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.
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
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.
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?
© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin