8 Famous Assassinations That Changed The Course Of History

Published October 20, 2018
Updated March 12, 2024

Abraham Lincoln

Graphic Of Abraham Lincoln Assassination

Library of CongressThe death of Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s most famous assassinations, as depicted in Currier & Ives in 1865.

Abraham Lincoln seemed to have more enemies than any man in politics. He campaigned for president on the promise of ending slavery; a promise that so infuriated the South that, as soon as he was elected, the first Confederate States began seceding from the Union.

By the time he’d been sworn into office, a civil war was all but inescapable. In the eyes of many Americans, Lincoln had torn the country apart. He was cursed as a devil in the South and was even hated by a good number of the North, who blamed him for starting the war.

Abraham Lincoln Portrait

Wikimedia CommonsAbraham Lincoln, as photographed on Feb. 5, 1865.

Lincoln would live long enough to see the war end, but only by a few days. On April 14, just five short days after the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln was shot during a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington in what became one of the country’s most famous assassinations.

The killer was John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor who had spent the whole war performing on stage for Northern audiences he secretly despised. As the Confederacy weakened and failed, Booth seems to have felt real remorse that he never joined up and fought.

John Wilkes Booth

Wikimedia CommonsJohn Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Abraham Lincoln.

But by 1865, he and a group of friends were plotting a full-blown coup. Their original plan was to kill half a dozen senior government officials. Booth alone, though, went through with his part of the plan, shooting Lincoln in the head and then jumping down to the stage below.

Eventually, Booth and his co-conspirators were cornered in a barn in Virginia, which Union soldiers set on fire to smoke the plotters out. Booth was shot while trying to flee on a broken ankle. According to witnesses, Booth asked someone to lift his hands so he could look at them. In Booth’s last moments, he stared at his bloodied hands, muttering, “Useless, useless.”

Abraham Lincoln's Wake

The only known picture of Abraham Lincoln lying in state.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Oliver, Mark. "8 Famous Assassinations That Changed The Course Of History." AllThatsInteresting.com, October 20, 2018, https://allthatsinteresting.com/famous-assassinations. Accessed May 29, 2024.