

When I aided it in the capture and execution of John Brown (who is a murderer on our western border, and was fairly tried and convicted before an impartial judge and jury, of treason, who by the way, has since been made a god,) I was proud of my little share in the transaction, for I deemed it my duty, and that I was helping our country to perform an act of justice. But what was a crime in poor John Brown is now a considered (by themselves) as the greatest and only virtue of the whole Republican Party. Strange transmigration! Vice to become a virtue, simply because more indulge in it.

I thought then, as now, that the Abolitionists were the only traitors in the land, and that the entire party deserved the same fate as poor old Brown, not because they wish to abolish slavery, but on account of the means they have endeavored to used to effect that abolition. If Brown were living, I doubt whether he himself would set slavery against the Union. Most, or many in the most north to do, and openly curse the Union, if the South were to return and retain a single right guaranteed to them by every tie which we once revered as sacred. The South can make no choice. It is either extermination of slavery for themselves (worse than death) to draw from. I know my choice.

I have also studied hard to discover up on what grounds the right of a State to secede has been denied, when our very name, United States, and the Declaration of Independence, both provide for Secession. But there is no time for words. I write in haste. I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on the one side, I have many friends and every thing to make me happy, where my professional alone has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars a year, and where my great personal ambition in my profession has such a great field for labor.

On the other hand, the South has never bestowed upon me one kind word; a place now where nowI have no friends, except beneath the sod; a place where I must either become a private shoulder or beggar. To give up all the former for the latter, besides my mother and sisters whom I love so dearly (although they differ so widely with me in opinion,) it seems insane; But God is my judge. I love justice more than I do a country that disowns it; more than fame and wealth; more (Heaven pardon me if I am wrong) more than a happy home.

I have never been on the battle-field; but O my countrymen, could you all but see the reality or effects of this horrid war, as I have seen them (in every State, save Virginia) I know you would think like me, and would pray the Almighty to create in the Northern mind a sense of right and justice (even should it possess no seasoning of mercy,) and that he would dry up this sea of blood between us ,which is daily growing wider. Alas! poor country, is she to meet her threatened doom?

Four years ago, I would have given a thousand lives to see her remain (as I had always known her) powerful and unbroken. And even now, I would hold my life is naught to see her what she was. O my friends, if the fearful scenes of the last four years had never been enacted, or if what has been had been but a frightful dream from which we could now awake with what overflowing hearts could we bless God and pray for his continued favor!

How I have loved the old flag could never now be known. A few years since and the entire world could boast of none so pure and spotless. But I have of late been seeing and hearing of the bloody deeds of which she has been made the emblem, and would shudder to think how changed she has grown. O how I long to see her break from the midst of blood and death that circles round her folds, spoiling her beauty and tarnishing her honor. But no; day by day she's being dragged deeper and deeper into cruelty and oppression, till now (in my eyes) her once bright red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face of Heaven. I now look upon my early admiration of her glories as a dream. My love (as things stand today) is for the South alone. Nor do I do I deem it a dishonor in attempting to make for her a prisoner of this man, to whom she owes so much misery. If success attends me, I go penniless to her side. They say she has found that "last ditch," which the North have so long derided, and have been endeavoring to force her in, forgetting they are our brothers, and that it's impolitic to goad an enemy to madness. Should I reach her in safety and find it true, I will proudly beg permission to triumph or die in that same "ditch" by her side.

A Confederate doing duty upon his own responsibility.


Ambassador's notes:
*Thermopylae was a narrow pass on the coast of Greece, northwest of Athens. In 480 BC It was the site of a famous battle at which the Spartan King Leonidas stood off the Persian armies for a time but was annihilated by the Persians. The name is derived from the hot sulphur springs nearby.