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"The Ballad of Booth" is a song from the musical Assassins. It features John Wilkes Booth, David Herold, and the Balladeer after the latter assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.


Character Original Off-Broadway London Premiere Broadway Premiere London revival Encores! Off Center
The Balladeer Patrick Cassidy Anthony Barclay Neil Patrick Harris Jamie Parker Clifton Duncan
John Wilkes Booth Victor Garber David Firth Michael Cerveris Aaron Tveit Steven Pasquale
David Herold Marcus Olson Kevin Walton Brandon Wardell Greg Miller-Burns N/A


[Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln!]

Sic semper Tyrannis!

Someone tell the story
Someone sing the song

Every now and then
The country
Goes a little wrong

Every now and then
A madman's
Bound to come along
Doesn't stop the story—
Story's pretty strong
Doesn't change the song...

Johnny Booth was a handsome devil
Got up in his rings and fancy silks
Had him a temper but kept it level
Everybody called him Wilkes

Why did you do it, Johnny?
Nobody agrees
You, who had everything
What made you bring
A nation to its knees?

Some say it was your voice had gone
Some say it was booze
Some say you killed a country, John
Because of bad reviews

Johnny lived with a grace and glitter
Kind of like the lives he lived on stage
Died in a barn in pain and bitter
Twenty-seven years of age

Why did you do it, Johnny
Throw it all away?
Why did you do it, boy
Not just destroy
The pride and joy
Of Illinois
But all the U.S.A.?

Your brother made you jealous, John
You couldn't fill his shoes
Was that the reason, tell us, John—
Along with bad reviews?


[They're coming! They'll be here any minute—]

[I need your help
I've got to write this and I can't hold the pen]

[Johnny, they've found us! We've got to get out of here!]

[Not 'til I finish this]


Have you seen these papers? Do you know what they're calling me?! A common cutthroat! A hired assassin! This one says I'm mad!]

[We must have been mad to think that we could kill the president and get away with it!]

We did get away with it! He was a bloody tyrant and we brought him down! And I will not have history think I did it for a bag of gold or in some kind of rabid fit!]

[Johnny, we have to go—]

[No! I have to make my case!
And I need you to take it down!]

[We don't have time!]

[Take it down:
An indictment. Of the former President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who is herein charged with the following High Crimes and Misdemeanors]

They say you're ship was sinkin', John...

That you did ruthlessly provoke a war between the States, which cost some six hundred thousand of my countrymen their lives

You'd started missing cues...

That you did silence your critics in the North, by hurling them into prison without benefit of charge or trial

They say it wasn't Lincoln, John

[Shut up! Three—]

You'd merely had a slew of bad reviews—

[I said shut up!]

[Booth! I have fifty soldiers out here, Booth! Give yourselves up or we'll set fire to the barn!]

[Don't shoot! I'm coming out!]

I have given my life for one act, you understand? Do not let history rob me of its meaning. Pass on the truth! You're the only one who can

He said
"Damn you, Lincoln
You had your way—

Tell 'em, boy!

With blood you drew out
Of blue and gray!"

Tell it all!
Tell them till they listen!

He said
"Damn you, Lincoln
And damn the day
You threw the 'U' out
Of U.S.A!"

He said:

Hunt me down, smear my name
Say I did it for the fame
What I did was kill the man who killed my country
Now the Southland will mend
Now this bloody war can end
Because someone slew the tyrant
Just as Brutus slew the tyrant—

He said:

Damn you, Lincoln
You righteous whore!

Tell 'em!
Tell 'em what he did!

You turned your spite into Civil War!

Tell 'em!
Tell 'em the truth!

And more...

Tell 'em, boy!
Tell 'em how it happened

How the end doesn't mean that it's over
How surrender is not the end!
Tell 'em:

How the country is not what it was
Where there's blood in the clover
How the nation can never again
Be the hope that it was

How the bruises may never be healed
How the wounds are forever
How we gave up the field
But we still wouldn't yield

How the union can never recover
From that vulgar
High and mighty
N*gger lover,

Never. Never. Never
No, the country is not what it was...

Damn my soul if you must
Let my body turn to dust
Let it mingle with the ashes of the country

Let them curse me to hell
Leave it to history to tell:
What I did, I did well
And I did it for my country

Let them cry, "Dirty traitor!"
They will understand it later—
The country is not what it was...

Johnny Booth was a headstrong fellow
Even he believed the things he said
Some called him noble, some said yellow
What he was was off his head

How could you do it, Johnny
Calling it a cause?
You left a legacy
Of butchery and treason we
Took eagerly
And thought you'd get applause

But traitors just get jeers and boos
Not visits to their graves
While Lincoln, who got mixed reviews
Because of you, John, now gets only raves

Damn, you Johnny
You paved the way
For other madmen
To make us pay
Lots of madmen
Have had their say—
But only for a day

Listen to the stories
Hear it in the songs
Angry men don't write the rules
And guns don't right the wrongs

Hurts a while
But soon the country's
Back where it belongs
And that's the truth

Still and all
Damn you Booth!

Other Appearances

  • The original version of the song was featured in the play's soundtrack.
  • The Broadway version was featured on the official soundtrack.




           Assassins Navbox Songs

Everybody's Got the RightThe Ballad of BoothHow I Saved RooseveltThe Gun SongThe Ballad of CzolgoszUnworthy of Your LoveThe Ballad of GuiteauAnother National AnthemYou Can Close the New York Stock ExchangeEverybody's Got the Right (Reprise)

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