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December 28, 2005
The Ten Worst Americans: 2-4

• #2: John Wilkes Booth

Booth had been a star of the American stage, along with his famous family. In an early precursor to Hollywood cluelessness, Booth got involved in politics, became a fanatical Southern sympathizer, and considered Lincoln a tyrant on the order of Julius Caesar. He joined a conspiracy to murder Lincoln and most of the chain of command, but only Booth was successful in his assassination attempt. Dramatically declaring “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!” and leaping from the balcony of the Ford Theater (and breaking his leg for his theatrics), Booth wound up dying ignominiously in a barn after getting shot by Union troops.

Unfortunately for the US and ironically because of the actions of this Southern sympathizer, command passed from the pro-reconciliation Lincoln to the more radical Reconstructionists of the Republican Party. Lincoln wanted to heal the breech by welcoming back the South and restoring the citizenship of the rebels, freeing the slaves and easing their transition to full citizenship as well. His plans may never have been successful, but we never had the chance to find out. Instead, the enraged North locked the South down in a military occupation that did not stop until the disputed election of 1876, and the resentment that built in the South created the backlash of Jim Crow, whose effects can still be felt to this day.

But hey, he must have known what he was doing – he was famous, right?

• #3: Benedict Arnold

Not quite the unmitigated weasel that history has painted him, Arnold actually started the American Revolution as one of George Washington’s most trusted officers. However, Arnold became frustrated with a perceived lack of recognition for his talents and accomplishments and, spurred on by his pro-Crown wife, switched sides. He offered up West Point to the British, a strategic site that would have spelled the end for Washington and the Revolution had it not been for the fortunate capture of the messenger carrying Arnold’s offer to the British. He wound up spending the rest of his life in England, well-feted but never completely trusted by anyone.

• #4: Nathan Bedford Forrest

This hardline Confederate gets a pass for his activities during the Civil War, but his post-war activities gets him on the list instead. Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan, at first more of a drinking club but shortly under his direction became a feared terrorist group rising in opposition to Reconstruction. Later, he renounced the group for its uncontrollable violence, but without a doubt Forrest started the Klan with the intent of terrorizing the former slaves and the people who had set them free. It has lasted to this day as a group dedicated to racist policies and has spawned dozens of splinter groups.

It should be noted, however, that his great-grandson N.B. Forrest III fought bravely in WWII, achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the US Army Air Corps, and gave his life for his nation in 1943 in a bombing raid over Germany.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 28, 2005 8:31 PM

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