The following letter was received by the Department of the Secretary of State, on April 23rd, 1865:
“To the Honorable Secretary of State
In looking over some old papers yesterday my eye came in contact with the enclosed extract which under the existing state of affairs I thought was worthy of being pointed out to you especially as the state (Ala) is now in our possession and the authors of the proposition can be hunted out and brought to justice ever provided they are innocent of the murder.
I have the honor to be your Obt. Servant,
Henry L. Greiner”
Attached to this letter was this extract from the Selma Dispatch:
“One Million Dollars Wanted, to have Peace by the 1st of March. – If the citizens of the Southern Confederacy will furnish me with the cash or good securities for the sum of one million dollars, I will cause the lives of Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward and Andrew Johnson to be taken by the first of March next. This will give us peace, and satisfy the world that cruel tyrants can not live in the “land of liberty.” If this is not accomplished nothing will be claimed beyond the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in advance, which is supposed to be necessary to reach and slaughter the three villains.
I will give, myself, one thousand dollars towards this patriotic purpose.
Every one wishing to contribute will address box X, Cahaba, Alabama. X.
December 1, 1864″
The author of this advertisement was George W. Gayle, a lawyer from Cahaba, Alabama. Gayle ran this advertisement in the Selma Dispatch four or five times to express his, and his neighbors’, digust and hatred for the sixteenth president and his cabinet. We can tell his threat was not a real one due to his million dollar fee. Such a sum would be unobtainable in the war ravaged South.
While extravagant and crass, Gayle demonstrates the feeling that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant. This idea was shared by many others who watched a war between brothers rage on. One man who shared this view was John Wilkes Booth.
Gayle’s violent expression of disgust against Lincoln would come back to haunt him. After the government received the above note and newspaper clipping, Gayle was hunted down and arrested on May 24. The 57-year-old lawyer had no real connection to John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination, but the government used him as a warning to all of those who spoke ill of the late President. Not only was his advertisement and character involved in the Trial of the Conspirators in 1865, but, he was still trying to clear his name in court as of December, 1866.
The people of the Confederacy learned quickly from Mr. Gayle’s example. Those who agreed with what Booth had done censored themselves to protect themselves. Many only committed their approval in the form of diary and journal entries. To learn more about the how Southerners viewed Lincoln’s assassination, I recommend the book, When the Bells Tolled for Lincoln: Southern Reaction to the Assassination by Carolyn L. Harrell. This book is a wonderful look at how varied the perception of Lincoln’s death was across the Southern states.