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The Reputations of Edwin and John

Edwin was a master of the 19th century stage. Some theatrical historians have considered him to be the greatest stage actor of all time, and have also dubbed him the greatest Hamlet of the 19th century.

In early performances, he played alongside his father, making his stage debut in “Richard III”. He also had the opportunity to be on stage with his brothers John and Junius. In 1863, they united their talents to perform Julius Ceasar. History records that his brother played Brutus.

One April night in 1865, his brother John, was not on stage but played a major role in Ford’s Theatre. History tells us that John quietly slipped into the rear of a box and fired a bullet at the head of one of the occupants watching the play on stage. Thereafter, John Wilkes Boothe was known as the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Edwin Thomas Booth, the older brother of John, was then known as the brother of the man who had assassinated the President. The choice of John Wilkes Booth, became a stain on the reputation of his brother.

A unusual footnote to this story involves a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. Edwin Booth was waiting for his train on the station platform. A group of passengers had been late in purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor; who normally stood at the entrance of the car. As a result, several of the passengers were waiting, even as the train began to move.

A well-dressed young man, pressed by the waiting crowd, lost his footing and began to fall between the narrow space of the platform and the moving train. He later reported that, as he felt his feet moving helplessly into the open space to certain death, his coat collar was “vigorously seized” and he was pulled back on to the platform, to safety.

Edwin Booth had locked his leg around the railing and grabbed the man, who recognized him as the famous actor. Booth only later learned the identify of the young man, when he received a letter, that came a few weeks later. It was a letter from Colonel Adams Budeau, who was chief secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant.

The letter thanked Booth for saving the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln. It was a letter that Edwin Booth carried in his pocket for the rest of his life.

One brother made a choice that killed a President; The other brother made a choice that saved a President’s son. The story is a reminder about the effects of choices.

A recent defendant testified that it wasn’t his fault that he had crashed into the rear of my client. He was a diabetic and sometimes, he has “low blood sugar events”. As he put it, “What am I supposed to do? I can either not drive and not go to work; or drive, and sometimes this just happens”.

His choice has had a lasting impact on my client. I guess we will see what kind of impact that this defendant’s choice will have on him, when the jury returns its verdict.

Some things cannot be changed. I can’t just choose to have better eye sight or faster metabolism. I can’t just increase my IQ or make more hair grow on my head. (If you have any suggestions? No, not the spray on hair).

A person may make a mistake, but they can choose to accept responsibility. Unfortunately, I keep seeing defendant’s and their lawyers ignore the injuries that their choices have caused.

In the Booth household, they were both probably raised with the same advantages and disadvantages. One brother was known for his horrendous choice and the impact on the rest of the family. The other carried that letter as a response to anyone that would try to pin his brother’s conduct on him.


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