I am haunted by history. 150 years ago, the best chance for reunification after the Civil War died with President Abraham Lincoln in an attempted decapitation strike on the United States. John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy included other assassins killing Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Both attempts failed.

But the real damage to the United States was done.

IMG_5047Lincoln’s death caused the United States to lose the peace after the Civil War. The South had surrendered five days earlier. Louisiana’s petition to rejoin the Union on very favorable terms set by President Lincoln was rejected by the Congress. Lincoln was set to announce his new plans for Reconstruction on Monday April 17, 1865.

Abraham Lincoln died at the worst possible moment for the country. Vice President Johnson assumed the Presidency while Congress was out of session. Months literally went by with no terms being set on the South, letting those who had committed mass treason to nullify a Presidential Election over their self-proclaimed right to own other human beings to maintain their way of life.

The Civil War cost the United States the lives of enough soldiers to fill eleven Vietnam Memorial Walls. There are single day battles in the Civil War that cost the same number of lives lost in the War on Terror since September 11, 2001. It is difficult to comprehend death in such staggering numbers.

When Congress returned to session, the former states in rebellion sent former Confederate officers to represent them. Some even reported in Confederate Uniforms. The former Confederate Vice President, who was in prison, was elected to the Senate.

Congress refused to seat the traitors. Politics became extremely ugly between President Johnson and Congress leading to Radical Reconstruction after 1866.

If Lincoln had not been murdered, the chain of events that lead to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, voter suppression, outright terrorism of US citizens, Convict Leasing, and decades of other inhumanities could have been totally avoided. President Lincoln sought malice toward none and generosity for all. John Wilkes Booth derailed the promise of what America could have been after the Civil War with a single bullet.

I am haunted by what might have been. This should never undermine what we can do as one nation. We cannot surrender what has been won, but never forgot what that victory cost our country.

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Josh Gilliland

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, the ABA Web 100 for Best Legal Blog and Podcast categories, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.