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Beware the People Weeping

Public Opinion and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

by Thomas Reed Turner

312 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

American History

  Paperback / 9780807117224 / September 1991

The first killing of a president in American history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln shook the nation to its foundations with grief and rage. With one bullet the brief period of good feeling at the end of the Civil War was over.

By 1867 the initial belief that the Confederate leadership had engineered the assassination had given way to speculation that Andrew Johnson had been behind the conspiracy. This was followed by bitter attacks on the military trial and on the defense of its two most prominent “victims,” Mrs. Surratt and Dr. Mudd. Most recently, there have been attempts to show that it was the radical faction of Lincoln’s own party that arranged his death.

In Beware the People Weeping, Thomas Reed Turner pushes away the elaborate conspiracy theories that have always surrounded Lincoln’s death and uncovers exactly what can be known about the murder and its aftermath. Finding that many historians have worked in ignorance of the context of the events, or distorted the evidence to suit their own ideas about political assassination, Turner looks instead to public opinion of the time—as reflected in newspapers, diaries, letters, sermons, and transcripts of the pretrial investigation and the trial itself—to understand how and why the public and the military reacted as they did.

Probing the aftermath of the assassination, Turner tells of the spontaneous outpouring of rage and despair, the reaction in the defeated South, the almost universal conviction that the South was behind the plot, the actions of the authorities in tracking the conspirators, and the trials of the suspects, including that of John Surratt in 1867. A close look at these confused events and an untangling of the controversies that arose in their wake, Beware the People Weeping strips away more than a century of speculation to retell with hard facts the history of Abraham Lincoln’s death. 

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