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Prison Hoods of the Abraham Lincoln Conspirators

Prison Hoods of the Abraham Lincoln Conspirators

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On April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford Theatre, pointed a derringer pistol at the back of the President Abraham Lincoln’s head and fired. John Wilkes Booth’s attack on Lincoln was part of a larger plot to assassinate national leaders and throw the North into turmoil. The conspirators also planned to murder Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Besides Booth, eight individuals were charged. Because the plot was considered an act of war, the military assumed control of the proceedings.
In a vengeful act against the accused, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered that the imprisoned conspirators wear hoods at all times. These canvas hoods with rope ties were made for this purpose. The accused wore the hoods in their cells and on their way to trial. The court sentenced four suspects, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt, to be hanged, and Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlin, Samuel Arnold, and Edman Spangler to prison.
In 1904 the War Department transferred to the Smithsonian the hoods, shackles, and prison keys associated with the imprisonment of Lincoln’s assassins. They did not record which prisoner wore which hood.
Transfer from the War Department, 1904
Currently not on view
Object Name
prison hoods
Associated Name
Lincoln, Abraham
Physical Description
canvas; rope (overall material)
overall: 14 in x 13 in x 12 in; 35.56 cm x 33.02 cm x 30.48 cm
ID Number
accession number
Credit Line
Transfer from the War Department
National Symbols
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History, General History Collection
Government, Politics, and Reform
Selections from the Abraham Lincoln Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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"What was the rationale for Mr Stanton requiring that the prisoners wear these types of hoods other than a wsih to punish them. It is a fairly unique procedure for its time and, in fact, looks like an early form of sensory deprivation similar to that used by various interrogation experts/torturers on suspects since the early 1970s"
It is actually not that unique of its time, rather it was almost customary to have prisoners wear hoods so as to not interact with others during a sentence. Originally, this practice was used in Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1830s and was largely attributed to Dr. Benjamin Rush's theory of human repentance. It was thought that prisoners would reform and receive penitence if they had minimal human contact, thus the hoods. Here, administrators do not expect repentance, so it is most likely carried out as a tradition.

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