You can go anywhere back in time.. but you only have 5 minutes to decide.
Where and when do you go?
On my way to sleep last night this is the challenge my brain gave me.
I picked the moment before Abraham Lincoln was shot. Things got pretty intense quickly. I appeared into 1865 with a pop as I materialized into the room just behind the 26 year old John Wilkes Booth. He was already pulling out the small deringer pistol and knife. I moved quickly, kicking him in the back of the leg to throw him off balance while grabbing his arm. He was so surprised I easily brought the gun up under his chin and he pulled the trigger. The small bullet avoided the hard parts of the skull by going up through his throat and mashed his brain the second it went off. I stepped back as he collapsed, dead before he hit the ground. There was screaming through the small cloud of smoke from the gun. As it cleared I saw Lincoln’s wide eyes, the faintest amount of blood on his face from Booth’s. Mary was hysterical.
Somewhere in the back of my brain I remember it wasn’t just Lincoln who was attacked that night.
“Sir, I have reason to believe there may be other assassins. I strongly suggest you warn your cabinet that they may be in danger”. I couldn’t remember their names (It was Seward). This is a big problem with time travel. There is a lot to remember. Dates, times, nuances of language. I probably sounded like I was from another planet. Which I sort of was. Thankfully I was at least in period clothes.
Lincoln looked at me for a second and then Booth’s body, and then said, “Come with me.” Just then two uniformed officers came in with pistols drawn. They didn’t know what to make of it. Lincoln took command immediately, told one of them to come with us and the other to look after Mary.
We rushed down the stairs and into the street in a foot race to find Seward before the assassin did. I had done my job, I should have ducked out and wandered off to explore 1865 America. But, to be quite honest, I wanted to hang with Abe. Not a perfect man, but a pretty awesome one. For some reason I was thinking we would just be able to sit down and get coffee somewhere. I wasn’t a well thought out plan. To be fair I only had a couple of minutes to think this through.
So, what would be the ramifications of what I had done?
Let’s say I blink back to my own time. What is different? First of all there would have been no Andrew Johnson presidency. Johnson was put on the ticket in 1864 in an attempt to unify the country. As a president after Lincoln he was a disaster. He did everything he could to roll back any sort of punitive measures in the South. One being Special Field Order №15 that promised 40 acres and a mule to every freed slave in the South. This land was stripped from the Black community and given back to former slave holders.
It’s hard to fathom what historical impact this would have done. This was the bootstrap needed from which the freed slave could pull themselves up by. It would have changed everything.
There is no knowing if this would have been kept in place by Lincoln, but it almost certainly would have.
Would he have kept troops in the South to product new Black voters like Grant did? Yes.
Would he have fought the newly minted KKK like Grant? Yes.
Grant would have most likely ended up Lincoln’s successor, or maybe Grant wouldn’t have felt the need. Lincoln would have probably had at least three terms, possibly four.
This is an alternate reality I would have loved to have seen. America would have still needed another 100 years to recover from its deeply racist ways, but at least it wouldn’t have been set as far back as it was with the failed Reconstruction under Johnson.
Where would you go? You have five minutes to decide.