[John Wilkes] Booth grew increasingly obsessed with the subjects of slavery and the Confederacy. He recruited two boyhood friends, Michael O'Laughlin and Samuel Arnold, to assist him in kidnapping [President Abraham] Lincoln, which they planned for 20 March . Lincoln did not appear as expected; the conspirators panicked and fled. Later Booth added David Herold and George Atzerodt to his band, completing it with Lewis Powell, known also as Lewis Payne. By this time Booth had become acquainted with a young rebel, John Surratt, and his mother, Mary Eugenia Surratt, a rebel sympathizer who operated a boardinghouse in Washington, in which the group would meet from time to time.
The kidnapping plot evaporated when the city of Richmond fell and the war ended. Five days later, on 14 April 1865, Booth learned that President Lincoln planned to attend Our American Cousin (starring Laura Keene) at Ford's Theatre. Working quickly, Booth assigned Atzerodt to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and Payne to kill Secretary of State William Seward while Booth himself murdered Lincoln. Atzerodt lost his nerve and made no attempt on Johnson, but Payne, a young giant, wounded Seward severely, as well as several others who tried to defend him.