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Wilson, G.W. (1940). John Wilkes Booth: Father Murderer. Am. Imago, 1C(3):49-60.

(1940). American Imago, 1C(3):49-60

John Wilkes Booth: Father Murderer

George W. Wilson, M.D.

The purpose of this presentation is to attempt a reconstruction of the character of John Wilkes Booth, the murderer of Abraham Lincoln: to show that the assassin was suffering from paranoia at the time of the assassination and that this murder was compulsively committed and represented the physical expression of an overwhelming, repressed patricidal impulse. Booth's act not only constituted unconscious father-murder, but represented unconscious suicide as well.

Modern text books on psychiatry define paranoia in a descriptive sense as a term applied to a person who presents usually rather clearly defined delusions of persecution which are supported and defended by the person. That is to say, these people are firmly convinced of the validity of their delusions. A more dynamic definition, according to psychoanalytic knowledge, would be: a state of mind in which a person projects on to others, particularly one single person or related groups of persons, his own unconscious, denied, destructive impulses or wishes.

The material available for reconstruction of the psychological processes that motivated John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln is extremely meager. Following the assassination a tremendous amount of material was published about Lincoln and very little about Booth. As often happens when the career of a greatly loved and respected character is ended by the hand of a rebellious member of society, there is a desire to forget both the manner of the hero's death and the individual who was responsible for it. Following the assassination most of the private papers of John Wilkes Booth as well as those of his immediate family were confiscated and later destroyed by government secret service agents.

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