The events culminating in the assassination of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, are known as the Lincoln conspiracy. This conspiracy concerns the murderous machinations of its chief instigator, Shakespearean actor and Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth. His band of followers agreed to his scheme to rid the Union of all of its leaders in one fell swoop. On 14 April 1865, at 10:15 PM, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward were all slated to die at the hands of Booth and his accomplices, but as is the case for the best-laid schemes of mice and men, it all went astray.
The Lincoln conspiracy began as a plot to kidnap the president shortly after his second inauguration. Originally, Booth plotted to kidnap Lincoln, hold him captive in the Southern capitol of Richmond, and exchange him for Confederate soldiers held captive in various Union prisons. The plan was foiled and soon the conspiracy turned from a plan of kidnapping to one of murder. A truculent and angry man, Booth hated what he called the president's "northern abolitionism," and considered the declaration of martial law in his home state of Maryland a clear abuse of executive power.
As part of the plan, General Ulysses S. Grant was supposed to attend the performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater on that April evening, but a tiff between his wife, Julia, and Mary Todd Lincoln prevented their attendance. The life of Secretary of State William Seward was saved because of a neck brace he was forced to wear due to a carriage accident; it deflected the blows from the knife held by Booth's accomplice. Another accomplice in the conspiracy who was assigned to kill Vice President Johnson in his Kirkwood House residence made no attempt to do so.
Booth escaped the theater, but was tracked down by soldiers and died of a gunshot wound on 26 April. Four other members of the Lincoln conspiracy, including the first woman to be hanged in the United States, Mary Surratt, were hung on 7 July, a week after being convicted by a military commission. Four others were sentenced to prison, three to life sentences.
One of the most contested convictions was that of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who at first denied knowing who Booth was when he set his ankle, which was broken in his jump from the presidential balcony to the stage on the night of the assassination. Mudd later admitted that he'd met Booth once before. Dr. Mudd was sentenced to life in prison on Devil's Island for his involvement in the assassination. He served many years before being pardoned, and the expression "his name was mud" comes from this man's predicament.