by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
Unless you have read something about the Lincoln assassination the name John Parker will probably be totally unfamiliar to you. If you have read something about that event and the people involved in that conspiracy, one way or another, then Mr. Parker’s name should be familiar to you.
Theodore Roscoe in his book The Web of Conspiracy noted the activities (or rather lack thereof) of John Parker on the night of the Lincoln assassination. He noted, on page 23: “But at ten o’clock that night Lincoln sat in his box unprotected…One solitary man stood guard (or was supposed to stand guard) over the presidential box. His name was John Parker. He was a member of the Metropolitan Police Force. Dissolute, craven, he was a drunken good-for-nothing who had one of the worst records on the Washington Force. And he had been assigned to the White House detail at the special request of Mrs. Lincoln. To the present day nobody knows why Mrs. Lincoln sponsored this scurvy policeman. When her sponsorship of Parker came to light after the ghastly tragedy enacted at Ford’s, nobody wanted to probe that peculiar matter. Of course–after the tragedy–Parker was investigated…Had joined the city force when it was organized in 1861. Had proceeded to accumulate a mass or demerits and reprimands that took him to the foot of the constabulary for insubordination, unbecoming conduct, loafing on beat, drunkeness while on duty, and arresting streetwalkers who had refused him their favors gratis. In March of 1863, he had faced the Police Board to answer charges that he had gone to bed drunk in a house of prostitution and had fired a pistol through the window of said brothel.
That charge dismissed, he soon faced others–foul language, sleeping on post, insulting a lady. One black mark after another. This was the character assigned to guard the President’s box on the night of April 14th. Where was Policeman Parker at the crucial hour?..One fact could not be hushed up by official or unofficial censors. Parker had abandoned his post. The door of Lincoln’s box had been left unguarded.” You would have thought that this, on top of his many other indiscritions, would have been more than enough to get Parker canned. Not so! Roscoe observed that “…the facts concerning John F. Parker were promptly ‘lost’ in the files of official investigation, and so were lost to history. The reason: Mrs. Lincoln’s strange involvement with John F. Parker?”
In fact, just the week before the assassination Mrs. Lincoln had penned a letter to the Provost Marshal, James O’Beirne, which read: “Executive Mansion Washington, April 3, 1865 This is to certify that John F. Parker, a member of the Metropolitan Police has been detailed for duty at the Executive Mansion by order of Mrs. Lincoln.” And on April 4th, Mrs. Lincoln had requested that Parker and one other officer be exempted from the draft. Roscoe noted: “Here was an enigma at once hustled under the censorship veil. That veil has never been lifted.”
Even https://www.smithsonianmag.com took note of Parker’s dubious history as one of Washington’s finest in an article by Paul Martin on April 7th, 2010. Martin stated: “Parker’s record as a cop fell somewhere between pathetic and comical. He was hauled before the police board numerous times, facing a smorgasbord of charges that should have gotten him fired. But he received nothing more than an occasional reprimand…Parker was charged with failing to protect the president, but the complaint was dismissed a month later. No local newspaper followed up on the issue of Parker’s culpability. Nor was Parker mentioned in the official report on Lincoln’s death. Why he was let off so easily is baffling.” And even after all this, Parker was still on the guard detail for the White House. Although at that point, Mrs. Lincoln finally howled!
Some historians now think there may have been some sort of family relationship with Parker on Mrs. Lincoln’s mother’s side of the family.
Another web site https://rogerjnorton.com had an article up on its site called John F. Parker: The Guard Who Abandoned His Post and this article is still up also.
This whole thing presents lots more questions. Why was such a loser, with his horrible record, allowed to remain on the police force with only an occasional reprimand? Did he have something on somebody that enabled him to keep his job no matter what he did? You would have thought Mrs. Lincoln might have had some idea of Parker’s character, especially if there was a family relationship. And if there was, why did she request this turkey to begin with? Most families with black sheep try to steer clear of them as much as possible and everyone in the family knows who they are and what their problems are.
With Mrs. Lincoln this does not appear to have been the case until after Lincoln was assassinated. One more odd-ball situation associated with this assassination.