My father, Jim Hartley, originally shared this story and message at a religious devotional in April 2005. I thought this was phenomenal the first time I heard it. This has helped instill in me a greater desire to choose good over evil. I hope others can find it of worth as well. Below is my father's message he prepared for the occasion:
Two Brothers: One Chose Death, the Other Chose Life
|Brothers John, Edwin, and Junius (left to right)|
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1864
There is a fascinating true story that is worth pondering. It’s about two brothers, John and Edwin. You see, one of them chose death and the other chose life.
John was born in 1838 in Maryland. He wanted to be an actor. So, at age 17, John auditioned at the Charles Street Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. He received small parts from time to time, but it was another two years before he began performing regularly. John was particularly successful with various theatre companies in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond. Over time, he became a very popular and admired actor.
His life radically changed in 1861, when the Civil War began. Because of his promise to his mother, John did not join the army. For a couple of years during the war, John left acting and pursued interests in western Pennsylvania’s oil fields. Later, he sold his interests and went to Montreal, Canada. Then, in March 1865, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to resume acting. He starred in the performance of “The Apostate” at Ford’s Theatre.
The next month, a new show opened at Ford’s Theatre, a comedy called “Our American Cousin.” John was not in that show. He didn’t intend to be. He had other business—to assassinate the President of the United States.
During the performance on April 14th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln. John escaped on horseback, first to Maryland then to Virginia. Federal soldiers tracked him down and trapped him inside a barn. John refused to give up and was finally shot to death.
John had become an agent for the Confederacy. For five months, he had been part of a conspiracy to kidnap President Lincoln and use him as a hostage to negotiate the release of Confederate soldiers who were being held in Union prisons. But, their attempt on March 17th failed.
Nearly three weeks later, on April 9th, 1865, Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee surrendered, effectively ending the Civil War. John was furious. He and at least eight others conspired to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and the Secretary of State, William H. Seward. Just five days after Lee’s surrender, John Wilkes Booth completed his final performance at Ford’s Theatre with the murder of the president. Fortunately, the others in the conspiracy failed in their attempts on Johnson and Seward.
John had a brother named Edwin Thomas Booth. Edwin was five years older than John. He too was a talented actor. Edwin honed his skills by barnstorming through California mining towns and touring Australia and the Sandwich Islands (known today as Hawaii). His first appearances as a star were in Boston and New York City in 1857. By 1860, Edwin was widely recognized as one of the world’s finest Shakespearean actors.
The assassination of President Lincoln by his brother was a blow to Edwin’s spirit from which he never recovered. It even caused him to withdraw from acting for nearly a year.
Edwin was of a different temperament than his younger brother. He demonstrated kindness and selflessness, which were apparently foreign to John. For example, sometime in either 1863 or ‘64, Edwin found himself on an extremely crowded railroad station platform in Jersey City. A well-dressed young man, about 20 years old, was accidentally pushed by the crowd up against the train. Suddenly the train lurched forward. The young man was twisted off his feet and dropped dangerously into the narrow space between the platform and the moving train. Edwin Booth reacted immediately. He locked a leg and an arm around a railing. With his other hand, he grabbed the young man by the collar and pulled him up to safety. The young man immediately recognized the famous actor, called him by name, and shook his hand in deepest gratitude for saving his life. Edwin did not recognize the young admirer he had just rescued. But, several weeks later, Edwin received a letter of thanks from the office of General Ulysses S. Grant. The person Edwin Booth saved was Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son of President Abraham Lincoln.
President and Mrs. Lincoln had three children. But, only Robert lived past the age of 18. Robert graduated from Harvard Law School and served in the Union Army. After the Civil War, he practiced law. In 1881, President James A. Garfield appointed him as the secretary of war. He held the same post under President Chester A. Arthur. In 1889, he was appointed as the U.S. minister to Great Britain. The Republican Party wanted him as a presidential candidate in 1884, 1888, 1892, and 1912, but, each time he declined the offer to run. Robert Todd Lincoln died at age 83, a renowned lawyer, businessman, and statesman. We owe Robert’s noble life to the brother of the man who assassinated Robert’s father.
What a contrast between two brothers. John Wilkes Booth, the talented actor whose life became dedicated to death. And, Edwin Thomas Booth, a world-famous actor, who risked his life to save the life of another. Both brothers altered the legacy of the Lincoln family.
John and Edwin remind us of two other brothers, who, in a way, are like the Booth brothers—one brother, who chooses death and the other, who chooses life.
In the premortal world, there was a great council to prepare the Plan of Salvation for the spirit children of God. One “who was in authority” went before God and said, “…Here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost; and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1).
Because he sought to destroy the agency of man and take all power and honor to himself, his proposal was rejected. So, he rebelled “…[and] was thrust down from the presence of God…. And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning!” (D& C 76:25-28) And from that time on Lucifer sought to destroy humankind (Moses 4:6).
Like John Wilkes Booth, Lucifer has an older brother who has a completely different temperament. Rather than death and destruction, Satan’s older brother, Jesus Christ, seeks life. In contrast to Lucifer, Jesus’s response to God’s plan was, “Father, thy will be done and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2).
The ancient Apostle John taught us, “For God so loved the world that He gave his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: [Jesus is] come that [we] might have life, and that [we] might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
It is worthwhile to ponder the lives of the two brothers, John Wilkes Booth and Edwin Thomas Booth—one who sought death and one who sought life. The Booth brothers remind us of two other brothers, Lucifer and Jesus the Christ—one who seeks death and destruction and One who is the life and the light of the world, who gave His life to rescue ours.
I bear witness of the Savior’s reality and of His love. May we always follow the One who is the life and the light of all, Jesus Christ.
Aurandt, Paul, Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story, Bantam Books, New York, New York, 1977, 47-49
The National Park Service, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, “A History of John Wilkes Booth”
Encyclopedia Britannica presents “Shakespeare and the Globe: Then and Now,” Biographies,
“Booth, Edwin (Thomas)” (http://search.eb.com/shakespeare/micro/78/51.html)
Goff, John S., Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man In His Own Right, 70-71 (http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton1/Lincoln59.html)
“Robert Lincoln” (http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln66.html)
World Book Encyclopedia 1992: “Booth, Edwin Thomas” and “Booth, John Wilkes,” volume 2, 492
World Book Encyclopedia 1992: “Lincoln, Abraham,” “Lincoln, Mary Todd,” and “Lincoln, Robert Todd,” volume
*The web links were functional at the time this message was original prepared in April 2005. As of July 2017, it appears they may no longer be functional.
* Image source: By Unknown - The Life and Times of Joseph Haworth (as "images/Fellow Actors/Edwin Booth/Junius, Edwin & John Wilkes Booth in Julius Caesar-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg"); the original is in the McClellan Collection at Brown University., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3259721