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When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, federal officials launched what was then the greatest manhunt in American history. After twelve days on horseback, the Army found assassin John Wilkes Booth. Nine co-conspirators were captured, and one suspect was detained nearly two years later in Egypt.
Much of what happened in 1865—an armed coup attempt to derail our republic—rings true now after armed insurrectionists attacked our Capitol, threatened elected officials and killed a police officer on January 6th.
Booth was a white supremacist who refused to accept that the Confederacy lost the Civil War. The attack on our Capitol has been called a “white riot”, orchestrated by white supremacists who refuse to accept Donald Trump’s election loss. They even rallied around the Confederate flag again, parading it through the halls of the Capitol.
During the Civil War, the South believed that their cause was favored by God and that the Confederacy was a Christian nation, while the North was godless. The Confederacy’s motto was Deo Vindice—God will avenge.
After the recent attack on the Capitol, Trump zealot Mo Brooks, an Alabama congressman, struck a familiar pro-Trump theme, condemning “socialist Democrats”, and asserting a “God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.”
Both the Booth gang and the January 6th insurrectionists hoped to decapitate government by hitting multiple targets. Booth killed Lincoln, but his cohorts failed to kill the Secretary of War and the vice-president. Their modern counterparts chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and searched for Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they ransacked the Capitol.
Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz handed the insurrectionists easy targets at the Capitol by re-accelerating the big lie that Trump lost because the election was stolen. After the attacks, they denied any role as catalysts for sedition.
Mary Surrat tried that excuse after Lincoln was assassinated, claiming that she merely let the Booth gang meet at her boarding house. She was convicted. Then, as now, even if you just stack the kindling wood and someone else strikes the match, you are still an arsonist.
Those were simpler times with fewer bad guys to catch, but the lessons we learned after Lincoln’s assassination are important. Booth was merely the most visible symptom of a wide-spread disease in the Confederacy.
That same disease—the hatred of American values—still runs deeper and wider than we thought. There are far more insurrectionists now, but there are modern advantages, too. These insurrectionists left an electronic path for law enforcement.
And we must see this through. President Ulysses S. Grant was elected in 1868 and sent troops into the South to destroy the Ku Klux Klan and protect the rights of all Americans. There were over 5000 arrests and the promise of the Civil War became real.
But the public grew weary during Grant’s second term, and his successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, sympathized with the South. He pulled the troops, ended Reconstruction and revived the same hatreds that we are dealing with today.
This time we cannot ease up. These are traitors and seditionists and cop-killers. As we learned from the assassination of Lincoln and the premature end of Reconstruction, we must end this finally. No appeasement.