The Day Abraham Lincoln Didn’t Die: A Short Story


Dr. Simon Morton leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. The final set of simulations was done, and he had his answer.

He’d used the supercomputer time allocated to his project to run millions of simulations with all possible combinations of variables, and the result was clear. If Abraham Lincoln had lived to apply his political genius and legendary compassion to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, the history of the nation would be far different. The whole Jim Crow system of discrimination and oppression that was the white South’s reaction to their disempowerment after the war would never have come into existence. The entire nation, and indeed the world, would be far better off.

Most importantly, the simulations showed clearly that the chances of some unforeseen negative impact on the course of history if Lincoln survived were minuscule.

And Simon could do it! He was perfectly sure he could travel back in time to that day in 1865 when foul murder claimed the country’s greatest president, and prevent it from happening.

Now the head of the Physics Department at Stanford, Simon Morton was one of the nation’s foremost scientists, with hundreds of publications to his credit. But no details of the project he was working on now would ever appear in a scientific journal. In fact, if things worked out as Simon hoped, the only person who would ever know would be himself.

He’d already demonstrated the basic principles of displacing objects in time. Now, all that was left was a ton of engineering work to build a time capsule that could deliver a man to the exact time and place he selected.

What Dr. Simon Morton might have looked like
What Dr. Simon Morton might have looked like | Source

Simon smiled wryly for a brief moment, thinking of all the time travel stories he’d read as a child growing up in the 1950s and 60s. How did they ever think a practical time machine was possible in the days before supercomputers? Just the fact that the earth’s displacement in time was accompanied by displacement in space as it orbited a sun that was orbiting the center of the galaxy would have made it impossible. Anyone who went back in time without accounting for the fact that the earth had moved in space would end up breathing vacuum. But now he could make those calculations down to the micrometer.

With all the technical details worked out, there was one final factor he had to consider before making his decision. If he went through with his plan, it would be a one-way trip. The mathematical model that allowed him to build a machine for traveling to the past also demonstrated conclusively that travel to the future was impossible. Once he went back to 1865, he’d be stuck in that era for the rest of his life.

Was he ready for that? What would it be like to live in the years immediately following Emancipation as a black man with a PhD from a university that didn’t yet exist? Well, at age 64 he wouldn’t have to endure it for long. Besides, he had grown up in the segregated South; he knew what to expect. And with Alicia ten years dead, and no children, there was nothing to hold him in the here and now.


It took Simon another nine months of hard work to complete his calculations and build his machine. He knew exactly where and when he was going. The historical data concerning the day Abraham Lincoln died were complete and precise. He knew exactly where the murderer would be, and the exact moment the trigger would be pulled.

That last morning Simon got up, ate a good breakfast, and read the front page of the New York Times one final time, at least in this century. He then went down to the basement, and sat down at his time capsule console. Taking a deep breath, he initiated the sequence that would propel him through time and space to the destination he had programmed in long ago: Richmond, Virginia, just after dawn on Tuesday, April 4, 1865.

Abraham Lincoln, with his 12-year-old son Tad and a laughably inadequate military escort, would enter the former rebel capital that day. And as Lincoln passed down the street toward the “Confederate White House” that had been occupied until just a few days earlier by the rebel president, Jefferson Davis, a man would be hidden in a second floor room looking through a window. That man was a rabid secessionist who for four long years had believed every word the rebel press had printed about Lincoln being a usurper and a cruel tyrant. Now he waited by the window for the moment when he would have the victorious despot in his rifle sight.

"Lincoln in Richmond" drawn on site in 1865 by Lambert Hollis
"Lincoln in Richmond" drawn on site in 1865 by Lambert Hollis | Source

Lincoln In Richmond

But it didn’t happen, not this time. Simon was already in Richmond before the President came ashore from his ship. Armed with his own pistol, Simon went to the address he knew so well, famous in the history books as the presidential assassin’s house, and knocked on the door. It opened to reveal a face Simon knew well from historical photographs. Johnston Armitage was the most reviled man in American history. Simon quickly shoved his pistol into the man’s belly, and threatened to kill him if he made a move.

Simon had come prepared with a length of rope. He sat Armitage in a chair, tied him up, and gagged him. Then they waited. They continued to sit there, glaring at one another as the sounds of the presidential party came and went. Only when he was sure the President must have returned to the ship that brought him to Richmond did Simon get up to leave. He left Johnston Armitage tied to his chair.

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth | Source

Simon had carefully planned his escape from Richmond, and his route to Washington. It took him eleven days to get to the capital city, and he arrived on the afternoon of the 15th. He had memorized directions to a boarding house in the “colored” part of town. As he walked along 10th Street, tired and looking forward to a good meal and some rest, he noticed a man coming toward him who abruptly turned into an alleyway.

That face seemed familiar. Looking around him, Simon realized he was just opposite a theater, and suddenly he knew who the man was. He’d seen that face in photographs while doing his historical research. Booth, that was it. A famous actor named John Wilkes Booth.

A smile of satisfaction settled on Simon’s face. With what he had accomplished in Richmond a few days ago, it wouldn’t be long until he and others like him would be as free as anyone to go to Ford’s theater and watch Booth give one of his great performances.

I’m looking forward to that, Simon thought to himself as he hurried on to his boarding house.

If time travel were possible, would preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln be a good thing?

  • Yes - Had he lived, Lincoln's policies would have been better for the country
  • No - Lincoln probably couldn't have made Reconstruction better than it was
  • No - Messing with history is just too dangerous!
See results without voting

© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin

More by this Author


phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 2 years ago from United Kingdom

This is a well written narrative and I liked the ironic end. It must have been gutting for him to realise all his plans had been for nothing. I suppose some events in history, however bitter, need to happen in order to move forward. There is a lot of food for thought here. Well done.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Excellent. Messing with history could have huge effects, and in this scenario well worth it. Ron I just got absorbed in this one, your writing is just outstanding, at least it transported me to the story.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, phoenix2327. I think we sometimes put too much faith in the ability of our own wisdom or technology to "fix" things. Some things are not in our control.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Eric. That's very encouraging, and I appreciate it.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very interesting and intriguing story! Time travel would be fascinating, but there could be so many unforeseen consequences. Thanks for sharing your thought provoking hub.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

Thoughts like these leave my head spinning with questions like "How?" and "What if?" Thanks for the exercise and the pleasant read.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, AliciaC. I must admit to having always been fascinated with the possibilities of time travel. But the "unforeseen consequences" you speak of would probably make it too dangerous even if it turned out to be possible.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

MsDora, I think that if the writer of a sci-fi story gets the reader's head spinning, he's probably done his job! Thanks for reading.

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 2 years ago from American Southwest

I like time travel stories, but there's not much that hasn't been done already. I want to like alternative history, but it seems so random; does changing one thing about history change one thing or everything and how would you know? You told a clever story and neatly put both my pet peeves to rest. When are you going to publish a book? I would buy it!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, aethelthryth. I still have a ways to go before I publish that book, but I appreciate the encouragement. BTW, you speak of alternative history and not knowing. What this story says is that we are actually living in an alternative (or changed) history, but of course don't know it. Could it be...?

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 24 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Great story!

The problem with going back in history and changing anything at all (much less a presidential assassination!), is that the chances of the one who went back ever having been born are subsequently wiped out, nullifying any chance of going back in the first place. It's a self-defeating dilemma.

Voted up!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 24 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, WillStarr. Good point about changes potentially nullifying themselves. That's really what the story is saying - that history is resilient, and getting any change to "take" would be very difficult. Still, it's fun to speculate.

FatBoyThin profile image

FatBoyThin 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

Wonderful story with a totally unexpected ending.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 23 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, FatBoyThin. I appreciate that!

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 23 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Hi again Ron, and I too love to write sci-fi time travel stuff, even though I'm sure that it would be self-defeating. I didn't mean to rain on your story at all!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 23 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, Will. I never thought that. To me, figuring out ways to plausibly nullify potential paradoxes and apparent logical inconsistencies like the one you point out is a big part of the pleasure of writing sci-fi stories.

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 23 months ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

Ron, I wrote a story very similar to this in some respects. I'll get it back up here tonight so you can take a look at it. This idea of Lincoln not dying, but going on to carry out his plans after the war is fascinating. How different would our world have been? My story is called, Abraham Lincoln: Flash Fiction at

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 23 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, cam8510. The what ifs surrounding Lincoln's untimely death are fascinating to speculate about. I'll definitely be reading your story.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 19 months ago from sunny Florida

You know the question that you pose at the end does cause one to stop and wonder. Who knows? Could it have changed things?

Never been very good at second guessing the past myself.

I think of others who after him were assassinated and wonder the same. ...How different things may have been had they lived on...

Very thought-provoking, Ron.

Know that Angels are winging their way to you and yours this evening ps

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, pstraubie48. I have a hunch that history is, as the story indicates, too resilient to allow changes. On the other hand, as I mentioned in answering another comment, the story indicates that we are actually living in a changed history in which Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater, rather than the original "real" history in which he died in Richmond. Start thinking that way, and your mind can go around in unending circles!

Lee Cloak 17 months ago

Fantastic engaging thought provoking piece of writing, a really great read, thanks for sharing this wonderful story, voted up, best wishes, Lee

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 17 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Lee. For some reason the idea of time travel has always fascinated me, and there are many permutations of that idea to explore. For me, that's fun.

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 17 months ago

This was a great read. A good twist in the middle.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 17 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Robert, I appreciate that.

Christopher Jay T profile image

Christopher Jay T 15 months ago from Fort Worth, TX

very good, but I'm not sure if I understand it. does it mean that in this man's timeline Lincoln was assassinated this by this other man, and by stopping that caused our history of booth assassinating him. Does this mean that all he changed, is who the assassin was who killed Lincoln?

Babbyii profile image

Babbyii 15 months ago from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

Wonderfully crafted! Had me from beginning to end.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 15 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Christopher Jay T, you've got it. In the story's terms, we are living in the alternate reality that resulted from our hero's attempt to prevent the assassination happening, as his history said it did, in Richmond. It appears that time protects itself, and the new timeline quickly snapped back to the same result as the old one.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 15 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Babbyii. That's a great compliment for the author of a story to hear!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article