The Actors Repent

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, he not only stigmatized the Booth name for all time, but he also set back the entire profession of acting.  While today actors are celebrated, and many are viewed as members of high social standing, this was not the case in 1865.  Actors were seen by many as vagrants akin to gypsies.  While audiences would celebrate and applaud talented actors, they would not socialize publicly with them.  While some progress had been made with actors like Edwin Booth gaining acceptance in esteemed social circles, most of the populace still saw actors and their profession in an unfavorable light.  After Lincoln was shot and it was determined that the wound was fatal, the doctors moved him to the Petersen house so that he would not have the shame of dying in a theatre.

After the assassination, many of the actors and crew from Ford’s Theatre, probably worried about the future of their careers and occupation, met together and drafted resolutions to make it clear to the public that they did not support the actions of their fellow actor, John Wilkes Booth.  On April 24, 1865, the Daily National Republican ran the following article:

Resolutions of the Theatrical Profession Respecting the Assassination of the President –

At a meeting of members of the theatrical profession now sojourning in Washington, Wednesday, April 19, 1865, the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted:

Whereas the fact being indisputably proved that our beloved lae President, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated in a most wanton and brutal manner on the night of the 14th of April, 1865, by a fiend named John Wilkes Booth, who has used our profession as an instrument to the accomplishment of his horrible and inhuman design; Therefore

Resolved, That in the cruel murder of President Lincoln our country has lost its wisest defender and best and greatest citizen – greatest because best.

Resolved, That the Histrionic profession especially has cause for heart-fels mourning in the awful sacrifice of Mr. Lincoln, the good and kindly man of liberal mind, who, through genial patronage, was refining and popularizing the dramatic art.

Resolved, That disloyalty, under any guise, has not nor ever will be countenanced by our noble profession, whose members are to be found in the ranks of the Union army and whose hearts are always open to the appeals of charity

Resolved, That the undersigned do hereby pledge themselves to hold no friendly intercourse with any person, male or female, who has or shall give utterance to the least sympathy with secession, and that managers as well as artistes are invited to co-operate with us in this resolve.

Resolved, That we will wear a suitable badge of mourning for ninety days.

J. C. McCollom, George Wren, S. H. Verney,
Tom Hampton, H. B. Phillips, J. B. Wright,
J. W. Jennings, C. H. Clark, Wm. Barron,
G. G. Spear, Chas. Koppitz, Wm. Withers, Jr,
T. C. Gourlay, C. V. Hess, J. H. Evans,
G. A. Parkhurst, A. C. Green, D. A. Strong and
H. McDonall, W. J. Ferguson, J. Lamb, sc’c art.

Many who signed their names above would have to carry the association of that dreadful night forever.  In the end though, the public’s desire for entertainment trumped any retribution for Booth’s crime against acting as a whole.  The main acting related casualty from that night was John T. Ford’s beautiful theatre.  It was shut down and would not reopen as a theatre again until long after the generation that witnessed Lincoln’s death had, themselves, turned to dust.

References:
My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The Actors Repent

  1. Fascinating! Thanks Dave. Interesting that one doesn’t see names like Harry Hawk, Laura Keene or Joe Jefferson….

    • That’s a good observation, Betty. I’m pretty sure the reason Laura Keene and Harry Hawk don’t appear on this is because they were in jail at the time. There’s a telegram dated April 18th, from Laura Keene’s husband John Lutz to Major J. A. Hardee. In it Lutz tells Hardee that the government won’t release “Laura Keene, Mr. Dyott & Hawk & others” until they receive an official telegram from him (Hardee). Since the meeting of the actors in this article occurred the next day, April 19th, it’s doubtful Laura Keene and Harry Hawk were out in time.

  2. J. Beckert

    Neat stuff, Dave. Booth did set the profession back a few yards with his act, but what I find interesting is his quote to Joseph Hazelton – “The world will think better of the actor someday and treat him more liberally.”

  3. Laurie Verge

    Stay tuned for a well-researched, very interesting book that will be coming out on this topic of how the Lincoln assassination affected the cast and crew at Ford’s Theatre. The author is Dr. Tom Bogar, and I have read parts of his soon-to-be published work. It is very well done.

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