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A Teacher's Guide

Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth

Lesson Two: Brothers — A Poem in Two Voices


Students will begin to examine the lives of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth in this lesson. Using a handout of quotations from Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth and an organizational chart, small groups will select from the quotations and organize the words of the two brothers. They will end the activity by using the brothers' words (about each other, the acting profession, the Union, the war, their ambitions, and so on) to create a found poem with two voices. Two group members will read the poem to the class. The lesson is most appropriate for middle school students, grades 6–8, but may be suitable for high school students, grades 9–12.

National Curriculum Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning has created standards and benchmarks for language arts, math, science, geography, economics, and history.

This lesson meets standards and benchmarks for:

United States History Standard (4th Ed.) for Era 5 — Civil War and Reconstruction (1850–1877) including benchmark 14: Understand the course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people:

Level III (Grades 7–8)

2. Understands how different groups of people shaped the Civil War (e.g., the motives and experiences of Confederate and white and African-American Union soldiers, different perspectives on conscription, the effects of divided loyalties)

Level IV (Grades 9–12)

4. Understands how the Civil War influenced Northern and Southern society on the home front (e.g., the New York City draft riots of July 1863, the Union's reasons for curbing civil liberties in wartime, Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the war)

Time Required

This activity will take one to two class periods, depending on whether the reading of the handouts and preparation of the organizational chart are completed outside of class.

Materials Needed

• Handout, quotations from Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth
• Organizational chart for Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth
• Worksheet for writing down a poem in two voices

Note to Teachers: Some quotations contain expressions that may be deemed profane or racially offensive. Adapt the duplicating masters to conform with your district and community standards.

The Lesson


1. As a class, brainstorm a list of "opponents" who may be from politics, sports, popular culture, or history. Ideas to get students started might be Republicans and Democrats, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote, or Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

2. Ask students to name opponents who share some things in common or work together, for example, former president George H. W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton worked on tsunami and hurricane aid.

3. Provide the following sample of a poem in two voices to two student volunteers. Give them about five minutes to rehearse it briefly before reading it to the class. (Hamilton is in italics, Jefferson is in regular font, and lines said together are in bold.) Explain to the class that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were founding fathers, are on our currency, and were highly intelligent and patriotic men, but they disagreed on virtually everything imaginable. Political parties past and present have gathered around their different visions for America. Hamilton was killed in a duel when he was only forty-nine; following his death, Thomas Jefferson placed a bust of Hamilton in the entrance hall of his home, Monticello.

Download a printer-friendly version of the poem

Two Busts in Monticello's Hall
A Poem in Two Voices

Alexander Hamilton Both Thomas Jefferson

I believe I know the only way for America to prosper

While we have land to labor then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff.
Those who do not industrialize become hewers of wood and haulers of water.
We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.
A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.

When I look at people, I think man is

A rational animal, endowed by nature with rights and with an innate sense of justice.
A reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.
The people are in truth the only legitimate proprietors of the soil and government.
The people are turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right.

No Government Is Perfect

We think experience has proved it safer for the mass of individuals composing the society to reserve to themselves personally the exercise of all rightful powers to which they are competent and to delegate those to which they are not competent to deputies named and removable for unfaithful conduct by themselves immediately.
It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.
Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

We Are Opposed in Death As in Life


1. Explain to students that they will be creating a different poem in two voices about two very different brothers. Divide students into groups of 3–4 persons.

2. Announce that each group will be writing a found poem based on the Booth quotations they have read and organized. The poem will be for two voices, that of Edwin Booth and his brother John Wilkes Booth. The lines of the poem will come from entire or partial quotations from the handout.

3. Advise the groups to discuss their charts with each other and come to a consensus about the issues and viewpoints expressed in the Booth brothers' words.

4. Provide the following instructions to each group on how to structure their poem along with the worksheet for the poem for two voices on which to record it.

a. Write a title for your poem.

b. Begin by writing one phrase both sides can say together that reflects agreement, for example, "He is my brother," or "I am an actor," or "I love my country." Put this in the middle column.

c. Look through the sheet of quotations and select 5–8 pairs of quotations that show how the two brothers disagreed. You may use the entire quotation or part of a quotation (as long as it doesn't change the meaning). Put quotations from Edwin in the left column, from John in the right column; break up the quotations with at least one, or perhaps two, phrases both brothers can say together.

d. Conclude with one phrase both sides can say in one voice.


The groups' poems and presentations may be graded on a twenty point scale (which may be multiplied by five to convert to one hundred-point scale or for conversion to letter grades) using the following rubric:

  Good - 2 points Average - 1 point No - 0 points
The poem is titled      
The opening "Both" phrase reflected agreement      
There are at least 5 and no more than 8 pairs of quotations that reflected disagreement     
The middle "Both" phrase(s) reflected agreement      
The closing "Both" phrase reflected agreement      
The conclusion emphasized or summarized the conflict      
Presenters introduced the poem effectively     
Presenters spoke clearly and audibly     
Presenters read the poem dramatically     
Presenters transitioned without problem between each other    

Internet Resources

Historical Society of Harford County (Maryland), Tour of Booth Family Historical Sites

Maryland state tourism office at http://www.maryland.com/

City of Baltimore's interactive map at http://maps.baltimorecity.gov/imap/

Harford County tourism site at http://www.harfordmd.com/

HomeTownLocator's links to Bel Air, Maryland, at http://www.hometownlocator.com/City/Bel-Air-Maryland.cfm

Interdisciplinary Activities


Students may use the travels of the Booth family to improve their geography skills.

• Challenge students to find free maps of Maryland, Baltimore, Harford County, and Bel Air, Maryland. The maps may be conventional paper maps or maps that they found online and can use or print out.

• Instruct students to plot the locations of Booth family sites on a Harford or Baltimore map using site information from the Historical Society of Harford County.

• Coordinate with the computer lab so students can learn how to make a computer-slide show presentation featuring places associated with the Booths of Maryland.


Quotations from Edwin Booth

Whatever calamity may befall me or mine, my country, one and indivisible, has my warmest devotion.

I often wondered at the popularity of my Hamlet with the native chiefs.

I think I am a little quieter.

I don't think John will startle the world, but he is improving fast and looks beautiful onstage.

'Tis a great pity he had not more sense but time will teach him.

I asked him once why he did not join the Confederate Army.

God bless you, my boy! And stick to the flag, Dick, as I intend to do, though far away.

To talk about such old-time nonsense as my own affairs is now too trivial. May the God of Battles guard you.

A daughter, and thank God, all is well with her and her mother.

I saw every time I looked from the window Mary dead, with a white cloth tied around her neck and chin. I saw her distinctly, a dozen times at least.

My conduct hastened her death, and when she heard that I — her all — was lost to all sense of decency and respect for her —her feeble spirit sank.

Although my love was deep-rooted in my soul yet I could never show it.

Starring around the country is sad work.

I wish to God I was not an actor. I despise and dread the d—d occupation; all its charms are gone and the stupid reality stands naked before me. I am a performing monkey, nothing more.

He played Pescara, a bloody villain of the deepest red, and he presented him — not underdone but rare enough for the most fastidious beef-eater . . . I am happy to state that he is full of the true grit . . . and when time and study round his rough edges he'll bid them all 'stand apart!'

I'll struggle —I'll fight — I'll conquer too, with God's help.

The news is indeed glorious. I am happy in it, and glory in it, although Southern-born. God grant the end, or rather the beginning, is now at hand.

While mourning, in common with all other loyal hearts, the death of the President, I am oppressed by a private woe not to be expressed in words.

You know . . . how I have labored to establish a name that all my friends would be proud of; how I have always toiled for the comfort and welfare of my family — and how loyal I have been from the first of this damned rebellion.

You must feel deeply the agony I bear in thus being blasted in all my hopes by a villain who seemed so loveable and in whom all his family found a source of joy in his boyish and confiding nature.

At last the terrible end is known — fearful as it is, it is not withstanding a blessed relief.

My Fellow Citizens, it has pleased God to lay at the door of my afflicted family the lifeblood of our great, good, and martyred President. Prostrated to the very earth by this dreadful event, I am yet but too sensible that other mourners fill the land. To them, to you, one and all, go forth our deep, unutterable sympathy; our abhorrence and detestation for this most foul and atrocious of crimes. For my mother and sisters, for my remaining brothers and my own poor self, there is nothing to be said except that we are thus placed without any power of our own. For our present position we are not responsible. For the future — alas, I shall struggle on in my retirement bearing a heavy heart, an oppressed memory, and a wounded name.

I have huge debts to pay, a family to care for, and a love for the grand and beautiful in art to gratify. Hence my sudden resolve to abandon the dreary, aching gloom of my little red room where I have sat so long chewing my heart in solitude, for the excitement of the only trade for which God has fitted me.

At the earnest solicitation of my mother, I write to ask you if you think the time is yet arrived for her to have the remains of her unhappy son. If I am premature in this I hope you will understand the motive which activates me, arising purely from a sense of duty to assuage, if possible, the anguish of an aged mother. If at your convenience you will acquaint me when and how I should proceed in this matter, you will relieve her sorrow-stricken heart and bind me ever.

Put it on the fire with the others . . . That's all, we'll go now.

It's a terrible blow indeed but not the worst that I have felt. The loss of money (so long as God grants me the health to work) does not disturb me much; but the fear of being misjudged by my creditors and the disappointment in not being able to establish the true Drama in New York — those are very painful reflections.

If your lips you'd keep from slips,
Of these five things beware:
Of whom you speak,
To whom you speak,
And how, and when and where.

How often, Oh! How often have I imagined the delights of a collegiate education . . . What a world of never-ending interest lies open to the master of languages!... I have suffered much from the lack of that which my father could easily have given in my youth, that I am all the more anxious you shall escape my punishment in that respect; that you may not, like me, dream of those advantages others enjoy through any lack of opportunity or neglect of mine. Therefore, learn to love your Latin, your French, and your English grammar; standing firmly and securely on them, you'll have a solid foothold in the field of literature.

I can give you very little information regarding my brother John. I seldom saw him since his early boyhood in Baltimore . . . We regarded him as a good-hearted, harmless, though wild-brained boy, and used to laugh at his patriotic faith whenever secession was discussed. That he was insane on that one point, no one who knew him well can doubt. When I told him that I had voted for Lincoln's re-election, he expressed deep regret, and declared his belief that Lincoln would be made King of America; and this, I believe, drove him beyond the limits of reason . . .

Knowing my sentiments, he avoided me, rarely visiting my house, except to see his mother, when political topics were not touched upon, at least in my presence. He was of a gentle, loving disposition, very boyish and full of fun — his mother's darling — and his deed and death crushed her spirit. He possessed rare dramatic talent and would have made a brilliant mark in the theatrical world. This is positively all that I know about him, having left him a mere schoolboy when I went with my father to California in 1852. On my return in '56 we were separated by professional engagements, which kept him mostly in the South, while I was employed in the Eastern and Northern states.

I do not believe any of the wild, romantic stories published in the papers concerning him; but of course he may have been engaged in political matters of which I knew nothing. All his theatrical friends speak of him as a poor, crazy boy, and such his family thought of him.

I am sorry I can afford you no further light on the subject.

Very truly yours, Edwin Booth

Memories are hard on one in the lonely hours.

Let us drink from this loving cup, this souvenir of long ago, my father's flagon. Let us now, beneath his portrait, drink to the Players' perpetual prosperity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your great kindness. I hope this is not the last time I shall have the honor of appearing before you . . . I hope that my health and strength may be improved so that I can serve you better, and I shall always try to deserve the favor you have shown me.

What I want now is to stay in one place with things I like around me . . . Here is my bed, and here is the fire, and here are my books, and here you come to see me. I suppose I shall wear out here.

How are you yourself, old fellow?

Quotation from the book Good Brother, Bad Brother

To show his support for his war-torn homeland, Edwin obtained an American flag and hung it like a canopy over Mary's bed, thus making sure in his own way that their child would be born under the Stars and Stripes.

* * *

Quotations from John Wilkes Booth

I must have fame, fame, fame!

Madame I am Pondofio Pet–Pedofio Pat–Pantuchio Ped–Dammit! Who am I?

I don't know, and I don't care!

He was a brave old man; his heart must have broken when he felt himself deserted.

You all feel the fire now raging in the nation's heart. It is a fire lighted and fanned by Northern fanaticism. A fire which naught but blood & justice can extinguish. I tell you the Abolitionist doctrine is the fire which, if allowed to rage, will consume the house and crush us all beneath its ruins . . . Fierce Civil War will follow. And then, what then? Why God alone can tell the rest.

I promised Mother I would keep out of the quarrel, if possible, and am sorry that I said so.

Is this not a democratic city?

My goose does indeed hang high (long may she wave), I have picked up on an average this season over $650 per week. My first week here paid me near $900. And this week has opened even better.

I wish the President and the whole damned government would go to hell.

Never, if you value your life, never speak in that way again of a man and a cause I hold sacred!

If it were not for mother I would not enter Edwin's house. But she will leave there if I cannot be welcomed, and I do not want her to be unhappy because of me.

I would never darken Clarke's door, but for you.

It is the unwisest move this country has yet made. The suave pressing of hordes of ignorant foreigners, buying up citizens before they land, to swell their armies. The time will come . . . when the braggart North will groan at not being able to swear they fought the South man to man. If the North conquers us it will be by numbers only, not by native grit, not pluck, and not by devotion!

So help me Holy God! My soul, life, and possessions are for the South.

I have only an army to give; my brains are worth twenty men, my money worth a hundred. I have free pass everywhere. My profession, my name is my passport. My beloved precious money — oh, never beloved till now! — is the means, one of the means, by which I serve the South.

What are actors, anyway? Mummers of the quality of skimmed milk. They know little, think less, and understand next to nothing.

In 1865, when Lincoln shall be king . . . No, by God's mercy, never that! This man's appearance, his pedigree, his coarse low jokes and anecdotes, his vulgar similes, and his policy are a disgrace to the seat he holds. Other brains rule the country. He is made the tool of the North to crush out, or try to crush out, slavery by robbery, rape, slaughter, and bought armies. He is Bonaparte in one great move, that is, by overturning this blind Republic and making himself a king. This man's reelection, I tell you will be a reign! . . . You'll see, you'll see, that reelection means succession. His kin and friends are in every place of office already.

This country was formed for the white and not the black man. I have lived among it most of my life and have seen less harsh treatment from Master to Slave than I have beheld in the north from father to son.

My love (as things stand today) is for the South alone. Nor do I deem it a dishonor in attempting to make for her a prisoner of this man, to whom she owes so much of misery.

A Confederate doing duty upon his own responsibility.

Dearest beloved Mother . . . I have always endeavored to be a good and dutiful son. And even now would wish to die sooner than give you pain. But dearest Mother, though I owe you all, there is another duty. A noble duty for the sake of liberty and humanity due my Country. For four years I have lived a slave in the north (a favored slave it's true, but no less hateful to me on that account). Not daring to express my thoughts or sentiments, even in my own home. Constantly hearing every principle, dear to my heart, denounced as treasonable . . . Should the last bolt strike your son, dear Mother, bear it patiently. And think at the best life is but short, and not at all times happy. My Brothers and Sisters (Heaven protect them) will add my love and duty to their own, and watch you with care and kindness, till we meet again. And if that happiness does not come to us on earth, then may, O May it be with God. Come weal or woe, with never ending love and devotion, you will find me your affectionate son. John.

Lock this in your safe for me . . . let me see you lock it up.

What an excellent chance I had to kill the President, if I had wished, on inauguration day!

That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.

Our cause being almost lost, something decisive & great must be done!

Sic semper tyrannis! [Thus always to tyrants!]

Dearest Mother, I only drop you these few lines to let you know I am well . . . Excuse brevity; am in haste. With best love to you all, I am your affectionate son ever.

After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet, cold and starving, with every man's hand against me, I am here in despair. And why? For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made Tell a Hero. And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant that they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat . . . I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone . . . Yet now behold the cold hand they extend me . . . So ends all. For my country I have given up all that makes life sweet and Holy, brought misery on my family, and I am sure there is no pardon in Heaven for me since man condemns me so. Tonight I will once more try the river with intent to cross . . . I do not repent the blow I struck. I may before God but not to man . . . Who, who can read his fate? God's will be done. I have too great a soul to die like a criminal. Oh may He, may He spare me that and let me die bravely.

Dear sir, Forgive me, but I have some little pride. I hate to blame you for your want of hospitality: you know your own affairs. I was sick and tired, with a broken leg, in need of medical advice. I would not have turned a dog from my door in such a condition. However, you were kind enough to give me something to eat, for which I not only thank you, but on account of the reluctant manner in which it was bestowed, I feel bound to pay for it . . . Be kind enough to accept the enclosed two dollars and a half (though hard to spare) for what we have received. Yours respectfully, The Stranger

Captain, give me a chance. Draw off your men and I'll fight them singly. Give a lame man a show.

Tell . . . Mother . . . I died . . . for my country.

Let me die here.

Useless, useless.
* * *

Edwin Booth versus John Wilkes Booth: Good Brother, Bad Brother
Organizational Chart

How did each: Edwin Booth John Wilkes Booth
view the other?    
feel about their mother and family?    
feel about the South?    
feel about the North?    
feel about Lincoln?   
feel about acting?   
feel about duty?   
feel about death?   

* * *

Poem Template

Names of Group Members:

A Poem for Two Voices

Edwin Booth Both John Wilkes Booth

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