John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Republican President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was affiliated with the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party and was a supporter of slavery and the Confederacy. Social media posts claim without evidence that Booth was a Democrat.
President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and white supremacist. Enraged by Lincoln’s last public address, in which the president said he planned to grant some African-American men the right to vote, Booth — who had already been planning with other Confederates to abduct Lincoln — shot and killed the president at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865.
But posts on social media misrepresent Booth’s political affiliation, claiming without evidence that he was a Democrat when he shot the Republican president.
A viral Facebook post shared by conservative meme page The Rabbit Hole shows an illustration depicting the moment before Booth fired on Lincoln. “WHEN DEMOCRATS DON’T GET THEIR WAY, THEY GET DANGEROUS,” the meme reads. The post has received more than 1,800 likes and 750 shares.
A post on Twitter also claims, “Liberals are criminals and most criminals, every mass shooter, and Presidential assassin since John Wilkes Booth was a Democrat.”
Another post on Twitter reads, “If the #Democrat John Wilkes Booth, killed #Republican President Lincoln today, #FakeNews and Dems would call it a ‘#PeacefulProtest'”!
But we could find no basis for the claims that Booth was a Democrat.
“To my knowledge, there are no surviving statements in which John Wilkes Booth declares he is a Democrat, but merely saying so oversimplifies his politics,” Christian McWhirter, the Lincoln historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, told us in an email.
“He certainly was not a Republican and his politics during the Civil War were almost entirely motivated by his belief in white supremacy and intense hatred of Abraham Lincoln. Booth viewed Lincoln and the Republicans as responsible for the Civil War because he considered them a ‘radical’ abolitionist party who forced the slaveholding states to secede to protect the institution of slavery,” McWhirter said.
“Booth’s political affiliations before the Civil War are a little murkier but he appears to have been a ‘Know-Nothing’ in the 1850s,” McWhirter continued. “This was a third party movement — known officially as the American Party — that for a time competed with the Republicans as the major second party replacing the collapsed Whig Party. The core of the Know-Nothing platform was opposition to immigration from various non-Anglo-Saxon groups, such as the Irish and Germans, along with Catholics.”
In “Assassins: Killers Who Changed History,” the editors of TIME-LIFE say that Booth “developed extreme political convictions as a teen and joined the Know Nothing party, reactionaries bent on preserving America for native-born whites.”
In addition to his affiliation with the Know-Nothing Party, Booth was with the militia group the Richmond Grays in 1859 when they served as guards during the execution of John Brown, the abolitionist who led the Raid on Harper’s Ferry.
During the Civil War, Booth worked as a Confederate spy and courier as part of the Confederate Secret Service, according to William A. Tidwell, a retired brigadier general and coauthor of a book on the Confederate Secret Service.
In a personal diary entry and a letter intended for his brother-in-law, John Clarke, Booth explained his motives, saying he believed that Lincoln’s policies would ruin America.
“Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was. This forced union is not what I have loved,” he wrote in a diary while on the run shortly after shooting Lincoln.
“This country was formed for the white, not for the black man,” Booth wrote in a letter to Clarke. “And looking upon African slavery from the same standpoint held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one have ever considered it one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation… Yet Heaven knows no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition. But Lincoln’s policy is only preparing the way for their total annihilation…”
McWhirter said that Booth’s hatred of Lincoln and the Republicans intensified as the Civil War went on, adding that Booth “viewed their wartime measures as increasingly tyrannical.”
“Booth was further enraged by Republican efforts to destroy slavery. As a committed white supremacist, Booth believed African Americans could only function in American society as enslaved people and this was a significant factor in his eventual decision to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, especially after Lincoln suggested possibly granting some Black men the right to vote in his final public speech on April 11, 1865, which Booth attended,” McWhirter said.
“I don’t think we know how or if he voted in 1860 or 1864, so it’s possible he voted for a Democratic candidate in those elections due to his opposition to Republicans,” McWhirter also said, “but I can’t say for sure unless there is a document out there I’m not aware of.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Abraham Lincoln Historical Society. “John Wilkes Booth.” Accessed 19 Apr 2022.
Cohen, Jennie. “Who Was Mary Surratt, Alleged Conspirator in the Lincoln Assassination?” History.com. 22 Aug 2018.
Comstock, Dr. Dale (@DaleComstock). “Liberals are criminals and most criminals, every mass shooter, and Presidential assassin since John Wilkes Booth was a Democrat.” Twitter. 21 Feb 2022.
Fazio, John. “Booth in the Confederate Secret Service.” The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. 1 Jun 2020.
Fischer, Roger A. Review of “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, and: John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clark. Civil War History, vol. 44 no. 3.” Project MUSE. 3 Sep 1998.
Joshua T. Hosler for Veterans (@JoshuaHolser). “If the #Democrat John Wilkes Booth, killed #Republican President Lincoln today, #FakeNews and Dems would call it a “#PeacefulProtest”!” Twitter. 24 Sep 2020.
Library of Congress. “Soldiers from Richmond Grays at execution of abolitionist John Brown in Charles Town, West Virginia.” Accessed 21 Apr 2022.
Library of Congress. “The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial of the Conspirators.” Accessed 20 Apr 2022.
“Lincoln’s Assassination.” Ford’s Theatre. Accessed 19 Apr 2022.
“Material Evidence: John Wilkes Booth.” Ford’s Theatre. Accessed 19 Apr 2022.
McWhirter, Christian. Lincoln historian, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Email to FactCheck.org. 21 Apr 2022.
Tidwell, William. “Target Abe Lincoln.” Washington Post. 16 Oct 1988.
TIME-LIFE. “Assassins: Killers Who Changed History.” 13 Apr 2018.
Wallenfeldt, Jeff. “John Wilkes Booth” webpage. Britannica. Accessed 19 Apr 2022.