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Title: The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt
Author: DeWitt, David Miller
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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"_Oceans of horse-hair, continents of parchment, and learned-sergeant
eloquence, were it continued till the learned tongue wore itself small in
the indefatigable learned mouth, cannot make the unjust just. The grand
question still remains, Was the judgment just? If unjust, it will not and
cannot get harbour for itself, or continue to have footing in this
Universe, which was made by other than One Unjust. Enforce it by never
such statuting, three readings, royal assents; blow it to the four winds
with all manner of quilted trumpeters and pursuivants, in the rear of them
never so many gibbets and hangmen, it will not stand, it cannot stand.
From all souls of men, from all ends of Nature, from the Throne of God
above, there are voices bidding it: Away! Away!_"





  CHAPTER I. The Reign of Terror,                                      1

  CHAPTER II. The Bureau of Military (In)Justice,                     15


  CHAPTER I. The Opening of the Court. Was She Ironed?                23

  CHAPTER II. Animus of the Judges. Insults to Reverdy Johnson
              and General Edward Johnson,                             41

  CHAPTER III. Conduct of the Trial,                                  56

  CHAPTER IV. Arguments of the Defense,                               70

  CHAPTER V. Charge of Judge Bingham,                                 82

  CHAPTER VI. Verdict, Sentence and Petition,                         91

  CHAPTER VII. The Death Warrant and Execution,                      112

  CHAPTER VIII. Was it not Murder? The Milligan Case,                126


  CHAPTER I. Setting Aside the Verdict. Discharge of Jefferson
             Davis,                                                  145

  CHAPTER II. Reversal on the Merits. Trial of John H. Surratt,      165

  CHAPTER III. The Recommendation to Mercy,                          182

  CHAPTER IV. Trial of Joseph Holt,                                  207

  CHAPTER V. Andrew Johnson Signs another Death Warrant,             236

  CHAPTER VI. Conclusion,                                            249




The assassination of Abraham Lincoln burst upon the City of Washington
like a black thunder-bolt out of a cloudless sky. On Monday, the 3d of
April, 1865, Richmond was taken. On the succeeding Sunday (the ninth),
General Lee with the main Army of the South surrendered. The rebellion of
nearly one-half the nation lay in its death-throes. The desperate struggle
for the unity of the Republic was ending in a perfect triumph; and the
loyal people gave full rein to their joy. Every night the streets of the
city were illuminated. The chief officers of the government, one after
another, were serenaded. On the evening of Tuesday, the eleventh, the
President addressed his congratulations to an enthusiastic multitude from
a window of the White House. On the night of Thursday (the thirteenth)
Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, and Ulysses S. Grant, the
victorious General of the Army of the North, were tumultuously greeted
with banners and music and cannon at the residence of the Secretary. The
next day, Friday the 14th, was the fourth anniversary of the surrender of
Fort Sumter to the South, and that national humiliation was to be avenged
by the restoration of the flag of the United States to its proper place
above the fort by the hand of the same gallant officer who had been
compelled to pull it down. In the evening, a torch-light procession
perambulated the streets of the Federal Capital. Enthusiastic throngs
filled the theatres, where the presence of great officials had been
advertised by huge placards, and whose walls were everywhere festooned
with the American flag. After four years of agonizing but unabating
strain, all patriots felt justified in yielding to the full enjoyment of
the glorious relaxation.

Suddenly, at its very zenith, the snap of a pistol dislimns and scatters
this great jubilee, as though it were, indeed, the insubstantial fabric of
a vision. At half past ten that night, from the box of the theatre where
the President is seated, a shot is heard; a wild figure, hatless and
clutching a gleaming knife, emerges through the smoke; it leaps from the
box to the stage, falls upon one knee, recovers itself, utters one shout
and waves aloft its bloody weapon; then turns, limps across in front of
the audience and disappears like a phantom behind the scenes.
Simultaneously, there breaks upon the startled air the shriek of a woman,
followed close by confused cries of "Water! Water!" and "The President is

For the first few moments both audience and actors are paralyzed. One man
alone jumps from the auditorium to the stage and pursues the flying
apparition. But, as soon as the hopeless condition of the President and
the escape of the assassin begin to transpire, angry murmurs of "Burn the
Theatre!" are heard in the house, and soon swell into a roar in the street
where a huge crowd has already assembled.

The intermingling throng surges into the building from every quarter, and
mounts guard at every exit. Not one of the company of actors is allowed to
go out. The people seem to pause for a moment, as if awaiting from Heaven
a retribution as sudden and awful as the crime.

All their joy is turned to grief in the twinkling of an eye. The rebellion
they had too easily believed to be dead could still strike, it seemed, a
fatal blow against the very life of the Republic. A panic seizes the
multitude in and around the theatre, and from the theatre spreads, "like
the Night," over the whole city. And when the frightened citizens hear, as
they immediately do, the story of the bloody massacre in the house of the
Secretary of State, occurring at the same hour with the murder of the
President, the panic swells into a reign of terror. The wildest stories
find the quickest and most eager credence. Every member of the Cabinet and
the General of the Army have been, or are about to be, killed; the
government itself is at a standstill; and the lately discomfited rebels
are soon to be in possession of the Capital. Patriotic people, delivering
themselves over to a fear of they know not what, cry hoarsely for
vengeance on they know not whom. The citizen upon whose past loyalty the
slightest suspicion can be cast cowers for safety close to his
hearth-stone. The terror-stricken multitude want but a leader cool and
unscrupulous enough, to plunge into a promiscuous slaughter, such as
stained the new-born revolution in France. A leader, indeed, they soon
find, but he is not a Danton. He is a leader only in the sense that he has
caught the same madness of terror and suspicion which has seized the
people, that he holds high place, and that he has the power and is in a
fit humor to pander to the panic.

Edwin M. Stanton was forced by the tremendous crisis up to the very top of
affairs. Vice-President Johnson, in the harrowing novelty of his position,
was for the time being awed into passive docility. The Secretary of State
was doubly disabled, if not killed. The General of the Army was absent.
The Secretary of War without hesitation grasped the helm thus thrust into
his hand, but, alas! he immediately lost his head. His exasperation at the
irony of fate, which could so ruthlessly and in a moment wither the
triumph of a great cause by so unexpected and overwhelming a calamity, was
so profound and intense, his desire for immediate and commensurate
vengeance was so uncontrollable and unreasoning, as to distort his
perception, unsettle his judgment, and thus cause him to form an estimate
of the nature and extent of the impending danger as false and exaggerated
as that of the most panic-stricken wretch in the streets. Personally,
besides, he was unfitted in many respects for such an emergency. Though an
able and, it may be, a great War-Minister, he exerted no control over his
temper; he habitually identified a conciliatory and charitable disposition
with active disloyalty; and, being unpopular with the people of Washington
by reason of the gruffness of his ways and the inconsistencies of his past
political career, he had reached the unalterable conviction that the
Capital was a nest of sympathizers with the South, and that he was
surrounded by enemies of himself and his country.

When, therefore, upon the crushing news that the President was slain,
followed hard the announcement that another assassin had made a
slaughter-house of the residence of the Minister's own colleague,
self-possession--the one supreme quality which was indispensable to a
leader at such an awful juncture--forsook him and fled.

Before the breath was out of the body of the President, the Secretary had
rushed to the conclusion, unsupported as yet by a shadow of testimony,
that the acts of Booth and of the assailant of Seward (at the moment
supposed to be John H. Surratt) were the outcome of a widespread, numerous
and powerful conspiracy to kill, not only the President and the Secretary
of State, but all the other heads of the Departments, the Vice-President
and the General of the Army as well, and thus bring the government to an
end; and that the primary moving power of the conspiracy was the defunct
rebellion as represented by its titular President and his Cabinet, and its
agents in Canada. This belief, embraced with so much precipitation,
immediately became more than a belief; it became a fixed idea in his mind.
He saw, heard, felt and cherished every thing that favored it. He would
see nothing, would hear nothing, and hated every thing, that in the
slightest degree militated against it. Upon this theory he began, and upon
this theory he prosecuted to the end, every effort for the discovery,
arrest, trial and punishment of the murderers.

He was seconded by a lieutenant well-fitted for such a purpose--General
Lafayette C. Baker, Chief of the Detective Force. In one of the two
minority reports presented to the House of Representatives by the
Judiciary Committee, on the Impeachment Investigation of 1867, this man
and his methods are thus delineated:

    "The first witness examined was General Lafayette C. Baker, late chief
    of the detective police, and although examined on oath, time and
    again, and on various occasions, it is doubtful whether he has in any
    one thing told the truth, even by accident. In every important
    statement he is contradicted by witnesses of unquestioned credibility.
    And there can be no doubt that to his many previous outrages,
    entitling him to an unenviable immortality, he has added that of
    wilful and deliberate perjury; and we are glad to know that no one
    member of the committee deems any statement made by him as worthy of
    the slightest credit. What a blush of shame will tinge the cheek of
    the American student in future ages, when he reads that this miserable
    wretch for years held, as it were, in the hollow of his hand, the
    liberties of the American people. That, clothed with power by a
    reckless administration, and with his hordes of unprincipled tools and
    spies permeating the land everywhere, with uncounted thousands of the
    people's money placed in his hands for his vile purposes, this
    creature not only had power to arrest without crime or writ, and
    imprison without limit, any citizen of the republic, but that he
    actually did so arrest thousands, all over the land, and filled the
    prisons of the country with the victims of his malice, or that of his

In this man's hands Secretary Stanton placed all the resources of the War
Department, in soldiers, detectives, material and money, and commanded him
to push ahead and apprehend all persons suspected of complicity in the
assumed conspiracy, and to conduct an investigation as to the origin and
progress of the crime, upon the theory he had adopted and which, as much
as any other, Baker was perfectly willing to accept and then, by his
peculiar methods, establish. Forthwith was ushered in the grand carnival
of detectives. Far and wide they sped. They had orders from Baker to do
two things:

I.--To arrest all the "Suspect." II.--By promises, rewards, threats,
deceit, force, or any other effectual means, to extort confessions and
procure testimony to establish the conspiracy whose existence had been

At two o'clock in the morning of Saturday, the fifteenth, they burst into
the house of Mrs. Surratt and displaying the bloody collar of the coat of
the dying Lincoln, demanded the whereabouts of Booth and Surratt. It being
presently discovered that Booth had escaped on horseback across the Navy
Yard Bridge with David Herold ten minutes in his rear, a dash was made
upon the livery-stables of Washington, their proprietors taken into
custody, and then the whole of lower Maryland was invaded, the soldiers
declaring martial law as they progressed. Ford's theatre was taken and
held by an armed force, and the proprietor and employees were all swept
into prison, including Edward Spangler, a scene-shifter, who had been a
menial attendant of Booth's. The superstitious notion prevailed that the
inanimate edifice whose walls had suffered such a desecration was in some
vague sense an accomplice; the Secretary swore that no dramatic
performance should ever take place there again; and the suspicion was
sedulously kept alive that the manager and the whole force of the company
must have aided their favorite actor, or the crime could not have been so
easily perpetrated and the assassin escaped.

On the night of the fifteenth (Saturday) a locked room in the Kirkwood
House, where Vice President Johnson was stopping, which had been engaged
by George A. Atzerodt on the morning of the fourteenth, was broken open,
and in the bed were found a bowie-knife and a revolver, and on the wall a
coat (subsequently identified as Herold's), in which was found, among
other articles, a bank book of Booth's. The room had not been otherwise
occupied--Atzerodt, after taking possession of it, having mysteriously

On the morning of the seventeenth (Monday), at Baltimore, Michael
O'Laughlin was arrested as a friend of Booth's, and it was soon thought
that he "_resembled extremely_" a certain suspicious stranger who, it was
remembered, had been seen prowling about Secretary Stanton's residence on
the night of the 13th, when the serenade took place, and there doing such
an unusual act as inquiring for, and looking at, General Grant.

On the same day at Fort Monroe, Samuel Arnold was arrested, whose letter
signed "Sam" had been found on Saturday night among the effects of Booth.

On the night of the seventeenth, also, the house of Mrs. Surratt with all
its contents was taken possession of by the soldiers, and Mrs. Surratt,
her daughter, and all the other inmates were taken into custody. While the
ladies were making preparations for their departure to prison, a man
disguised as a laborer, with a sleeve of his knit undershirt drawn over
his head, a pick-axe on his shoulder, and covered with mud, came to the
door with the story that he was to dig a drain for Mrs. Surratt in the
morning; and that lady asseverating that she had never seen the man
before, he was swept with the rest to headquarters, and there, to the
astonishment of everybody, turned out to be the desperate assailant of
the Sewards.

During these few days Washington was like a city of the dead. The streets
were hung with crape. The obsequies, which started on its march across the
continent the colossal funeral procession in which the whole people were
mourners, were being celebrated with the most solemn pomp. No business was
done except at Military Headquarters. Men hardly dared talk of the
calamity of the nation. Everywhere soldiers and police were on the alert
to seize any supposed or denounced sympathizer with the South. Mysterious
and prophetic papers turned up at the White House and the War Department.
Women whispered terrible stories of what they knew about the "Great
Crime." To be able to give evidence was to be envied as a hero.

And still the arch-devil of the plot could not be found!

The lower parts of Maryland seethed like a boiling pot, and the prisons of
Washington were choking with the "suspect" from that quarter. Lloyd--the
drunken landlord of the tavern at Surrattsville, ten miles from
Washington, at which Booth and Herold had stopped at midnight of the fatal
Friday for carbines and whisky--after two days of stubborn denial was at
last frightened into confession; and Doctor Mudd, who had set Booth's leg
Saturday morning thirty miles from Washington, was in close confinement.
All the intimate friends of the actor in Washington, in Baltimore, in
Philadelphia, in New York and even in Montreal were in the clutches of the
government. Surratt himself--the pursuit of whom, guided by Weichman, his
former college-chum, his room-mate, and the favorite guest of his mother,
had been instant and thorough--it was ascertained, had left Canada on the
12th of April and was back again on the 18th.

But where was Booth? where Herold? where Atzerodt?

On the 20th, the Secretary of War applied the proper stimulus by issuing a
proclamation to the following effect:

    "$50,000 reward will be paid by this department for the apprehension
    of the murderer of our late beloved President.

    "$25,000 reward for the apprehension of John H. Surratt, one of
    Booth's accomplices.

    "$25,000 reward for the apprehension of Herold, another of Booth's

    "Liberal rewards will be paid for any information that shall conduce
    to the arrest of either of the above-named criminals or their

    "All persons harboring or secreting the said persons, or either of
    them, or aiding or assisting in their concealment or escape, will be
    treated as accomplices in the murder of the President and the
    attempted assassination of the Secretary of State, and shall be
    subject to trial before a military commission and the punishment of

What is noteworthy about this document is that Stanton had already made up
his mind as to the guilt of the persons named as accomplices of Booth;
that he needed only their arrest, being assured of their consequent
conviction; and that he had already determined that their trial and the
trial of all persons connected with the great crime, however remotely,
should be had before a military tribunal, and that the punishment to
follow conviction should be death.

At four o'clock in the morning of the very day this proclamation was
issued, Atzerodt was apprehended at the house of his cousin in Montgomery
County, Md., about twenty-two miles northward of Washington, by a detail
of soldiers, to whom, by the way, notwithstanding the arrest preceded the
proclamation, $25,000 reward was subsequently paid. With Atzerodt his
cousin, Richter, was taken also. O'Laughlin, Payne, Arnold, Atzerodt and
Richter, as they were severally arrested, were put into the custody of the
Navy Department and confined on board the Monitor _Saugus_, which on the
morning of Saturday, when the President died, had been ordered to swing
out into the middle of the river opposite the Navy Yard, prepared to
receive at any hour, day or night, dead or alive, the arch-assassin. Each
of these prisoners was loaded with double irons and kept under a strong
guard. On the 23d, Atzerodt, by order of the Secretary of War, was
transferred to the Monitor _Montauk_, to separate him from his cousin, and
Payne, in addition to his double irons, had a ball and chain fastened to
each ankle by the direction of the same officer. On the next day Spangler,
who had hitherto been confined in the Old Capitol Prison, was transferred
to one of the Monitors and presumably subjected to the same treatment. On
the same day the following order was issued:

    "The Secretary of War requests that the prisoners on board iron-clads
    belonging to this department for better security against conversation
    shall have a canvass bag put over the head of each and tied around the
    neck, with a hole for proper breathing and eating, but not seeing, and
    that Payne be secured to prevent self-destruction."

All of which was accordingly done.

And still no Booth! It seems as though the Secretary were mad enough to
imagine that he could wring from Providence the arrest of the principal
assassin by heaping tortures on his supposed accomplices.

At length, in the afternoon of the 26th--Wednesday, the second week after
the assassination--Col. Conger arrived with the news of the death of Booth
and the capture of Herold on the early morning of that day; bringing with
him the diary and other articles found on the person of Booth, which were
delivered to Secretary Stanton at his private residence. In the dead of
the ensuing night, the body of Booth, sewed up in an old army blanket,
arrived, attended by the dog-like Herold; and the living and the dead were
immediately transferred to the _Montauk_. Herold was double ironed, balled
and chained and hooded. The body of Booth was identified; an autopsy held;
the shattered bone of his neck taken out for preservation as a relic (it
now hangs from the ceiling of the Medical Museum into which Ford's Theatre
was converted, or did before the collapse); and then, with the utmost
secrecy and with all the mystery which could be fabricated, under the
direction of Col. Baker, the corpse was hurriedly taken from the vessel
into a small boat, rowed to the Arsenal grounds, and buried in a grave dug
in a large cellar-like apartment on the ground floor of the Old
Penitentiary; the door was locked, the key removed and delivered into the
hands of Secretary Stanton. No effort was spared to conceal the time,
place and circumstances of the burial. False stories were set afloat by
Baker in furtherance of such purpose. Stanton seemed to fear an escape or
rescue of the dead man's body; and vowed that no rebel or no rebel
sympathizer should have a chance to glory over the corpse, or a fragment
of the corpse, of the murderer of Lincoln.



Mingling with the varied emotions evoked by the capture and death of the
chief criminal was a feeling of deepest exasperation that the foul
assassin should after all have eluded the ignominious penalty of his
crime. Thence arose a savage disposition on the part of the governing
powers to wreak this baffled vengeance first, on his inanimate body;
secondly, on the lives of his associates held so securely in such close
custody; and thirdly, on all those in high places who might be presumed to
sympathize with his deeds. It was too horrible to imagine that the ghost
of the martyred Lincoln should walk unavenged. So stupendous a calamity
must of necessity be the outcome of as stupendous a conspiracy, and must
in the very justice of things be followed by as stupendous a retribution.
A sacrifice must be offered and the victims must be forthcoming. To employ
the parallel subsequently drawn by General Ewing on the trial of the
conspirators: On the funeral pyre of Patroclus must be immolated the
twelve Trojan captives. They were sure of Payne and of Herold. They held
Arnold and O'Laughlin and Atzerodt and Spangler and Doctor Mudd--all the
supposed satellites of Booth, save one. John H. Surratt could not be
found. Officers in company with Weichman and Holahan, boarders at his
mother's house, who in the terror of the moment had given themselves up on
the morning of the fifteenth, traced him to Canada, as has already been
noticed, but had there lost track of him. They had returned disappointed;
and now Weichman and Holahan were in solitary confinement. Notwithstanding
the large rewards out for his capture, as to him alone the all-powerful
government seemed to be baffled. One consolation there was, however--if
they could not find the son, they held the mother as a hostage for him,
and they clung to the cruel expectation that by putting her to the torture
of a trial and a sentence, they might force the son from his hiding place.

In the meanwhile the Bureau of Military Justice, presided over by
Judge-Advocate-General Holt, had been unceasingly at work. General Baker
with his posse of soldiers and detectives scoured the country far and wide
for suspected persons and witnesses, hauled them to Washington and shut
them up in the prisons. Then the Bureau of Military Justice took them in
hand, and, when necessary, by promises, hopes of reward and threats of
punishment, squeezed out of them the testimony they wanted. Colonel Henry
L. Burnett, who had become an expert in such proceedings from having
recently conducted the trial of Milligan before a military tribunal at
Indianapolis, was brought on to help Judge Holt in the great and good
work. In the words of General Ewing in his plea for Dr. Mudd:

    "The very frenzy of madness ruled the hour. Reason was swallowed up in
    patriotic passion, and a feverish and intense excitement prevailed
    most unfavorable to a calm, correct hearing and faithful repetition of
    what was said, especially by the suspected. Again, and again, and
    again the accused was catechised by detectives, each of whom was
    vieing with the other as to which should make the most important
    discoveries, and each making the examination with a preconceived
    opinion of guilt, and with an eager desire, if not determination, to
    find in what might be said the proofs of guilt. Again, the witnesses
    testified under the strong stimulus of a promised reward for
    information leading to arrest and followed by convictions."

The Bureau conducted the investigation on the preconceived theory,
adopted, as we have seen, by the Secretary of War, that the Confederate
Government was the source of the conspiracy; and, by lavishing promises
and rewards, it had no difficulty in finding witnesses who professed
themselves to have been spies on the rebel agents in Canada and who were
ready to implicate them and through them the President of the defunct
Confederacy in the assassination. Richard Montgomery and Sanford Conover,
who had been in personal communication with these agents during the past
year, were eagerly taken into the employ of the Bureau, and made frequent
trips to Canada, to return every time laden with fresh proofs of the
complicity of the rebels.

To illustrate how the Bureau of Military Justice dealt with witnesses who
happened to have been connected more or less closely with Booth, and who
were either reluctant or unable to make satisfactory disclosures, here are
two extracts from the evidence given on the trial of John H. Surratt in

The first is from the testimony of Lloyd, the besotted keeper of the
Surratt tavern:

    "I was first examined at Bryantown by Colonel Wells. I was next
    examined by two different persons at the Carroll prison. I did not
    know either of their names. One was a military officer. I think some
    of the prisoners described him as Colonel Foster. I saw a man at the
    conspiracy trial as one of the Judges who looked very much like him. *
    * * I told him I had made a fuller statement to Colonel Wells than I
    could possibly do to him under the circumstances, while things were
    fresh in my memory. His reply was that it was not full enough, and
    then commenced questioning me whether I had ever heard any person say
    that something wonderful or something terrible was going to take
    place. I told him I had never heard anyone say so. Said he I have seen
    it in the newspapers.

    "He jumps up very quick off his seat, as if very mad, and asked me if
    I knew what I was guilty of. I told him, under the circumstances I did
    not. He said you are guilty as an accessory to a crime the punishment
    of which is death. With that I went up stairs to my room."

The next is from the testimony of Lewis J. Carland, to whom Weichman
confessed his remorse after the execution of Mrs. Surratt:

    "He [Weichman] said it would have been very different with Mrs.
    Surratt if he had been let alone; that a statement had been prepared
    for him, that it was written out for him, and that he was threatened
    with prosecution as one of the conspirators if he did not swear to it.
    He said that a detective had been put into Carroll prison with him,
    and that this man had written out a statement which he said he had
    made in his sleep, and that he had to swear to that statement."

Let us add another; it is so short and yet so suggestive. It is from the
testimony of James J. Gifford, who was a witness for the prosecution on
both trials.

    "Q.--Do you know Mr. Weichman?

    "A.--I have seen him.

    "Q.--Were you in Carroll prison with him?

    "A.--Yes, sir.

    "Q.--Did he say in your presence that an officer of the government had
    told him that unless he testified to more than he had already stated
    they would hang him too?

    "A.--I heard the officer tell him so."

After a fortnight of such wholesale processes of arrest, imprisonment,
inquisition, reward and intimidation, the Bureau of Military Justice
announced itself ready to prove the charges it had formulated. Thereupon
two proclamations were issued by President Johnson. One, dated May the
first, after stating that the Attorney General had given his opinion "that
all persons implicated in the murder of the late President, Abraham
Lincoln, and the attempted assassination of the Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State, and in an alleged conspiracy to assassinate other
officers of the Federal Government at Washington City, and their aiders
and abettors, are subject to the jurisdiction of and legally triable
before a Military Commission," ordered 1st, "that the Assistant
Adjutant-General (W. A. Nichols) detail nine competent military officers
to serve as a Commission for the trial of said parties, and that the
Judge-Advocate-General proceed to prefer charges against said parties for
their alleged offences, and bring them to trial before said Military
Commission." 2d, "that Brevet Major-General Hartranft be assigned to duty
as Special Provost-Marshal-General for the purpose of said trial and
attendance upon said Commission, and the execution of its mandates."

The other proclamation, dated May 2nd, after reciting that "it appears
from evidence in the Bureau of Military Justice, that the atrocious murder
of the late President, Abraham Lincoln, and the attempted assassination of
the Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, were incited, concerted,
and procured by and between Jefferson Davis, late of Richmond, Va., and
Jacob Thompson, Clement C. Clay, Beverly Tucker, George N. Sanders,
William C. Cleary, and other rebels and traitors against the Government of
the United States, harbored in Canada," offered the following rewards:

    "$100,000 for the arrest of Jefferson Davis.

    "$25,000 for the arrest of Clement C. Clay.

    "$25,000 for the arrest of Jacob Thompson, late of Mississippi.

    "$25,000 for the arrest of Geo. N. Saunders.

    "$25,000 for the arrest of Beverly Tucker.

    "$10,000 for the arrest of Wm. C. Cleary, late clerk of Clement C.

    "The Provost-Marshal-General of the United States is directed to cause
    a description of said persons, with notice of the above rewards, to be

At this date the President of the defunct Confederacy was a fugitive,
without an army; and bands of U. S. Cavalry were already on the scout to
intercept his flight. Military Justice, however, was too impatient to
await the arrest of the prime object of its sword; and in obedience to the
first proclamation proceeded without delay to organize a court to try the
prisoners selected from the multitude undergoing confinement as the
fittest victims to appease the shade of the murdered President. Over some
of the "suspect" the Judge-Advocates for a time vacillated, whether to
include them in the indictment or to use them as witnesses; but, after a
season of rigid examinations, renewed and revised, they at last concluded
that such persons would be more available in the latter capacity.

On the third day of May the funeral car, which, leaving Washington on the
twenty-first of April, had borne the body of the lamented Lincoln through
State after State, arrived at last at Springfield; and on the following
day the cherished remains were there consigned to the tomb. On the sixth,
by special order of the Adjutant-General, a Military Commission was
appointed to meet at Washington on Monday, the eighth day of May, or as
soon thereafter as practicable, "for the trial of David E. Herold,
George A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, Michael O'Laughlin, Edward Spangler,
Samuel Arnold, Mary E. Surratt, Samuel A. Mudd and such other prisoners as
may be brought before it, implicated in the murder of the late President
and in the attempted assassination of the Secretary of State and in an
alleged conspiracy to assassinate other officers of the Federal Government
at Washington City, and their aiders and abettors. By order of the
President of the United States." And so, all things being in readiness,
let the curtain rise.





On the ninth day of May the Commission met but only to adjourn that the
prisoners might employ counsel. On the same day, two of its members,
General Cyrus B. Comstock and Colonel Horace Porter--names to be noted for
what may have been a heroic refusal--were relieved from the duty of
sitting upon the Commission, and two other officers substituted in their

So that Tuesday, May 10th, 1865--twenty-six days after the assassination,
a period much too short for the intense excitement and wild desire for
vengeance to subside--may properly be designated as the first session of
the Court. On the early morning of that day--before daylight--Jefferson
Davis had been captured, and was immediately conducted, not to Washington
to stand trial for his alleged complicity in the assassination, but to
Fort Monroe. On the next day Clement C. Clay, also, surrendered himself to
the United States authorities, and was sent, not to Washington to meet the
awful charge formulated against him, but to the same military fortress.

The room in which the Commission met was in the northeast corner of the
third story of the Old Penitentiary; a building standing in the U. S.
Arsenal Grounds at the junction of the Potomac with the Eastern Branch, in
a room on the ground floor of which the body of Booth had been secretly
buried. Its windows were guarded by iron gratings, and it communicated
with that part of the prison where the accused were now confined, by a
door in the western wall. The male prisoners had been removed some days
before from the Monitors to the Penitentiary, where Mrs. Surratt was
already incarcerated, and each of them, including the lady, was now
immured in a solitary cell under the surveillance of a special guard.

Around a table near the eastern side of this room sat, resplendent in full
uniform, the members of the Court. At the head as President was
Major-General David Hunter--a stern, white-headed soldier, sixty-three
years old; a fierce radical; the first officer to organize the slaves into
battalions of war; the warm personal friend of Lincoln, at the head of
whose corpse he had grimly sat as it rested from place to place on the
triumphal progress to its burial, and from whose open grave he had
hurried, in no very judicial humor to say the least, to take his seat
among the Judges of the accused assassins. On his right sat Major-General
Lew Wallace, a lawyer by profession; afterwards the President of the
Court-Martial which tried and hung Henry Wirz; but now, by a sardonic
freak of destiny, known to all the world as the tender teller of "Ben Hur,
a Tale of the Christ." To the right of General Wallace sat Brevet
Brigadier-General James A. Ekin and Brevet Colonel Charles A. Tompkins;
about whom the only thing remarkable is that they had stepped into the
places of the two relieved officers, Colonel Tompkins being the only
regular army officer on the Board. On the left of General Hunter sat,
first, Brevet Major-General August V. Kautz, a native of Germany; next,
Brigadier-General Robert S. Foster, who may or may not have been the
"Colonel Foster" alluded to in the testimony of Lloyd quoted above, as
threatening the witness and as afterwards being seen by him on the
Commission--the presence of an officer, previously engaged by the
Government in collecting testimony against the accused, as one of the
judges to try him not being considered a violation of Military Justice.
Next sat Brigadier-General Thomas Mealey Harris, a West Virginian, and the
author of a book entitled "Calvinism Vindicated;" next, Brigadier-General
Albion P. Howe, and last, Lieutenant-Colonel David R. Clendenin.

Not one of these nine men could have withstood the challenge which the
common law mercifully puts into the hands of the most abandoned culprit.
They had come together with one determined and unchangeable purpose--to
avenge the foul murder of their beloved Commander-in-Chief. They dreamt
not of acquittal. They were, necessarily, from the very nature of their
task, _organized to convict_.

The accused were asked, it is true, whether they had any objections to any
member of the Court. But this was the emptiest of forms, as bias is no
cause of challenge in military procedure, and peremptory challenges are

Moreover, it was nothing but a cruel mockery to offer to that trembling
group of prisoners an opportunity, which, if any one of them had the
temerity to embrace, could only have resulted in barbing with the sting of
personal insult the hostile predisposition of the judges.

At the foot of the table around which the Court sat--the table standing
parallel with the north side of the room--there was another, around which
were gathered the three prosecuting officers, who, according to military
procedure, were also members of the Commission.

First, was Brigadier-General Joseph Holt, the Judge-Advocate of the U. S.
Army, and the Recorder of the Commission. During his past military career
he had distinguished himself on many a bloody court-martial.

Second, designated by General Holt as First Assistant or Special
Judge-Advocate, was Hon. John A. Bingham, of Ohio--long a Representative
in Congress, then for a short interval a Military Judge-Advocate, now a
Representative in Congress again, and to become in the strange
vicissitudes of the near future, one of the managers of the impeachment of
President Johnson, whom he now cannot praise too highly. He was one of
those fierce and fiery western criminal lawyers, gifted with that sort of
vociferous oratory which tells upon jurors and on the stump, by nature and
training able to see but one side to a case and consequently merciless to
his victims. His special function was to cross-examine and brow-beat the
witnesses for the defense, a branch of his profession in which he was
proudly proficient, and, above all, by pathetic appeals to their
patriotism and loyalty, and by measureless denunciations of the murder of
their Commander-in-Chief and of the Rebellion, to keep up at a white heat
the already burning passions of the officers composing the tribunal. Next
to him came Colonel Henry L. Burnett; brought from Indiana where he had
won recent laurels in conducting the trial of Milligan for treason before
a Military Commission--laurels, alas! soon to be blasted by the decision
of the U. S. Supreme Court pronouncing that and all other Military
Commissions for the trial of citizens in places where the civil courts are
open illegal, and setting free the man this zealous public servant had
been instrumental in condemning to death.

In the centre of the room was a witness-stand facing the Court. To the
left of the witness-stand a table for the official reporters. Along the
western side and directly opposite the Court was a platform about a foot
high and four feet broad, with a strong railing in front of it. This was
the prisoners' dock. The platform was divided near the left hand or
southern corner by the doorway which led to the cells. In front of the
southern end of the dock and behind the witness-stand was the table of the
prisoners' counsel.

At the appointed hour the door in the western side opens and an impressive
and mournful procession appears. Six soldiers armed to the teeth are
interspersed among seven male prisoners and one woman.

First walks Samuel Arnold, the young Baltimorean, who is to sit at the
extreme right (_i. e._, of the spectators), followed close by his armed
guard; next, Dr. Samuel T. Mudd and a soldier; next, Edward Spangler and a
soldier; next, Michael O'Laughlin, another Baltimorean, and his soldier;
next, George B. Atzerodt and a soldier; next, Lewis Payne, a tall
gladiator, though only twenty years old, and his soldier; and then David
E. Herold, looking like an insignificant boy, who is to sit next the door.
As they enter, their fetters clanking at every step, they turn to their
left and take seats on the platform in the order named, the six soldiers
being sandwiched here and there between two of the men.

Each of these prisoners, during the entire trial, was loaded down with
irons made as massive and uncomfortable as possible. Their wrists were
bound with the heaviest hand-cuffs, connected by bars of iron ten inches
long (with the exception of Dr. Mudd, whose hand-cuffs were connected by a
chain), so that they could not join their hands. Their legs were weighed
down by shackles joined by chains made short enough to hamper their walk.
In addition to these fetters, common to all, Payne and Atzerodt had,
attached by chains to their legs, huge iron balls, which their guards had
to lift and carry after them whenever they entered or left the Court room.

Last, there emerges from the dungeon-like darkness of the doorway the
single female prisoner, Mary E. Surratt. She, alone, turns to her right
and, consequently, when she is seated has the left hand corner of the
platform to herself. But she is separated from her companions in misery by
more than the narrow passage-way that divides the dock; for she is a lady
of fair social position, of unblemished character and of exemplary piety,
and, besides, she is a mother, a widow, and, in that room amongst all
those soldiers, lawyers, guards, judges and prisoners, the sole
representative of her sex. Her womanhood is her peculiar weakness, yet
still her only shield.

Is she too ironed?

The unanimous testimony of eye-witnesses published at the time of the
trial is, that, though not hand-cuffed, she was bound with iron "anklets"
on her feet. And this detail, thus universally proclaimed in the Northern
Press and by loyal writers, was mentioned not as conveying the slightest
hint of reprobation, but as constituting, like the case of the male
prisoners, a part of the appropriate treatment by the military of a person
suffering under such a charge. And, moreover, no contemporaneous denial of
this widespread circumstance was anywhere made, either by Provost-Marshal,
Counsel, Judge-Advocate or member of the Court. It passed unchallenged
into history, like many another deed of shame, over which it is a wonder
that any man could glory, but which characterized that period of frenzy.

Eight years after, during the bitter controversy between Andrew Johnson
and Joseph Holt over the recommendation of mercy to Mrs. Surratt, General
Hartranft, the former Special Provost-Marshal in charge of the prisoners,
first broke silence and, coming to the aid of the sorely-tried
Ex-Judge-Advocate, sent him a vehement categorical denial that Mrs.
Surratt was ever manacled at any time, or that there was ever a thought of
manacling her in any one's mind. Now, what force should be given to such a
denial by so distinguished an officer, so long delayed and in the face of
such universal contemporaneous affirmation?

No one knows how close and exclusive the charge of the prisoners by the
special Provost-Marshal was, nor how liable to interruption, interference
and supersession by the omnipotent Bureau of Military Justice, or by the
maddened Secretary of War and his obsequious henchmen.

At the time the naked assertion was made, to heap indignities upon the
head of the only woman in the whole country whom the soldiery took for
granted was the one female fiend who helped to shed the blood of the
martyred President, was so consonant with the angry feeling, in military
circles, that an officer, having only a general superintendence over the
custody and treatment of what was called "a band of fiends," would be very
likely to overlook such a small matter as that the she-assassin was not
exempted, in one detail, from the contumelies and cruelties it was thought
patriotic to pile upon her co-conspirators. The only wonder ought to be
that they relieved her from the hand-cuffs. They appear to have
discriminated in the case of Dr. Mudd also, substituting a chain for an
inflexible bar so that he for one could move his hands. There may have
been some unmentioned physical reasons for both of these alleviations, but
we may rest assured that neither sex, in the one case, nor profession in
the other, was among them.

General Hartranft (or any other General) never denied, or thought it
necessary to deny, that the seven male prisoners sat through the seven
weeks of the trial, loaded, nay tortured, with irons. And there is no
doubt that this unspeakable outrage, if thought of at all at the trial by
the soldiery--high or low--so far from being thought of as a matter of
reprobation, was a subject of grim merriment or stern congratulation.

Eight years, however, passed away--eight years, in which a fund of
indignation at such brutality, above all to a woman, had been silently
accumulating, until at length to a soldier, whose beclouding passions of
the moment had in the meantime cooled down, its weight made every
loop-hole of escape an entrance for the very breath of life.

The entire atmosphere had changed, and denials became the order of the
day. Memory is a most convenient faculty; and to forget what the lapse of
years has at last stamped with infamy is easy, when the event passed at
the time as a mere matter of course. Leaving these tardy repudiators of an
iniquity, the responsibility for which in the day of its first publication
they tacitly assumed with the utmost complacency, to settle the question
with posterity;--we insist that the preference is open to writers upon the
events of the year 1865 to rely upon the unprejudiced and unchallenged
statements of eye-witnesses; and, therefore, we do here reaffirm that Mary
E. Surratt walked into the court-room, and sat during her trial, with
shackles upon her limbs.

At this late day it is a most natural supposition that these nine stalwart
military heroes, sitting comfortably around their table, arrayed in their
bright uniforms, with their own arms and their own legs unfettered, must
have felt at least a faint flush of mingled pity, shame and indignation,
as they looked across that room at that ironed row of human beings.

Culprits arraigned before them, guarded by armed soldiery, without arms
themselves--why, in the name of justice, drag them into Court and force
them to sit through a long trial, bound with iron, hand and foot? Was it
to forestall a last possible effort of reckless and suicidal despair?

These brave warriors could not have feared the naked arm of Payne, nor
have indulged the childish apprehension that seven unarmed men and one
unarmed woman might overpower six armed soldiers and nine gallant
officers, and effect their escape from the third story of a prison guarded
on all sides with bayonets and watched by detective police! And yet, so
far as appears, no single member of the Court, to whom such a desecration
of our common humanity was a daily sight for weeks, thought it deserving
of notice, much less of protest.

There is but one explanation of this moral insensibility, and that applies
with the same force to the case of the woman as to those of the men. It
is, that the accused were _already doomed_. For them no humiliation could
be thought too deep, no indignity too vile, no hardship too severe,
because their guilt was predetermined to be clear. And the members of the
Military Commission, as they looked across the room at that sorry sight,
saw nothing incongruous with justice, or even with the most chivalrous
decorum, that the traitorous murderers of their beloved Commander-in-Chief
should wear the shackles which were the proper precursors of the death of
ignominy, they were resolved the outlaws should not escape.

We, civilians, must ever humbly bear in mind that the rule of the common
law, that every person accused of crime is presumed to be innocent until
his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt--a rule the benignity
of which is often sneered at by soldiers as giving occasion for lawyers'
tricks and quibbles, and as an impediment to swift justice, is reversed in
military courts, where every person accused of crime is presumed to be
_guilty_ until he himself prove his innocence.

After the prisoners had been seated, and the members of the Commission,
the Judge-Advocates and the official reporters sworn in, the accused were
severally arraigned. There was but one Charge against the whole eight.
Carefully formulated by the three Judge-Advocates upon the lines of the
theory adopted by the Secretary of War, and which Gen. Baker and the
Bureau of Military Justice had been moving heaven and earth to establish,
it was so contrived as to allege a crime of such unprecedented,
far-reaching and profound heinousness as to be an adequate cause of such
an unprecedented and profound calamity.

The eight prisoners were jointly and severally charged with nothing less
than having, in aid of the Rebellion, "_traitorously_" conspired,
"together with one John H. Surratt, John Wilkes Booth, Jefferson Davis,
George N. Sanders, Beverley Tucker, Jacob Thompson, William C. Cleary,
Clement C. Clay, George Harper, George Young and others unknown, to kill
and murder" "Abraham Lincoln, late President of the United States and
Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, Andrew Johnson, then
Vice-President, Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State, and Ulysses S. Grant,
Lieutenant-General;" and of having, in pursuance of such "traitorous
conspiracy," "together with John Wilkes Booth and John H. Surratt"
"traitorously" murdered Abraham Lincoln, "traitorously" assaulted with
intent to kill, William H. Seward, and lain in wait "traitorously" to
murder Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.

On this elastic comprehensive Charge, in which treason and murder are
vaguely commingled, every one of the men, and Mary E. Surratt, were
arraigned, plead not guilty, and were put upon trial. There is no doubt,
by the way, that the Secretary of War would have been included as one of
the contemplated victims, had not Edwin M. Stanton borne so prominent a
part in the prosecution; and it was for this reason, and not because of
any change in the evidence, that General Grant stood alone, as the mark
of O'Laughlin.

To this single Charge there was, also, but a single Specification. This
document alleged that the design of all these traitorous conspirators was,
to deprive the Army and Navy of their Commander-in-Chief and the armies of
their Commander; to prevent a lawful election of President and
Vice-President; and by such means to aid and comfort the Rebellion and
overthrow the Constitution and laws.

It then alleged the killing of Abraham Lincoln by Booth in the prosecution
of the conspiracy, and charged the murder to be the act of the prisoners,
as well as of Booth and John H. Surratt. It then alleged that Spangler, in
furtherance of the conspiracy, aided Booth in obtaining entrance to the
box of the theatre, in barring the door of the theatre box, and in
effecting his escape. Then, that Herold, in furtherance of the conspiracy,
aided and abetted Booth in the murder, and in effecting his escape. Then,
that Payne, in like furtherance, made the murderous assault on Seward and
also on his two sons and two attendants. Then, that Atzerodt, in like
furtherance, at the same hour of the night, lay in wait for Andrew Johnson
with intent to kill him. Then, that Michael O'Laughlin, in like
furtherance, on the nights of the 13th and 14th of April, lay in wait for
General Grant with like intent. Then, that Samuel Arnold, in prosecution
of the conspiracy, "did, on or before the 6th day of March, 1865, and on
divers other days and times between that day and the 15th day of April,
1865, combine, conspire with and counsel, abet, comfort and support"
Booth, Payne, Atzerodt, O'Laughlin and their confederates. Then, "that, in
prosecution of the conspiracy, Mary E. Surratt, on or before the 6th of
March, 1865, and on divers other days and times between that day and the
20th of April, 1865, received, entertained, harbored and concealed, aided
and assisted" Booth, Herold, Payne, John H. Surratt, O'Laughlin, Atzerodt,
Arnold and their confederates, "with the knowledge of the murderous and
traitorous conspiracy aforesaid, and with intent to aid, abet and assist
them in the execution thereof, and in escaping from justice." And, lastly,
that in prosecution of the conspiracy Samuel A. Mudd did from on or before
the 6th day of March, to the 20th of April "advise, encourage, receive,
entertain, harbor and conceal, aid and assist" Booth, Herold, Payne, John
H. Surratt, O'Laughlin, Atzerodt, Mary E. Surratt, Arnold and their
confederates, in its execution and their escape.

After the prisoners, who as yet had no counsel, had pleaded not guilty to
the Charge and Specification, the Court adopted rules of proceeding--one
of which was that the sessions of the Court should be secret, and no one
but the sworn officers and the counsel for the prisoners, also sworn to
secrecy, should be admitted, except by permit of the President of the
Commission; and that only such portions of the testimony as the
Judge-Advocate should designate should be made public.

On the next day (Thursday, May 11th), Mr. Thomas Ewing, Jr. and Mr.
Frederick Stone appeared as counsel for Dr. Mudd, and Mr. Frederick A.
Aiken and Mr. John W. Clampitt for Mrs. Surratt; and on the succeeding day
(12th), Mr. Frederick Stone appeared for Herold "at the earnest request of
his widowed mother and estimable sisters;" General Ewing for Arnold (and
on Monday, the 15th, for Spangler); Mr. Walter S. Cox for O'Laughlin, and
Mr. William E. Doster for Payne and Atzerodt.

By the rules of the Commission no counsel could appear for the prisoners
unless he took the "iron-clad oath" or filed evidence of having taken it.
So supersensitive was the loyalty of the Court that it could not brook the
presence of a "sympathizer with the South," even in such a confidential
relation as counsel for accused conspirators in aid of the Rebellion.

The demeanor of the Court towards the counsel for the defense, reflecting
as in a mirror the humor of the Judge-Advocates, was highly
characteristic. Sometimes they were treated with haughty indifference,
sometimes with ironical condescension, often with contumely, generally
with contempt. Their objections were invariably overruled, unless acceded
to by the Judge-Advocate. The Commission could not conceal its secret
opinion that they were engaged in a disreputable and disloyal employment.

This statement must be somewhat qualified, however, so far as it relates
to General Ewing. He was, or had been recently, of equal rank in the army
of the Union with the members of the Court. He was a brother-in-law of
General Sherman, and he had acquired a high reputation for gallantry and
skill, as well as loyalty, during the war. That such a distinguished
fellow-soldier should appear to defend the fiendish murderers of their
beloved Commander-in-Chief--outlaws they were detailed as a Court to
hang--evidently perplexed and disconcerted these military Judges and
tended in some degree to curb the over-bearing insolence of the Special
Judge-Advocate. Thus, this able lawyer and gallant officer and noble man
was enabled to be "the leading spirit of the defense;" and, as we shall
see, he wrought the miracle of plucking from the deadly clutches of the
Judge-Advocates the lives of every one of the men he defended. But this
instance was a most notable exception. As a rule, even the silent presence
of the counsel for the accused jarred upon the feelings of the Court, and
their vocal interference provoked, at intervals, its outspoken
animadversion. A trifling incident will serve to illustrate.

The witnesses, while giving their testimony, were required to face the
Court, so that they necessarily turned their backs on the counsel for the
prisoners who were placed some distance behind the witness-stand. These
counsel were also forced to cross-examine the witnesses for the
prosecution, and interrogate their own, without seeing their faces; and as
often as a witness in instinctive obedience to the dictates of good
manners would turn round to answer a question, the President of the Court
would check him by a "sharp reprimand" and the stern admonition: "Face the
Court!" The confusion of a witness, especially for the defense, when
thundered at in this way by General Hunter, and the reiterated humiliation
of counsel implied in the order, seem to have only called forth the wonder
that witnesses "would persist in turning towards the prisoners' counsel!"

Clearly these lawyers were an unmeaning, an impeding, an offensive, though
unavoidable, superfluity.



On Saturday, the 13th of May, an incident occurred which throws much light
upon the judicial temper of the Court at the very beginning of the trial.
On that day Reverdy Johnson appeared as counsel for Mrs. Surratt. Admitted
to the bar in 1815, Senator of the United States as far back as 1845,
Attorney-General of the United States as long ago as 1849, and holding the
position of Senator of the United States again at that very moment; having
taken the constitutional oath in all the Courts including the Supreme
Court of the United States at whose bar he was one of the most eminent
advocates; three years after this time to be Minister Plenipotentiary to
England; as he stood there, venerable both in years and in honors,
appearing at great personal and professional sacrifice, gratuitously, for
a woman in peril of her life, one would have thought him secure at least
from insult. Yet no sooner did he announce his intention, if the Court
would permit him at any time to attend to his imperative duties elsewhere,
to act as counsel, than the President of the Commission read aloud a note
he had received from one of his colleagues objecting "to the admission of
Reverdy Johnson as a counsel before this Court on the ground that he does
not recognize the moral obligation of an oath that is designed as a test
of loyalty;" and, in support of the objection, referring to Mr. Johnson's
letter to the people of Maryland pending the adoption of the new
constitution of 1864.

The following colloquy then took place:

    "Mr. Johnson.--May I ask who the member of the Court is that makes
    that objection?

    "The President.--Yes, sir, it is General Harris, and, if he had not
    made it, I should have made it myself.

    "Mr. Johnson.--I do not object to it at all. The Court will decide if
    I am to be tried.

    "The President.--The Court will be cleared.

    "Mr. Johnson.--I hope I shall be heard.

    "General Ekin.--I think it can be decided without clearing the Court.

    "General Wallace.--I move that Mr. Johnson be heard.

    "The President and others.--Certainly.

    "Mr. Johnson.--Is the opinion here to which the objection refers?

    "The President.--I think it is not."

It was discovered, farther on, that General Harris by his own admissions
had not even seen the opinion since he had read it a year ago, and that
his objection, involving so grave an attack upon the moral character of so
distinguished a man, was based upon a mere recollection of its contents
after that lapse of time.

Naturally, the gray-haired statesman and lawyer was indignant at this
premeditated insult. In his address to the Court he repudiated with scorn
the interpretation put upon his letter by his accuser. He explained the
circumstances under which the opinion was delivered; that the Maryland
Convention had prescribed an oath to the voter which they had no right to
exact; "and all that the opinion said, or was intended to say, was, that
to take the oath voluntarily was not a craven submission to usurped
authority, but was necessary in order to enable the citizen to protect his
rights under the then constitution; and that there was no moral harm in
taking an oath which the Convention had no authority to impose."

Among other things he said:

    "There is no member of this Court, including the President, and the
    member that objects, who recognizes the obligation of an oath more
    absolutely than I do; and there is nothing in my life, from its
    commencement to the present time, which would induce me for a moment
    to avoid a comparison in all moral respects between myself and any
    member of this Court.

    "If such an objection was made in the Senate of the United States,
    where I am known, I forbear to say how it would be treated.

    "I have lived too long, gone through too many trials, rendered the
    country such services as my abilities enabled me, and the confidence
    of the people in whose midst I am has given me the opportunity, to
    tolerate for a moment--come from whom it may--such an aspersion upon
    my moral character. I am glad it is made now, when I have arrived at
    that period of life when it would be unfit to notice it in any other

    "I am here at the instance of that lady (pointing to Mrs. Surratt)
    whom I never saw until yesterday, and never heard of, she being a
    Maryland lady; and thinking that I could be of service to her, and
    protesting as she has done her innocence to me--of the facts I know
    nothing--because I deemed it right, I deemed it due to the character
    of the profession to which I belong, and which is not inferior to the
    noble profession of which you are members, that she should not go
    undefended. I knew I was to do it voluntarily, without compensation;
    the law prohibits me from receiving compensation; but if it did not,
    understanding her condition, I should never have dreamed of refusing
    upon the ground of her inability to make compensation."

General Harris, in reply, insisted that the remarks of Mr. Johnson,
explanatory of the letter, corroborated his construction. "I understand
him to say that the doctrine which he taught the people of his state was,
that because the Convention had framed an oath, which was unconstitutional
and illegal in his opinion, therefore it had no moral binding force, and
that people might take it and then go and vote without any regard to the
subject matter, of the oath."

Mr. Johnson, interrupting, denied having said any such thing. General
Hunter, thereupon, to help his colleague out, had the remarks read from
the record. Mr. Johnson assenting to the correctness of the report,
General Harris continued: "If that language does not justify my
conclusion, I confess I am unable to understand the English language;" and
then repeated his construction of the letter.

After he had concluded, Mr. Johnson endeavored to show the author of
"Calvinism Vindicated" that he did not understand the English language, by
pointing out the distinction between stating "there was no harm in taking
an oath, and telling the people of Maryland that there would be no harm in
breaking it after it was taken." Again repelling the misconstruction
attempted to be put upon his words, he proceeded to open a new line as

"But, as a legal question, it is something new to me that the objection,
if it was well founded in fact is well founded in law. Who gives to the
Court the jurisdiction to decide upon the moral character of the counsel
who may appear before them? Who makes them the arbiters of the public
morality and professional morality? What authority have they, under their
commission, to rule me out, or to rule any other counsel out, upon the
ground, above all, that he does not recognize the validity of an oath,
even if they believed it?"

General Harris, in rejoinder, stated that under the rules adopted by the
Commission gentlemen appearing as counsel for the accused must either
produce a certificate of having taken the oath of loyalty or take it
before the Court, and that therefore the Court had a right to inquire
whether counsel held such opinions as to be incompetent to take the oath.
He then expressed his gladness "to give the gentleman the benefit of his
disclaimer. It is satisfactory to me, but it is, I must insist, a tacit
admission that there was some ground for the view upon which my objection
was founded."

Mr. Johnson closed this irritating discussion by saying:

    "The order under which you are assembled gives you no authority to
    refuse me admission because you have no authority to administer the
    oath to me. I have taken the oath in the Senate of the United
    States--the very oath that you are administering; I have taken it in
    the Circuit Court of the United States; I have taken it in the Supreme
    Court of the United States; and I am a practitioner in all the Courts
    of the United States in nearly all the States; and it would be a
    little singular if one who has a right to appear before the supreme
    judicial tribunal of the land, and who has a right to appear before
    one of the Legislative departments of the Government whose law creates
    armies, and creates judges and courts-martial, should not have a right
    to appear before a court-martial. I have said all that I proposed to

The President of the Court, who had already made himself a party to this
gross insult to a distinguished counsel--as if disappointed that the
affair was about to end so smoothly--here burst out:

    "Mr. Johnson has made an intimation in regard to holding members of
    this Court personally responsible for their action.

    "Mr. Johnson.--I made no such intimation; did not intend it.

    "The President.--Then I shall say nothing more, sir.

    "Mr. Johnson.--I had no idea of it. I said I was too old to feel such
    things, if I even would.

    "The President.--I was going to say that I hoped the day had passed
    when freemen from the North were to be bullied and insulted by the
    humbug chivalry; and that, for my own part, I hold myself personally
    responsible for everything I do here. The Court will be cleared."

On reopening, the Judge-Advocate read a paper from General Harris
withdrawing his objection because of Mr. Johnson's disclaimer. General
Wallace remarked that it must be known to every member of the Commission
that Mr. Senator Johnson had taken the oath in the Senate of the United
States. He therefore suggested that the requirement of his taking the oath
be dispensed with.

    "The suggestion was acquiesced in, _nem. con._

    "Mr. Johnson.--I appear, then, as counsel for Mrs. Surratt."

In reviewing, at this distance of time, the foregoing scene, it is
scarcely possible to realize the state of mind of a member of a tribunal
claiming at least to be a court of justice, that could prompt such an
onslaught--so shocking to the universal expectation of dignity and
decorum, not to say absolute impartiality, in a judge.

The interpretation put upon the letter of Reverdy Johnson to his
constituents by Generals Harris and Hunter was the ordinary,
ill-considered, second-hand version circulated by blind party hostility.
This is clearly shown by the fact that the objection of General Harris was
not founded upon a recent perusal of the letter, but upon his own
recollection of the impression it made in his own party circles the year

When, on the next Wednesday, General Harris, having in the meantime looked
it up, presented a copy of the incriminated opinion, prefacing a request
that it be made a part of the record by the sneering remark that "the
Honorable gentleman ought to be very thankful to me for having made an
occasion for him to disclaim before the country any obliquity of intention
in writing that letter;" and, on the suggestion of General Hunter, the
letter was read; every fair minded man ought to have been convinced that
it was open to such a malign misconstruction only by an unscrupulous
political enemy.

But suppose for a moment that their own hasty and uncharitable
construction was correct, what right--what color of justification--did
that give these two military Judges to make that letter of the year before
the pretext for a sudden attack in open court upon such a man as Reverdy
Johnson, and on the consecrated occasion of his appearing as counsel for a
lady on trial for her life?

As to General Harris' argument that the requirement of an oath gave the
Commission a right to inquire whether the written opinions of a counsel
chosen for a defendant, previously delivered as a party leader, were of
such a character as to render him incompetent to take an oath which the
Supreme Court of the United States and the Senate of the United States had
recognized his competency to take; why, it is charitable to suppose--and
his subsequent claim would have been scouted as preposterous in any
law-court in the world.

With regard to General Hunter, his ferocious personal defiance, hurled
from the very Bench, demonstrated in a flash his preëminent unfitness for
any function that is judicial even in a military sense. It is manifest
that this whole attack, whether concerted or not, was not made from any
conscientious regard for the sanctity of an oath, nor from any sensitive
fear that Reverdy Johnson, as an oath-breaker, might contaminate the
tribunal; but it was either a mere empty ebullition of party spleen, or of
party hatred towards a distinguished democrat, or it was made with a
deliberate design to rob a poor woman of any probable advantage such
eminent counsel might procure for her.

And whether the latter terrible suspicion be well founded or not, true it
is that this cruel result, notwithstanding the withdrawal of the
objection, did not fail of full accomplishment.

Reverdy Johnson, though suffered to appear as counsel, was virtually out
of the case. He was present only at rare intervals during the trial, and
sent in his final argument to be read by one of his juniors. The Court had
put its brand upon him, and to any subsequent effort of his it turned an
indifferent countenance and a deaf ear. He, forsooth, had "sympathized"
with the Rebellion and that was enough! His appearance worked only harm to
his client, if harm could be done to one whom the Court believed to have
been also a sympathizer with rebellion, and who was already doomed to
suffer in the place of her uncaptured son.

Another incident, occurring after the testimony on behalf of the prisoners
had begun, will illustrate still more clearly, if possible, the mental
attitude of the Court.

Among the witnesses sworn on the first day of the trial in secret session
was one Von Steinacker, who, according to his own statement, had been in
the Confederate Army, on the staff of Major-General Edward Johnson. He
told the usual cock-and-bull story about seeing Booth in Virginia, in
1863, consorting with the rebel officers and concocting the assassination
of Lincoln. At the time of his examination he was a prisoner of war, but
after he had given his testimony he was discharged. The counsel for the
defense knowing nothing of the witness did not cross-examine him at all.
But, subsequently, they discovered that, after having once been convicted
of an attempt to desert, he had at last succeeded in deserting the Union
Army, and had entered the service of the Confederates; that he had been
convicted of theft by a court-martial; and that his whole story was a
fiction. Thereupon, as soon as possible, the counsel for Mrs. Surratt
applied for the recall of the witness for cross-examination, so as to lay
the basis for his contradiction and impeachment; and they embodied the
facts they were ready to prove in a paper which was signed by Reverdy
Johnson and the other counsel for Mrs. Surratt. This application seems to
have strangely disturbed the Judge-Advocates and aroused the ire of the
Court. The prosecuting officers professed to have no knowledge of the
whereabouts of the witness; and General Wallace, moved from his wonted
propriety, delivered himself as follows:

    "I, for my part, object to the appearance of any such paper on the
    record, and wish to say now that I understand distinctly and hold in
    supreme contempt, such practices as this. It is very discreditable to
    the parties concerned, to the attorneys, and, if permitted, in my
    judgment will be discreditable to the Court."

Mr. Clampitt, with the most obsequious deference to the Court, deprecated
any such reflection upon the conduct of counsel and alluded to their duty
to their unfortunate clients. But this humble apology was declared not
satisfactory to the General or to the Court; and the application was not
only refused but the paper was not allowed to go upon the record. However,
this summary method of keeping facts out of sight availed nothing. Mrs.
Surratt's counsel had caused to be summoned as a witness, to contradict
and impeach Von Steinacker, Edward Johnson, the very Major-General on
whose staff the witness had sworn he had been.

General Johnson, a distinguished officer in the Confederate Army, was
taken prisoner in 1864 and had been in confinement since, as such, at Fort
Warren. From thence he had been brought to attend before the Commission
in obedience to a subpoena issued by the Court.

On the 30th of May, he was called as a witness and appeared upon the stand
to be sworn. As he stood there, in his faded uniform, bearing, doubtless,
traces of the six months' imprisonment from which he had come at the
command of the Court, facing the officers of the Army he had so often
encountered, and with his back turned upon the woman on whose behalf he
had been summoned; General Albion P. Howe deemed it his duty as an
impartial judge to make the following attack upon him.

After stating that it was well known that "the person" before the Court
had been educated at the National Military Academy, and had since for many
years held a commission in the U. S. Army, and had therefore taken the
oath of allegiance, this gallant officer and upright judge proceeded:

    "In 1861, it became my duty as an officer to fire upon a rebel party,
    of which this man was a member, and that party fired upon, struck
    down, and killed loyal men that were in the service of the Government.
    I understand that he is brought here now as a witness to testify
    before this Court, and he comes here as a witness with his hands red
    with the blood of his loyal countrymen, shed by him or by his
    assistants, in violation of his solemn oath as a man and his faith as
    an officer. I submit to this Court that he stands in the eye of the
    law as an incompetent witness, because he is notoriously infamous. To
    offer as a witness a man who stands with this character, who has
    openly violated the obligations of his oath, and his faith as an
    officer, and to administer the oath to him and present his testimony,
    is but an insult to the Court and an outrage upon the administration
    of justice. I move that this man, Edward Johnson, be ejected from the
    Court as an incompetent witness on account of his notorious infamy on
    the grounds I have stated."

General Ekin welcomed the opportunity to distinguish himself by seconding
the motion and characterizing the appearance of the witness before the
Commission, "with such a character" as "the height of impertinence!" In
his haste to insult a fallen foe, he seems to have forgotten that the
witness had no alternative but to come.

The counsel for the prisoner humbly reminded the Court that the
prosecution itself had sworn as its own witnesses men who had borne arms
against the Government. The Judge-Advocate saw that the members of the
Court had gone too far, and, after calling their attention to the familiar
rule that the record of conviction in a judicial proceeding was the only
basis of a total rejection of a witness, proceeded to provide a channel
for the relief of the Court by suggesting that they could discredit the
witness upon the ground stated, although they could not declare him
incompetent to testify.

The assertion is confidently made that in the whole annals of English
criminal jurisprudence, full as they are of instances of the grossest
unfairness to persons on trial, no such outrage upon the administration of
justice as the foregoing can be found. To find its parallel you must go to
the records of the French Revolutionary Tribunal. What are we to think of
the complaint of a Union General, that "a rebel party" fired (first? No!
but that when "it became his duty as an officer to fire upon a rebel
party" the rebel party fired) back? What in Mars' name did this warrior
expect? Would he have had kinder feelings towards his brave adversary if,
in response to his own volley, the Confederate General had tamely laid
down his arms, or played the coward and run?

Nowadays, when the blue and the gray meet, charges of infamy are no longer
heard, but the more deadly the past warfare, the greater the reciprocal

However, this unprovoked assault upon an unoffending officer, powerless to
repel it, although it did not result in his ejection from the Court,
effectually disposed of General Johnson as a witness.

In answer to the questions of counsel he calmly gave his testimony, which
exploded both Von-Steinacker and his story. Judge Bingham confined his
cross-examination to eliciting the facts, that the witness had graduated
from West Point, served in the U. S. Army until 1861, resigned, and joined
the Confederate Army. The Court paid no attention to his direct testimony
because he had fired upon Union men when they had fired upon him.

The foregoing incidents conclusively show (were any such demonstration
necessary) that a Board of nine military officers, fresh from service in
the field in a bloody civil war, with all the fierce prejudices naturally
bred by such a conflict hot within their bosoms, was the most unfit
tribunal possible to administer impartial justice to eight persons charged
with the murder of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army to which every
member of the Court belonged, committed in aid of that Rebellion which
during four years of hard fighting they had helped to suppress.



The whole conduct of the trial emphasizes this conclusion. The Court, in
weighing the evidence, adopted and acted upon the following proposition;
that any witness, sworn for any of the prisoners, who had enlisted in the
Confederate service, or had at any time expressed secession sentiments, or
sympathized in any way with the South, was totally unworthy of credit. The
Court went a step farther, and adopted the monstrous rule that
participation in the Rebellion was evidence of participation in the
assassination! This assertion now seems incredible, but it is fully
attested by the record. At one stage of the trial, the Judge-Advocate
asked a witness whether or not the prisoner Arnold had been in the
military service of the rebels. General Ewing, his counsel, strenuously
objected to this question on the ground, that it tended to prove the
prisoner guilty of another crime than the one for which he was on trial,
and thus to prejudice him in the eyes of the Court.

Judge Holt remarked: "How kindred to each other are the crimes of treason
against a nation and assassination of its chief magistrate.

"The murder of the President * * * was preëminently a political

"When, therefore, we shall show, on the part of the accused, acts of
intense disloyalty, bearing arms in the field against the Government, we
show with him the presence of an animus towards the Government which
relieves this accusation of much, if not all, of its improbability."

He asserted that such a course of proof was constantly resorted to in
criminal courts; and when General Ewing challenged him (as well he might)
to produce any authorities for such a position, he called upon the
indomitable Bingham to state them.

The Special Judge-Advocate responded, but he courteously, but
unmistakably, shied away from his colleague's position and put the
competency of the testimony upon another ground, viz.: that where the
intent with which a thing was done is in issue, other acts of the prisoner
which tend to prove the intent may be given in evidence. Here he was
dealing with a familiar principle, and could cite any number of cases. He
then proceeded to apply his good law. How? By claiming that conspiracy to
murder having been laid in the charge, "_with the intent to aid the
Rebellion_," that was the intent in issue here, and therefore to prove
that a man was in the Rebellion went to prove that intent.

At the request of General Ewing he read the allegation which ran "in aid
of the Rebellion," and not "_with intent_ to aid," and the counsel pointed
out that that was "an allegation of fact, and not of intent;" but the
Judge insisted that it was in effect an allegation of intent--implied if
not expressed.

General Ewing then replied to his adversary's argument by showing that
such an allegation was an unnecessary allegation. Conspiracy to murder and
attempted murder were crimes done with _intent to kill_; and it was a
matter of no moment in pleading to allege a general intent to aid the
Rebellion. Courts had no right to violate the laws of evidence because the
prosecution has seen fit to violate the laws of pleading.

Judge Bingham contended (and cited authorities) for his familiar law, and
then again in applying it triumphantly asked:

"When he [Arnold] entered it (_i. e._, the Rebellion) he entered into it
to aid it, did he not?"

"Mr. Ewing. He did not enter into that to assassinate the President."

At this, the Assistant Judge-Advocate rising to the decisive and
culminating point of his argument gave utterance to the following

    "Yes: he entered into it to assassinate the President; and everybody
    else that entered into the Rebellion entered into it to assassinate
    everybody that represented the Government, that either followed the
    standard in the field, or represented its standard in the counsels.
    That is exactly why it is germane."

And, thereupon, the Commission immediately overruled the objection.
General Ewing told the exact truth, without a particle of rhetorical
exaggeration, when, in the closing sentence of his argument against the
jurisdiction of the Commission, he exclaimed:

"Indeed, the position taken by the learned Assistant Judge-Advocate * * *
goes to this--and even beyond it--namely, that participation in the
Rebellion was participation in the assassination, and that the Rebellion
itself formed part of the conspiracy for which these men are on trial

Throughout the whole trial, the Commission took the law from the
Judge-Advocates with the unquestioning docility usually manifested by a
jury on such matters in civil courts. In truth, the main function of a
Judge-Advocate appears to be to furnish law to the Court, as in civil
courts the main function of the Judge is to furnish law to the jury.
Consequently, his exposition of the law on any disputed point--whether
relative to modes of procedure, or to the competency of testimony, or even
to questions of jurisdiction--instead of standing on the same level with
the antagonistic exposition of counsel for the accused as an argument to
be weighed by the Court against its opposite in the equal scales of
decision, was at all times authoritative, like the opinion of a judge
overruling the contention of a lawyer. This, surely, was bad enough for a
defendant; but, what was still more fatal to his chances of fair dealing,
this habit of domination, acquiesced in by the Court on questions of law,
had the effect (as is also seen in civil courts) of giving the same
superior force to the expositions of questions of fact by the
Judge-Advocate. And as this office combined the functions of a prosecuting
officer with the functions of a judge, there could be no restraints of
law, custom or personal delicacy, against the enforcement, with all the
powers of reasoning and appeal at command, the conclusion of the
Judge-Advocate upon the matters of fact.

In a word, the judgment of the prosecuting officer--the retained counsel
for the Government, the plaintiff in the action--ruled with absolute sway,
both on the law and on the facts, the judgment of the Commission; the
members of which, for that matter, were also in the pay of the Government.

It may, therefore, be readily anticipated with how little impartiality the
trial was conducted.

Mrs. Surratt (as did the rest of the accused) plead to the jurisdiction of
the Commission on the grounds (1) that she was not and had not been in the
military service of the United States, and (2) that when the crimes
charged were committed the civil courts were open in Washington; both of
which allegations were admitted and were notoriously true. Whatever might
be the indifference with which the rights of the men to a constitutional
trial may have been viewed, it was so utterly incongruous with the spirit
of military jurisprudence and so unprecedented in practice to try a woman
by court-martial, that had Mrs. Surratt been alone before that Commission
we venture to say those nine soldiers could not have brought themselves,
or allowed the Judge-Advocate to bring them, to the overruling of her
plea. As it was, however, the court-room was cleared of all save the
members of the Commission and the three Judge-Advocates; and after a
season of what is called "deliberation" (which meant the further
enforcement of the opinion of the prosecuting officers upon the point
under discussion, where necessary), the court reopened and "the
Judge-Advocate announced that the pleas * * * had been overruled by the

Mrs. Surratt (as did the other prisoners) then asked for a separate trial;
a right guaranteed to her in all the civil courts of the vicinage. It was
denied to her, without discussion, as a matter of course.

And yet no one now can fail to recognize the grievous disadvantage under
which this one woman labored, coupled in a single trial with such culprits
as Payne who confessed his guilt, and Herold who was captured with Booth.

In fact, the scheme of trial contrived by the Judge-Advocates on a scale
comprehensive enough to embrace the prisoners, the Canadian exiles and the
Confederate Cabinet, would not work on a trial of Mrs. Surratt alone. Of
this pet plan they were highly proud and greatly enamoured. To it,
everything--the rights of woman as well as man; considerations of equity
and of common fairness--must be made to give way.

To the maintenance of this scheme in its integrity, they had marshalled
the witnesses, and they guided the Commission with a firm hand so that not
a jot or tittle of its symmetry should be marred.

This determined purpose is indicated by the starting-point they chose for
the testimony.

On Friday, the twelfth, the first witness was sworn, and his name was
Richard Montgomery. His testimony, as well as that of the other witnesses
sworn that day, was taken in secret session, and no portion of it was
allowed to reach the public until long after the trial. It was all
directed to establish the complicity of the rebel agents in Canada and
through them the complicity of Jefferson Davis and other officers of the
"Confederacy" in the assassination. In other words, this testimony was
given to prove the guilt, not of the men much less of the woman on trial,
but of the men included in the charge but not on trial; and whom, as it
now appears, the United States never intended to try.

To connect the defunct Confederacy in the person of its captive Chief with
the murder of the President would throw a halo of romantic wickedness
about the crime, and chime in with the prevalent hatred towards every
human being in any way connected with the Rebellion.

This class of testimony continued to be introduced every now and then
during the trial--whenever most convenient to the prosecution--and as
often as it was given the court-room was cleared of spectators and the
session secret; the isolated counsel for Mrs. Surratt, utterly at a loss
to imagine the connection of such testimony, given under such solemn
precautions, with their own client, and knowing nothing whatever of the
witnesses themselves, must have looked on in bewildered amazement, and had
no motive for cross-examination.

The chief witnesses who gave this carefully suppressed evidence were spies
upon the rebel agents in Canada paid by the United States, and, at the
same time, spies upon the United States paid by the rebel agents.

They were, of course, ready to swear to as many conversations with these
agents, both before and after the assassination, in which those agents
implicated themselves and the heads of government at Richmond in the most
reckless manner, as the Judge-Advocates thought necessary or advisable.

The head, parent and tutor of this band of witnesses was a man called
Sanford Conover. After giving his testimony before the Commission, he went
to Canada and again resumed his simulated intimacy with the Confederates
there, passing under the name of James W. Wallace. An unauthorized version
of his testimony having leaked out and appearing in the newspapers, he was
called to account for it by his Canadian friends. He then made and
published an affidavit that the person who had given testimony before the
Commission was not himself but an imposter, and at the same time also
published an offer of $500 reward for the arrest of "the infamous and
perjured scoundrel who secretly personated me under name of Sanford
Conover, and deposed to a tissue of falsehood before the military
Commission at Washington."

Being reclaimed by the government from his Canadian perils, he appeared
again before the Court after the testimony had been closed and the summing
up of all the prisoners' counsel had been completed (June 27th); when he
testified that his affidavit had been extorted from him by the
Confederates in Canada by threats of death at the point of a pistol. This
man Conover was subsequently (in 1867) tried and convicted of perjury and
sent to the penitentiary; and with him the whole structure of perjured
testimony, fabricated for reward by him and Montgomery and their co-spies,
fell to the ground. Secretary Seward testified before the Judiciary
Committee of the House of Representatives, in 1867, that, "the testimony
of these witnesses was discredited and destroyed by transactions in which
Sanford Conover appeared and the evidence of the alleged complicity of
Jefferson Davis thereupon failed."

But, at the period of the trial, when the passionate desire for vengeance
was at its height, any plausible scoundrel, whose livelihood depended on
the rewards for wholesale perjury, and who was sure to be attracted to
Washington by the scent of his favorite game, was thrice welcome to the
Bureau of Military Justice. Any story, no matter how absurd or incredible,
provided it brought Jefferson Davis within conjectural fore-knowledge of
the assassination, was greedily swallowed, and, moreover, was rewarded
with money and employment. These harpies flocked, like buzzards, around
the doors of the old Penitentiary, and all--black and white, from
Richmond, from Washington and from Montreal--were eager, for a
consideration, to swear that Davis and Benjamin were the instigators of
Booth and Surratt. And such testimony as it was! For the most part the
sheerest hearsay! The private impressions of the witness! In one instance,
his recollection of the contents of a letter the witness had heard read or
talked about, the signature of which, although he did not see it himself,
he heard was the signature of Jefferson Davis!! Testimony wholly
inadmissible under the most elementary rules of evidence, but swept before
the Commission in the absence of counsel for the parties implicated and
under the immunity of a secret session.

For example: a blind man, who had been, at an undated period during the
war, a hanger-on around the camp at Richmond, being asked whether he had
heard any conversations among the rebel officers in regard to the
contemplated assassination, answered:

    "In a general way, I have heard sums offered, to be paid with a
    Confederate sum, for any person or persons to go North and assassinate
    the President."

Being pressed to name the amount and by what officers, he answered:

    "At this moment, I cannot tell you the particular names of
    shoulder-straps, &c.

    "Q.--Do you remember any occasion--some dinner occasion?

    "A.--I can tell you this: I heard a citizen make the remark once, that
    he would give from his private purse $10,000, in addition to the
    Confederate amount, to have the President assassinated; to bring him
    to Richmond dead or alive, for proof.

    "Q.--I understood you to say that it was a subject of general
    conversation among the rebel officers?

    "A.--It was. The rebel officers, as they would be sitting around their
    tent doors, would be conversing on such a subject a great deal. They
    would be saying they would like to see his head brought there, dead or
    alive, and they should think it could be done; and I have heard such
    things stated as that they had certain persons undertaking it."

In the introduction of evidence against Mrs. Surratt, as well as the
others on trial, the Judge-Advocates allowed themselves the most unlimited

Narrations of all sorts of events connected with the progress of the
War--historical, problematical or fabulous--having no relevancy to the
particular charge against her, or them, but deadly in their tendency to
steel the minds of the Court against her, were admitted without scruple or

Seven soldiers who had been prisoners of war at Libby Prison, Belle Island
or Andersonville were called and testified, in all its ghastly details, to
the terrible treatment they and their fellow-prisoners had undergone.
Three witnesses were sworn to prove that the rebel government buried a
torpedo under the centre of Libby Prison, to be fired if the U. S. troops
entered Richmond. Letters found in the Richmond Archives were read,
offering to rid the world of the Confederacy's deadliest enemies, and
projecting wholesale destruction to property in the North. Testimony was
allowed to be given of the burning of U. S. transports and bridges by men
in the Confederate service; of the raids from Canada into the United
States; of the alleged plot in all its horrible features to introduce the
yellow-fever into Northern cities by infected clothing, testified to by
the villain who swore he did it for money. It is scarcely to be credited,
yet it is a fact, that the confession of Robert Kennedy, hung in March
previous for attempting to burn the City of New York, was read in
evidence; as was also a letter from a Confederate soldier, detailing the
blowing up of vessels by a torpedo and the killing of Union men at City
Point, indorsed by a recommendation of the operator to favor.

On June 27th, after the testimony had been closed and the summing up of
counsel for the defense ended, the case was reopened and there was
introduced an advertisement clipped from the "Selma Dispatch" of December
1st, 1864, wherein some anonymous lunatic offered, if furnished
$1,000,000, to cause the lives of Lincoln, Seward and Johnson to be taken
before the first of March.

The prosecution closed its direct testimony on May 25th, reserving the
right (of which we have seen they availed themselves from time to time)
thereafter to call further witnesses on the character of the Rebellion and
the complicity of its leaders in the assassination.

Out of about one hundred and fifty witnesses sixty-six gave testimony of
that kind. Of the remaining eighty-four about fifty testified to the
circumstances attending the assassination, the pursuit and capture of
Booth and Herold, and the terrific assault of Payne on William H. Seward
and his household. Of the remaining thirty-four there were nine whose
testimony was directed to the incrimination of Mrs. Surratt.

The important witnesses against her were three soldiers testifying under
the eye of their superior officers as to her non-recognition of Payne, and
two informers who had turned state's evidence to save their own necks, who
connected her with Booth.

The witnesses for the defense, for the most part, were treated by the
Special Judge-Advocate as virtual accomplices of the accused; and, as soon
as, by a searching cross-examination, he had extorted from them a
reluctant admission of the slightest sympathy with the South (as in almost
every case he was able to do), he swept them aside as impeached, and their
testimony as unworthy of a moment's consideration. A former slave, who
announced himself or herself as ready to give evidence against his or her
former master, was a delicious morsel for the Bureau of Military Justice;
and several such were sworn for the prosecution. While, on the other hand,
nothing so exasperated the loyal Bingham or so astonished the Court as the
apparition of an old slave-woman, summoned by the defense, eagerly
endeavoring to exculpate her former master.

Several priests testified as to the good character of Mrs. Surratt as a
lady and a christian, but the effect of their testimony was immediately
demolished in the eyes of the Court, when, on cross-examination, although
they refused to substantiate what the Judge-Advocate called "her notorious
intense disloyalty," they could not remember that they had ever heard her
"utter one loyal sentiment."

Chapter IV.


The testimony for the several defenses of the eight accused closed on the
7th of June, and the testimony in rebuttal ended on the 14th, with the
evidence of the physicians on the sanity of Payne.

Thereupon, General Ewing endeavored to extract from the Judge-Advocate an
answer to the two following questions: First.--Whether his clients were on
trial for but one crime, viz.: Conspiracy, or four crimes, viz.:
Conspiracy, Murder, Attempt at murder, Lying in wait? and

Second.--By what statute or code of laws the crimes of "traitorously"
murdering, or "traitorously" assaulting with intent to kill, or
"traitorously" lying in wait, were defined, and what was the punishment

The Judge-Advocate's reply to the first question was, in substance, that
all the accused were charged with conspiring to assassinate the President
and the other members of the Government named, and further, with having
executed that conspiracy so far as the assassination of the President and
the assault on the Secretary of State were concerned, and "to have
attempted its execution so far as concerns the lying in wait and other

Assistant Judge-Advocate Bingham added:

    "The act of any one of the parties to a conspiracy in its execution is
    the act of every party to that conspiracy; and therefore the charge
    and specification that the President was murdered in pursuance of it
    by the hand of Booth, is a direct and unequivocal charge that he was
    murdered by every one of the parties to this conspiracy, naming the
    defendants by name.

    "Mr. Ewing.--I understand * * * but I renew my inquiry, whether these
    persons are charged with the crime of conspiracy alone, and that these
    acts of murdering, assaulting, and lying in wait, were merely acts
    done in execution of that conspiracy.

    "Mr. Bingham (interrupting).--And not crimes?

    "Mr. Ewing.--Or whether they are charged with four distinct crimes in
    this one charge?

    "Mr. Bingham.--'Where parties are indicted for a conspiracy, and the
    execution thereof, it is but one crime at the common law. And that as
    many * * * overt acts in the execution of the conspiracy as they are
    guilty of, may be laid in the same count.'

    "Mr. Ewing.--It is then, I understand, one crime with which they are

    "Mr. Bingham.--One crime all round, with various parts performed.

    "Mr. Ewing.--The crime of conspiracy.

    "Mr. Bingham.--It is the crime of murder as well. It is not simply
    conspiring but executing the conspiracy treasonably and in aid of the

    "Mr. Ewing.--I should like an answer to my question, if it is to be
    given: How many crimes are my clients charged with and being tried
    for? I cannot tell.

    "Mr. Bingham.--We have told you, it is all one transaction."

General Ewing, not being able to get an answer intelligible to himself to
the first question, then respectfully asked an answer to the second: By
what code or statute the crime was defined and the punishment provided?

    "The Judge-Advocate.--I think the common law of war will reach that
    case. This is a crime which has been committed in the midst of a great
    civil war, in the capital of the country, in the camp of the
    Commander-in-Chief of our armies, and if the common law of war cannot
    be enforced against criminals of that character, then I think such a
    code is in vain in the world.

    "Mr. Ewing.--Do you base it, then, only on the law of nations?

    "The Judge-Advocate.--The common law of war.

    "Mr. Ewing.--Is that all the answer to the question?

    "The Judge-Advocate.--It is the one I regard as perfectly appropriate
    to give.

    "Mr. Ewing.--I am as much in the dark now as to that as I was in
    reference to the other inquiry."

It is significant that the ready Special Judge-Advocate rendered no aid to
his colleague on the latter branch of the inquiry.

According to the theory of the prosecution, then, Mary E. Surratt was
tried, as a co-conspirator of Jefferson Davis and seven of his agents, of
the seven men tried with her, and of Booth and her own son, for the crime
of "traitorous conspiracy" to murder the President, Vice-President,
Secretary of State and Lieutenant-General, of the United States; and for
the following crimes committed in pursuance thereof:

1. Assassination of the President, with Booth.

2. Attempt to murder the Secretary of State, his two sons and two
attendants (five crimes instead of one), with Payne.

7. Lying in wait to kill the Vice-President, with Atzerodt.

8. Lying in wait to kill the Lieutenant-General, with O'Laughlin.

Eight separate species of crimes, beside the generic one of "traitorous
conspiracy." And she, a citizen, a non-combatant, a woman, was tried on
this nine-fold, omnibus charge, jointly with seven men, under "the common
law of war"!

       *       *       *       *       *

On the 16th of June (Friday), Mr. Clampitt read the argument of Reverdy
Johnson against the jurisdiction of the Commission--one of the most cogent
and convincing ever delivered in a court of justice.

The Supreme Court of the United States, subsequently (December, 1866), in
deciding the Milligan case, did but little more than reiterate the
propositions maintained by this great lawyer.

He opened his address by reminding the Court that the question of their
jurisdiction to try and sentence the accused was for the Court alone to
decide, and that no mandate of the President, if in fact and in law the
Constitution did not tolerate such tribunals in such cases, could protect
any member of the Commission from the consequences of his illegal acts. He
then advanced and proved the following propositions: that none but
military offenses are subject to the jurisdiction of military courts, and
that the offenders when they commit such offenses must be subject to
military jurisdiction--in other words, must belong to the army or navy;
that the President himself had no right to constitute military courts of
his own motion, but that such power must first be exercised by Congress
under the constitutional grant to that body to make rules for the
government and regulation of the land and naval forces; that, by the fifth
and sixth amendments of the constitution, every person, except those
belonging to the land or naval forces or to the militia in active service
in time of war, and, being such, committing a military or naval crime, is
guaranteed an investigation by a grand jury as a preliminary to trial, and
a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. He then took up and
examined the grounds on which the jurisdiction of the Commission was
sought to be maintained. Calling the Court's attention to the
constitutional provision that, if the institution of such Commission was
an incident to the war power, that power was lodged exclusively in
Congress and not at all in the President, and, therefore, Congress only
could authorize such tribunals, he showed that, neither by the articles of
war nor by the two acts, relied on, passed during the Rebellion, had
Congress ever authorized any such tribunal; and that a military commission
like the present and under present circumstances "is not to be found
sanctioned, or the most remotely recognized, or even alluded to, by any
writer on military law in England or the United States, or in any
legislation of either country."

And, in this connection, he pronounced the suggestion that the civil
courts and juries of the District of Columbia could not safely be relied
upon for the trial of these cases, "an unjust reflection upon the judges,
upon the people, upon the marshal, an appointee of the President, by whom
the juries were summoned, and upon our civil institutions themselves;" and
he closed his remarks upon this branch of his subject by saying that the
foregoing suggestion,

    "upon another ground, is equally without force. It rests on the idea
    that the guilty only are ever brought to trial; that the only object
    of the Constitution and laws in this regard is to afford the means to
    establish alleged guilt; that accusation, however made, is to be
    esteemed _prima facie_ evidence of guilt, and that the Executive
    should be armed, without other restriction than his own discretion,
    with all the appliances deemed by him necessary to make the
    presumption from such evidence conclusive. Never was there a more
    dangerous theory. The peril to the citizen from a prosecution so
    conducted, as illustrated in all history, is so great that the very
    elementary principles of constitutional liberty, the spirit and letter
    of the Constitution itself repudiated it."

After depicting the peril to the rights of the citizen of confiding to the
option of the Executive the power of substituting a secret for a public
tribunal for the trial of offenses, he established the following
propositions: That the creation of a Court is an exclusively legislative
function; that constitutional guarantees are designed for times of war as
well as times of peace; that the power to suspend the writ of Habeas
Corpus carries with it only the temporary suspension of the right to
inquire into the cause of the arrest, and does not extend in any way over
the other rights of the accused. The distinguished advocate then further
maintained that, conceding the articles of war provide for a military
court like this, yet the offense charged in the present case being nothing
less than treason could not under the provision of the constitution,
regulating the trial of treason, be tried by a military commission; and,
also, that under the articles of war persons who were not and never had
been in the army were not subject to military law. And, in order to
illustrate this branch of his argument as forcibly as possible, passing in
review the guaranteed and historic rights of accused persons on trials
before civil courts, he arrayed the open and flagrant violations of these
rights which had been permitted by the Commission on the present trial:
First, in the character of the pleadings, which for indefiniteness and
duplicity would not have been tolerated by any civil tribunal. Second, as
to the rules of evidence, which, according to the Judge-Advocate, allowed
proof of separate and distinct offenses alleged to have been committed,
not only by the parties on trial, but by other persons, and which the
accused, however innocent, could not be supposed able to meet. Third, he
quoted Lord Holt to show that in a civil court "these parties could not
have been legally fettered during their trial." Referring to the row of
miserable beings weighed down with shackles as they had entered the
court-room, as they confronted their epauletted judges, and as they
departed to their solitary cells, day by day, for more than a month, he
repeated the words of the great jurist, then 200 years old:

    "Hearing the clanking of chains, though no complaint was made to him,
    he said, 'I should like to know why the prisoner is brought in ironed.
    Let them be instantly knocked off. When prisoners are tried they
    should stand at their ease.'"

Then, characterizing the claim, that martial law prevailing in the
District of Columbia therefore warranted the Commission, as alike
indefensible and dangerous, and at the same time irrelevant because
martial law had never been proclaimed and the civil courts were in the
full and undisturbed exercise of all their functions, the counsel drove
this point home as follows:

    "We learn, and the fact is doubtless true, that one of the parties,
    the very chief of the alleged conspiracy, has been indicted, and is
    about to be tried before one of those courts. If he, the alleged head
    and front of the conspiracy, is to be and can be so tried, upon what
    ground of right, of fairness or of policy, can the parties who are
    charged to have been his mere instruments be deprived of the same mode
    of trial?"

At the close of his speech he recurs to the warning that the President's
command can furnish no justification to the members of the tribunal. If
their function were only to act as aides to the President to enable him to
discharge his prerogative of punishment, and is to that extent legal, then
it is only so because the President might have dispensed with the Court
altogether, and ordered the punishment of the culprits without any formal

No, he warned them, in the most courtly and courteous manner, they could
not shield themselves behind the President.

    "Responsibility to personal danger can never alarm soldiers who have
    faced * * * death on the battle-field. But there is a responsibility
    that every gentleman, be he soldier or citizen, will constantly hold
    before him and make him ponder--responsibility to the constitution and
    laws of his country and an intelligent public opinion--and prevent his
    doing anything knowingly that can justly subject him to the censure of
    either. I have said that your responsibility is great. If the
    Commission under which you act is void and confers no authority,
    whatever you may do may involve the most serious personal liability."

He then cited the case of Governor Wall, hung in London in 1802 for
murder--a soldier, under his government in the island of Goree, having
been whipped to death by sentence of a regimental court-martial, twenty
years before.

    "In that instance want of jurisdiction in the court-martial was held
    to be fatal to its judgment as a defense for the death that ensued
    under it. In this, if the Commission has no jurisdiction, its judgment
    for the same reason will be of no avail, either to Judges, Secretary
    of War, or President, if either shall be called to a responsibility
    for what may be done under it."

The learned counsel then added:

    "The opinion I have endeavored to maintain is believed to be the
    almost unanimous opinion of the profession and certainly is of every
    judge or court who has expressed any."

And he cited the then recent charge of Judge Bond to the grand jury at
Baltimore, in which the Judge declared in reference to such military
commissions as the present, that,

    "Such persons exercising such unlawful jurisdiction are liable to
    indictment by you as well as responsible in civil actions to the

And he quoted to the Court that portion of the charge of Judge Rufus W.
Peckham to a grand jury in New York City, delivered during the progress of
this very trial, wherein the right of a military commission to try was

    "A great crime has lately been committed that has shocked the
    civilized world. Every right-minded man desires the punishment of the
    criminals, but he desires that punishment to be administered according
    to law, and through the judicial tribunals of the country. No
    star-chamber court, no secret inquisition, in this nineteenth century,
    can ever be made acceptable to the American mind.

           *       *       *       *       *

    "Grave doubts, to say the least, exist in the minds of intelligent
    men, as to the constitutional right of the Military Commission at
    Washington to sit in judgment upon the prisoners now on trial for
    their lives before that tribunal. Thoughtful men feel aggrieved that
    such a commission should be established in this free country, when the
    war is over, and when the common law courts are open and accessible to
    administer justice according to law, without fear or favor. * * *

    "The unanimity with which the leading press of our land has condemned
    this mode of trial ought to be gratifying to every patriot."

On the twenty-third, General Ewing, too, assailed the jurisdiction of the
Court in a short but powerful speech from which are taken the following

    "The jurisdiction of the Commission has to be sought _dehors_ the
    Constitution, and against its express prohibition. It is, therefore,
    at least of doubtful validity. If that jurisdiction do not exist; if
    the doubt be resolved against it by our judicial tribunals, when the
    law shall again speak, the form of trial by this unauthorized
    Commission cannot be pleaded in justification of the seizure of
    property or the arrest of persons, much less the infliction of the
    death penalty. In that event, however fully the recorded evidence may
    sustain your findings, however moderate may seem your sentences,
    however favorable to the accused your rulings on the evidence, your
    sentence will be held in law no better than the rulings of Judge
    Lynch's courts in the administration of lynch law.

    "Our judicial tribunals, at some future day * * * will be again in the
    full exercise of their constitutional powers, and may think, as a
    large proportion of the legal profession think now, that your
    jurisdiction in these cases is an unwarranted assumption; and they may
    treat the judgment which you pronounce and the sentence you cause to
    be executed, as your own unauthorized acts.

    "Conviction may be easier and more certain in this Military
    Commission, than in our constitutional courts. Inexperienced as most
    of you are in judicial investigation, you can admit evidence which the
    courts would reject, and reject what they would admit, and you may
    convict and sentence on evidence which those courts would hold to be
    wholly insufficient. Means, too, may be resorted to by detectives,
    acting under promise or hope of reward, and operating on the fears or
    the cupidity of witnesses, to obtain and introduce evidence, which
    cannot be detected and exposed in this military trial, but could be
    readily in the free, but guarded, course of investigation before our
    regular judicial tribunals. The Judge-Advocate, with whom chiefly
    rests the fate of these citizens, is learned in the law, but from his
    position he can not be an impartial judge, unless he be more than a
    man. He is the prosecutor in the most extended sense of the word. As
    in duty bound, before this court was called, he received the reports
    of detectives, pre-examined the witnesses, prepared and officially
    signed the charges, and, as principal counsel for the Government,
    controlled on the trial the presentation, admission and rejection of
    evidence. In our courts of law, a lawyer who has heard his client's
    story, if transferred from the bar to the bench, may not sit in the
    trial of the cause, lest the ermine be sullied through the partiality
    of counsel. This is no mere theoretical objection--for the union of
    prosecutor and judge works practical injustice to the accused. The
    Judge-Advocate controls the admission and rejection of evidence--knows
    what will aid and what will injure the case of the prosecution, and
    inclines favorably to the one and unfavorably to the other. The
    defense is met with a bias of feeling and opinion on the part of the
    judge who controls the proceedings of the Court, and on whom, in great
    measure, the fate of the accused depends, which morals and law alike

Whatsoever else may be pleaded in excuse or palliation of the acts of the
Commission, it can never be said that its members were driven on by an
overpowering sense of their duty as soldiers, in blind ignorance of the
Constitution and the law. Each and every officer was made fully aware of
his awful responsibility and apprised of the precarious footing of his



From the sixteenth to the twenty-seventh of June the time was consumed by
the summing up of the several counsel for the prisoners on the facts
disclosed by the evidence; and on the last mentioned day and the
succeeding one, Special Judge-Advocate Bingham delivered his address in
answer to all the foregoing pleas, both as to the jurisdiction of the
Court and also as to the merits of the case.

This long, carefully prepared and yet impassioned speech may be fairly
considered as embodying the very proof-charge of the prosecution. Indeed,
under the rules of military procedure, it occupies the place and performs
the functions of the judge's charge in the common-law courts. As such, it
deserves a closer analysis and a more extended examination than can be
given to it here. The briefest and most cursory review, however, will
suffice to show its tone and temper.

After a solemn asseveration of his desire to be just to the accused, and a
warning to the Court that "a wrongful and illegal conviction or a wrongful
and illegal acquittal * * * would impair somewhat the security of every
man's life and shake the stability of the Republic," the learned advocate
specifically declares, that the charge "is not simply the crime of
murdering a human being" but a "combination of atrocities," committed as
charged upon the record, "in pursuance of a treasonable conspiracy entered
into by the accused with one John Wilkes Booth, and John H. Surratt, upon
the instigation of Jefferson Davis, Jacob Thompson, George N. Sanders and
others, with intent thereby to aid the existing rebellion and subvert the
constitution and laws of the United States."

A denunciation of the Rebellion as "itself simply a criminal conspiracy
and a gigantic assassination"; the following glowing period--"Now that
their battalions of treason are broken and flying before the victorious
legions of the republic, the chief traitors in this great crime against
your government secretly conspire with their hired confederates to achieve
by assassination what they in vain attempt by wager of battle";--and the
unequivocal announcement that "it is for this secret conspiracy in the
interest of the rebellion, formed at the instigation of the chief in that
rebellion, and in pursuance of which the acts charged and specified are
alleged to have been done, and with the intent laid, that the accused are
upon trial": finish the exordium.

The speaker then tackles the question of jurisdiction, which, he remarks
by the way, "as the Court has already overruled the plea," he would pass
over in silence, "but for the fact that a grave and elaborate argument
has been made by the counsel for the accused, not only to show want of
jurisdiction, but to arraign the President of the United States before the
country and the world as a usurper of power over the lives and the
liberties of the prisoners."

He dexterously evades the force of the argument that the civil courts of
the District were open when the crime was committed, by asserting that
"they were only open * * * and are only open at this hour by force of the
bayonet;" and he claims that the President acting by a military force had
as much right to try the co-conspirators of Booth, as to pursue, capture
and kill the chief criminal himself; which, if true, leads us into the
maintenance of the monstrous doctrine that the President by a summary
order might have strung up the culprits without the interposition of any
court. He then enters upon an argument to show that the Commission, from
the very nature of its organization, cannot decide that it is no Court,
and he ridicules the idea that these nine subordinate military officers
could question the authority of their Commander-in-Chief.

In this connection, he gently rebukes Mr. Ewing for his bold statement to
the Commission: "You, gentlemen, are no court under the Constitution!"
reminding him that "not many months since he was a general in the service
of the country and as such in his department in the West proclaimed and
enforced martial law;" and asks him whether he is "quite sure he will not
have to answer for more of these alleged violations of the rights of
citizens than any of the members of the Court?"

He professes his high regard for General Ewing as a military commander who
has made a "liberal exercise of this power," and facetiously wishes "to
know whether he proposes, by his proclamation of the personal
responsibility awaiting all such usurptions," that he himself shall be
"drawn and quartered."

After disposing of General Ewing in this gingerly manner, he compensates
himself for the slight restraint by pouring the vials of his unstinted
wrath upon Reverdy Johnson; representing him as "denouncing the murdered
President and his successor," as making "a political harangue, a partisan
speech against his government and country, thereby swelling the cry of the
armed legions of sedition and rebellion that but yesterday shook the
heavens." He characterizes one of the most temperate and dignified of
arguments as "a plea in behalf of an expiring and shattered rebellion,"
and "a fit subject for public condemnation."

He calls upon the people to note,

    "That while the learned gentleman [Mr. Johnson], as a volunteer,
    without pay, thus condemns as a usurpation the means employed so
    effectually to suppress this gigantic insurrection, the New York News,
    whose proprietor, Benjamin Wood, is shown by the testimony upon your
    record to have received from the agents of the rebellion $25,000,
    rushes into the lists to champion the cause of the rebellion, its
    aiders and abettors, by following to the letter his colleague [Mr.
    Johnson], and with greater plainness of speech, and a fervor
    intensified doubtless by the $25,000 received, and the hope of more,
    denounces the Court as a usurpation and threatens the members with the

And he interrupts his tirade against one of the greatest men this country
has produced to burst forth into the following grandiloquent apostrophe:

    "Youngest born of the Nations! Is she not immortal by all the dread
    memories of the past--by that sublime and voluntary sacrifice of the
    present, in which the bravest and noblest of her sons have laid down
    their lives that she might live, giving their serene brows to the dust
    of the grave, and lifting their hands for the last time amidst the
    consuming fires of battle!"

After a brief defense of the secret sessions of the Commission, the
learned advocate enters upon his circumstantial reply to the argument of
Mr. Johnson, into which it is not worth while to follow him, as the main
points of his contention have been rendered obsolete by the Supreme Court
of the United States.

Suffice it to say, he holds that the President of the United States has
the power, of his own motion, to declare martial law in time of war, over
the whole United States, whether the States are within the theatre of the
war or not; and that President Lincoln exercised this power by his
proclamation of September, 1862, by virtue of which martial law prevailed
over the whole North, including, of course, the District of Columbia, on
the day of the assassination; and, farther, that certain subsequent acts
of Congress, though not in express terms yet by fair implication, had
ratified the proclamation.

He contends, in consequence, that "nothing can be clearer than that
citizen and soldier alike, in time of civil or foreign war, are triable by
military tribunals for all offences of which they may be guilty, in the
interest of, or in concert with the enemy;" and that "these provisions,
therefore, of your Constitution for indictment and trial by jury in civil
courts of _all crimes_ are * * * silent and inoperative in time of war
when the public safety requires it."

Listen to this judicial expounder of constitutional law!

    "Here is a conspiracy organized and prosecuted by armed traitors and
    hired assassins, receiving the moral support of thousands in every
    State and district, who pronounced the war for the Union a failure,
    and your now murdered but immortal Commander-in-Chief a tyrant.

    "It is in evidence that Davis, Thompson, and others * * * agreed and
    conspired with others to poison the fountains of water which supply
    your commercial metropolis, and thereby murder its inhabitants; to
    secretly deposit in the habitation of the people and in the ships in
    your harbor inflammable materials, and thereby destroy them by fire;
    to murder by the slow and consuming torture of famine your soldiers,
    captives in their hands; to import pestilence in infected clothes to
    be distributed in your capital and camps, and thereby murder the
    surviving heroes and defenders of the Republic.

    "I claim that the Constitution itself * * * by express terms, has
    declared whatever is necessary to make the prosecution of the war
    successful, may be done, and ought to be done, and is therefore
    constitutionally lawful.

    "Who will dare to say that in the time of civil war no person shall be
    deprived of life, liberty and property, without due process of law?
    This is a provision of your Constitution, than which there is none
    more just and sacred in it; it is, however, only the law of peace, not
    of war.

    "In time of war the civil tribunals of justice are wholly or partially
    silent, as the public safety may require; * * * the limitations and
    provisions of the Constitution in favor of life, liberty and property
    are therefore wholly or partially suspended."

He makes allusion to the recent re-election of President Lincoln, as
ratifying any doubtful exercise of power by him:

    "The voice of the people, thus solemnly proclaimed, by the omnipotence
    of the ballot * * * ought to be accepted, and will be accepted, I
    trust, by all just men, as the voice of God."

He concludes his plea in favor of the jurisdiction of the Commission, by
declaring that for what he had uttered in its favor "he will neither ask
pardon nor offer apology," and by quoting Lord Brougham's speech in
defence of a bill before the House of Lords empowering the Viceroy of
Ireland to apprehend and detain all Irishmen _suspect_ of conspiracy.

The Special Judge-Advocate then proceeds to sum up the evidence, in doing
which he leaves nothing to the free agency of the Court. He, first, by a
review of the testimony of the Montgomeries and Conovers, proves to his
own and, presumably, to the Court's satisfaction, that "Davis, Thompson,
Cleary, Tucker, Clay, Young, Harper, Booth and John H. Surratt did combine
and conspire together in Canada to kill and murder Abraham Lincoln,
Andrew Johnson, Wm. H. Seward and Ulysses S. Grant."

    "Surely no word further need be spoken to show that John Wilkes Booth
    was in this conspiracy; that John H. Surratt was in this conspiracy;
    and that Jefferson Davis, and his several agents named, in Canada,
    were in this conspiracy.

    "Whatever may be the conviction of others, my own conviction is that
    Jefferson Davis is as clearly proven guilty of this conspiracy as is
    John Wilkes Booth, by whose hand Jefferson Davis inflicted the mortal
    wound upon Abraham Lincoln."

After such utterances as these, it is hardly necessary to state that this
impartial Judge declares every single person on trial, as well as John H.
Surratt, guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.

    "That John H. Surratt, George A. Atzerodt, Mary E. Surratt, David E.
    Herold, and Louis Payne entered into this conspiracy with Booth, is so
    very clear upon the testimony, that little time need be occupied in
    bringing again before the Court the evidence which establishes it.

    "It is almost imposing upon the patience of the Court to consume time
    in demonstrating the fact, which none conversant with the testimony of
    this case can for a moment doubt, that John H. Surratt and Mary E.
    Surratt were as surely in the conspiracy to murder the President as
    was John Wilkes Booth himself."

He lets out the secret that the mother is on trial as a substitute for her
son, whom the Secretary of War and the Bureau of Military Justice had
failed to capture, by saying:

    "Nothing but his conscious coward guilt could possibly induce him to
    absent himself from his mother, as he does, upon her trial."

After having reiterated over and over again, with all the authority of his
office, what he had for hours endeavoured to enforce by all the resources
of his intellect, that the guilt "of all these parties, both present and
absent" is proved "beyond any doubt whatever," and "is no longer an open
question;" he closes by formally, and with a very cheap show of
magnanimity, leaving "the decision of this dread issue" to the Court.



With the loud and repeated denunciations of this elaborate and vindictive
harangue, full as it was of rhetorical appeals to the members of the
Commission to avenge the murder of "their beloved Commander-in-Chief," and
of repeated and most emphatic assurances of the undoubted guilt of each
and every one of the prisoners, as well as of all their alleged
accomplices, still ringing in the ear of the Court; the room is for the
last time cleared of spectators, counsel for the prisoners and reporters;
the mournful procession of the accused marches for the last time from the
dock to their solitary cells, their fetters clanking as they go; and the
Commission meets to deliberate upon its verdict. But who remains in the
room, meets with the Court and participates in its secret and solemn
deliberations? Who but Colonel Burnett, the officer who had so zealously
conducted the preliminary examinations of the witnesses and marshalled the
evidence for the prosecution? Who but Recorder Joseph Holt, the head of
the Bureau of Military Justice, the left hand of Stanton as Baker was his
right? Who but John A. Bingham, the Special Judge-Advocate, who had so
mercilessly conducted the trial, assailing counsel, browbeating witnesses
for the defense, declaring that all participants in the rebellion were
virtually guilty of the assassination, and who had just closed his long
speech, in which he had done his utmost to stir up the Commission to the
highest pitch of loyalty, unreasoning passion and insatiable desire for

Where can we look in the history of the world for a parallel to such a
spectacle? A woman of refinement and education, thrown together in one
mass with seven men, to be tried by nine soldiers, for the crime of
conspiring with Jefferson Davis, the arch-enemy of every member of the
tribunal, to kill, and killing, the beloved Commander-in-Chief of every
member of the tribunal; three experienced criminal lawyers eagerly
engaging in the task of proving her guilty; pursuing it for days and weeks
with the unrelenting vigor of sleuth-hounds; winding up by reiterating in
the most solemn manner their overwhelming conviction of her guilt; and
then all three being closeted with the Court to take part in making up the
doom of death!

And here let us pause to consider one feature of the trial and of the
summing up of Judge Bingham, which has not yet been noticed because it
deserves special and prominent remark.

It appeared from the testimony on the part of the prosecution,
unmistakably, that, during the fall of 1864 and the winter of 1864-5,
Booth was brooding over a wild plot for the capture of the President
(either on one of his drives, or in the theatre, where the lights were to
be turned off), then hurrying off the captive to lower Maryland, thence
across the Potomac, and thence to Richmond; thereby to force an exchange
of prisoners, if not, possibly, a cessation of the war. It was a plot of
the kind to emanate from the disordered brain of a young, spoiled,
dissipated and disappointed actor. During this period, Booth made some
trifling and miserably inadequate preparations, and endeavored to enlist
some of his associates in its execution; and, by his personal ascendency
over them, he did in fact entangle, in a more or less vague adhesion to
the plot, Arnold, O'Laughlin, Atzerodt, Payne, Herold, John H. Surratt,
Lloyd, and, possibly, Dr. Mudd and Weichman.

On the fall of Richmond, and the surrender of Lee, this any-how
impracticable scheme was necessarily abandoned. Indeed, the proof showed
that Arnold and O'Laughlin had deserted their leader some time before.

It further appeared in the testimony that it was not until after the
forced abandonment of this plot and the desertion of most of his
adherents, that Booth, plunged as he was into the depths of chagrin and
despair because of the collapse of the rebellion, suddenly, as a mere
after-thought, the offspring of a spirit of impotent revenge, seized upon
the idea of murder, which was not in fact brought to the birth until the
afternoon of the fourteenth, when he was first informed of the promised
attendance of President Lincoln and General Grant at the theatre. Now, the
existence of the plot to capture, although it looked forth from the
evidence steadily into their faces, the Judge-Advocates bound themselves
not to recognize. In the first place, such a concession would forever
demolish the preconceived theory of the Secretary of War, Colonel Baker
and the Bureau of Military Justice, that the conspiracy to murder emanated
from the Confederate Government through its Canadian agents, by pointing
directly to another plot than the one to kill as that in which these
agents had been interested. The horrid monster of a widespread,
treasonable conspiracy to overthrow the government, which had been
conjured up in the imagination of the Secretary of War and then cherished
in the secret recesses of the Bureau of Military Justice, would have
immediately shrunk into the comparatively simple case of an assassination
of the President and an attempted assassination of the Secretary of State,
by two worthless villains suddenly seizing opportunity by the forelock to
accomplish their murderous purpose. And, in the next place, the concession
of such a plot as a fact would go far to establish the innocence of Mrs.
Surratt, Arnold, O'Laughlin and Mudd, as well as that of John H. Surratt,
by explaining such suspicious circumstances as the frequent rendezvous of
Booth, Payne and others at Mrs. Surratt's house, which practice, as it
was proved, ceased altogether on the fall of Richmond and the immediate
departure of the son to Canada. To the Judge-Advocates, if not to the
Court, any evidence looking towards innocence was most distasteful and
unwelcome. They were in no mood to reconcile what they considered the
damning proofs of a conspiracy to kill their "beloved Commander-in-Chief"
with the innocence of the fettered culprits before them, by admitting a
plot to capture, into which nevertheless those same proofs fitted with
surprising consistency. Besides, in the eyes of Bingham and Holt,
complicity in a plot to capture, although unexecuted, was proof of
complicity in the plot to murder, and also of itself deserved death. In
this direction, therefore, the Judge-Advocates were mole-eyed. On the
contrary, they hailed the slightest indication of guilt with a glow of
triumph. In the direction of guilt, they were lynx-eyed.

Consequently, they bent every energy to identify the plot to capture with
the plot to kill. They introduced anonymous letters, dropped letters; a
letter mailed nearly a month after the assassination directed to J. W. B.;
a letter in cipher, purporting to be dated the day after the
assassination, addressed to John W. Wise, signed "No Five," found floating
in the water at Morehead City, North Carolina, as late as the first of
May; this last, the most flagrant violation and cynical disregard of the
law of evidence on record.

They did more. They labored to keep out all reference to the plot to
capture. And it was for this reason, that the Judge-Advocates deliberately
suppressed the diary found on the body of Booth. Its contents demonstrated
the existence of the plot to capture.

Instead of allowing the officer who testified to the articles taken from
the dead body of Booth to make a detailed statement in response to one
general question as to what they were, the examining counsel shows him
first the knife, then the pistols, then the belt and holster, then a file
with a cork at one end, then a spur, then the carbine, then the bills of
exchange, then the pocket-compass; following the exhibition of every
article with the interrogatory, "Did you take this from the corpse of the
actor?" But no diary was exhibited or even spoken of, although, as has
been mentioned, it was carried by this same officer and Colonel Baker to
Secretary Stanton on the night following the capture. That these
Judge-Advocates had carefully searched through the diary for items they
could use against the prisoners, is shown by their calling one of the
proprietors of the "National Intelligencer," as a witness, to contradict
the statement that Booth had left a written article, setting forth the
reasons for his crime, for publication in that paper--a statement found
only in the diary whose very existence they kept secret.

Therefore, when Judge Bingham came to review the evidence, he utterly
refused to recognize in the testimony any such thing as a plot to
capture; he shut his eyes to it and obstinately ignored it; he scornfully
swept it aside as an absurdity it would be waste of time to combat; and he
twisted every circumstance which looked to a connection, however remote,
with an abandoned plot to kidnap, into a proof, solid and substantial, of
complicity in the plot to murder.

And, therefore, when this same thorough-going advocate, with his two
emulous associates, proceeded in secret conclave with the members of the
Commission to go over the testimony for the purpose of making up their
verdict and sentence, he summarily stifled any hint as to the possibility
of a plot to capture; he banished from the minds of the Court, if they
ever entertained such a purpose, any attempt to reconcile the
circumstantial evidence with the existence of such a plot; and, besides,
he held it up to the condemnation of those military men as equally heinous
and as deserving the same punishment as the actual assassination.

Thus, the presence of these prosecutors during the deliberations of the
Court must have exerted a deadly influence (if any influence were
necessary) against the prisoners, and benumbed any impartiality and
freedom of judgment which might otherwise have lodged in the members of
the Commission.

The Commission, with its three attending prosecuting officers, held two
secret sessions--Thursday and Friday, the 29th and 30th of June; on the
first day from 10 o'clock in the morning until 6 o'clock in the evening,
on the second day, probably, during the morning only. The record of the
proceedings is meagre, but contains enough to show the lines of the
discussion which, in such an unexpected manner through one whole day,
prolonged the deliberations of a tribunal organized solely to obey the
predetermination of a higher power, and even made necessary an adjournment
over night.

There was no difficulty with the verdicts, except in the case of Spangler,
over the degree of whose guilt a majority of the Commission presumed for
the first time to differ with the Judge-Advocates. They would unite in a
conviction of the crime of assisting Booth to escape from the theatre with
knowledge of the assassination, but they would go no farther. They would
not find him a participant in the "traitorous conspiracy." This poor
fellow, as we can see _now_, was clearly innocent of the main charge; but
that was no reason, _then_, why the Commission should find him so. There
was more testimony pointing to his complicity with Booth on the fatal
night than there was against Arnold or O'Laughlin or even Mrs. Surratt;
and Judge Bingham, the guardian and guide of the Court, had pronounced it
"Conclusive and brief." The testimony of the defense, however, appears
overwhelmingly convincing, and, moreover, his case was admirably managed
by General Ewing.

For all the rest there was no mercy in the verdict. Every one was found
guilty of the charge as formulated (eliminating Spangler); that is, in the
judgment of the Commission, they had, each and all, been engaged in a
treasonable conspiracy with Jefferson Davis, John H. Surratt, John Wilkes
Booth and the others named, to kill Abraham Lincoln, President, Andrew
Johnson, Vice-President, Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State, U. S. Grant,
Lieutenant-General; and that in pursuance of such conspiracy they (the
prisoners) together with John H. Surratt and J. Wilkes Booth, had murdered
Abraham Lincoln, assaulted with intent to kill W. H. Seward, and lain in
wait with intent to kill Andrew Johnson and U. S. Grant.

This was the deliberate judgment of the Commission as guided by
Judge-Advocates Holt, Burnett and Bingham. With the same breath with which
they pronounced the guilt of Mrs. Surratt, they pronounced also the guilt
of her son, of Jefferson Davis, of Clement C. Clay, of George H. Sanders,
of Beverly Tucker. And there can be no doubt that if these men had also
been upon trial, they all would have been visited with the same
condemnation and would have met the same doom.

The Commission, further, found Herold, Atzerodt, Payne and Arnold guilty
of the Specification as formulated (eliminating Spangler); Mrs. Surratt
guilty, except that she had not harbored and concealed Arnold or
O'Laughlin; Dr. Mudd guilty, except that he had not harbored or concealed
Payne, John H. Surratt, O'Laughlin, Atzerodt or Mrs. Surratt; and,
strangest of all, they found O'Laughlin guilty of the Specification,
_except that he had not lain in wait for General Grant with intent to kill
him_, which was the very part in the conspiracy he was charged in the
Specification with having undertaken. It should be recollected that, in
the first moments of the panic succeeding the assassination, Stanton and
his subordinates had included among the objects of the conspiracy, as if
to complete its symmetry, the murder of the Secretary of War, himself.
Afterwards, probably because of the attitude of Stanton relative to the
prosecution, Grant was substituted as the victim of O'Laughlin and not of
Booth; Stanton's son having discovered a resemblance of the captured
O'Laughlin to the mysterious visitor at his father's house during the
serenade on the night of the 13th of April, when General Grant was also
present. This pretty romance, the testimony on behalf of O'Laughlin
effectually dissipated on the trial, but the indomitable Bingham still
insisted on holding the prisoner to a general complicity with the plot. In
this instance, as well as in that of Spangler, there may have been some
dissension between a majority of the officers and the Judge-Advocates,
but, taken altogether, the eight verdicts could not have cost the
Commission much time. It was organized to convict, and it did convict.

So that it was not until the Court, having made up its verdicts, proceeded
to affix its sentences, that the three advocates, still assisting at the
work of death, encountered the unforeseen difficulties which compelled a
prolongation of the session. The crime or crimes of which the prisoners
were all pronounced guilty (with the possible exception of Spangler's)
were capital, and the Secretary of War, on the eve of the assembling of
the Commission, had already denounced against such offenses (not excepting
Spangler's) the punishment of death.

The sentence, however, under the rules governing military commissions, was
wholly within the power of the Court, which, no matter what the nature of
the verdict, could affix any punishment it saw fit, from a short
imprisonment up to the gallows. Its two-fold function was, like a jury to
find a verdict, not only, but, like the judge in a common-law court, to
pronounce sentence; and, unlike such a judge, in pronouncing sentence, the
Commission was confined within certain limits by no statute. Although the
whole proceedings of the Court must be subjected to the final approval of
the President, yet its members were clothed alike with the full
prerogative of justice and the full prerogative of clemency. There was one
limit, however. While a majority could find the verdict and prescribe
every other punishment, it required two-thirds of the Commission to
inflict the penalty of death. Four officers, therefore, could block the
way to the scaffold, and five could mitigate any sentence, to any degree,
and for any, or for no reason.

The Commission must have taken up the cases for sentence in the order
adopted in the formal Charge. As to the first three--Herold, Atzerodt and
Payne--there could have been no dissent or hesitation. The Commission,
with hardly a moment's deliberation, must have ratified the judgment of
the Judge-Advocates and condemned the prisoners to be hung by the neck
until dead. The sentences of death formally declare in every instance that
two-thirds of the Commission concur therein, but, as to these three, we
can scarcely be in error in stating the Court was unanimous. It was not
until the cases of the next three--O'Laughlin, Spangler and Arnold--were
reached, that symptoms of dissatisfaction with the sweeping doom of death,
so confidently pronounced by Judge Bingham in his charge, first began to
show themselves amongst the members of the Court. It seems that now, after
having joined with the counsel in pronouncing capital punishment upon the
three most prominent culprits, the majority could no longer whet their
appetite for blood so as to keep it up to the same fierce edge as that of
the Judge-Advocates.

The deviations from the Charge and Specification, the Court had finally
prescribed in the verdicts against O'Laughlin and Spangler, were not
thought by the prosecutors to be of such importance as to warrant a
softening of the sentence. But here the loyalty of some members of the
Commission began to falter, and refuse to bear the strain. They had found
O'Laughlin guilty of the "traitorous conspiracy," and Spangler guilty of
aiding Booth to escape, and Arnold guilty in the same degree as Herold,
Atzerodt and Payne, but in none of these cases could the attending
advocates extort a two-thirds vote for death. In the case of Spangler,
owing, it is said, to the impression made by General Ewing and the
influence of General Wallace, they were compelled to allow a sentence of
but six years imprisonment. And in the case of the two others--convicted
co-conspirators with Booth and Davis though they were--these prosecuting
officers had to rest satisfied with but life-long imprisonment.

It was too evident that five members of the Commission had slipped the
bloody rein. Three lives had they taken. Henceforth they would stop just
this side the grave.

At this point--when the Commission had sentenced to death three men and
had just declined to sentence to death two more whom it had pronounced
guilty of the same crime--at this point it was, that the sentence of Mary
E. Surratt came up for determination.

Now, the crimes of which Arnold had been found guilty were both in law and
in fact the same of which she had been found guilty. Even the particular
allegation in the Specification is the same in both cases, except some
immaterial variance in the verbiage and in the names of co-conspirators.

Of course, it will be presumed that the Commission had found the woman
guilty without being pressed. But, equally of course, it will not be
doubted that, in determining the sentence which should follow the verdict,
the question of exercising the same mercy as the Commission had just
exercised in the case of a man convicted of the same crime, must have
arisen in the case of the woman. And, the question once having arisen, the
first impulse of the majority, if inclined still to mercy, must have been
to exert their own unquestioned function, and, as in the other cases,
mitigate the sentence themselves. They would have, originally, no motive
to thrust upon the President, who was to know comparatively nothing of the
evidence, the responsibility of doing that thing, which they themselves
who had heard the whole case thought ought to be done, and which in a
parallel case they had just done. Even if they believed the woman's crime
had a deeper tinge of iniquity than either Arnold's or Mudd's (of which
the respective verdicts, however, give no hint), but that nevertheless her
age and sex ought to save her from the scaffold, they need not have turned
to the President for mercy on such a ground. The woman clothed upon by her
age and sex had sat for weeks bodily before them. This very mitigation was
what a majority of the Court had power to administer. The reason of the
mitigation was a matter of no moment. The Court could commute for "age
and sex" as well as the President, and, for that matter, could state the
reason for the milder penalty in the sentence itself.

Therefore, it may be taken for granted that here the Judge-Advocates again
found that two-thirds of the Court would not concur in the infliction of
the death penalty. Nay, that even a majority could not be obtained. Five
out of the nine officers announced themselves in favor of imprisonment for

Here, indeed, was a coil! The prosecutors were at their wits' ends. And
lo! when they passed on to consider the last case, that of Dr. Mudd, the
same incomprehensible reluctance to shed more blood did but add to their
discomfiture. The verdict indeed had been easily obtainable, but the
coveted death-sentence would not follow. The whole day had been spent in
these debatings. The expedient of adjourning over to the next day,
perhaps, was now tried; and the dismayed Judge-Advocates, with but three
out of the eight heads they had made so sure of, and their "female fiend"
likely to slip the halter, hurry away to consult with their Chief.

Edwin M. Stanton, as he had presided over the whole preparatory process,
so too had kept watch over the daily progress of the trial from afar.
Every evening his zealous aide-de-camps made report for the day and took
their orders for the morrow.

After the death of Booth and the escape of John H. Surratt, the
condemnation to death of the mother of the fugitive had become his one
supreme aim.

The condemnation of the other prisoners was to him either a matter of no
doubt or was a minor affair. Three heads of the band of assassins stood
out in bloody prominence--Booth, John H. Surratt and Payne. The first had
been snatched from his clutches by a death too easy. Payne, with
hand-cuffs and fetters and chains and ball and hood, he might be
confident, could not evade his proper doom. Surratt, by the aid of some
inscrutable, malignant power, had contrived to baffle all the efforts of
his widespread and mighty machinery of military and detective police. But
he had the mother, the friend of Booth and the entertainer of Payne; and
she, the relentless Secretary with his accordant lackeys had sworn, should
not fail to suffer in default of the self-surrender of her son. She,
moreover, was to be made an example and a warning to the women of the
South, who, in the judgment of these three patterns of heroism, had
"unsexed" themselves by cherishing and cheering fathers, brothers,
husbands and sons on the tented field.

In the conclave which Stanton and his two co-adjutors held, either during
the recesses of the prolonged session of the first day, or most likely
during the night of the adjournment, it was resolved, that if the manly
reluctance of five soldiers to doom a woman to the scaffold could be
overcome in no other way, to employ as a last resort the "_suggestion_,"
that the Court formally condemn her to death, and then, as a compromise,
the soft-hearted five petition the President to commute--the three
plotters trusting to the chances of the future, with the petition in their
custody and the President under their dominion, to render ineffectual this
forced concession to what they scorned as a weak sentimentalism. This
suggestion of what was in truth a most extraordinary device--a petition to
the President to do what the Court could do itself--could not have
emanated from the merciful majority of the Court, which subsequently did
sign the fatal document. _They_, at least, were sincere, and, if let
alone, would have proceeded immediately to embody their own clemency in a
formal sentence, as they had done with O'Laughlin and Arnold, and as they
were about to do with Mudd. Had there been but one, or two, or three
dissentients, so that they were powerless in the face of two-thirds of the
Commission; or even had there been four--a number sufficient to block a
death-sentence but not sufficient to dictate the action of the Court,
then, indeed, recourse to the clemency of the Executive might have been a
natural proceeding. But a clear majority had no need to look elsewhere for
a power of commutation which they themselves possessed in full vigor, and
which, in all probability, after the first three death-penalties, they had
determined to apply in every one of the other cases. Neither could the
suggestion have been made by one of the minority, because none of them
signed the petition to the last. The four must have been steadfast and
uncompromising for blood. The whole scheme proceeded from a quarter
outside the Court--a quarter which, on the one hand, was possessed by an
overmastering revengeful passion, such as was required to point the five
officers to a seeming source of mercy to which they might appeal and thus
avoid the exercise of their own prerogative in antagonism to their four
brethren, and, on the other hand, harbored some secret knowledge or malign
intent that the petition would or should be, in fact, an empty form; from
a quarter, in short, where the desire for the condemnation to death of
Mrs. Surratt was all-controlling and where the condition of the President
was well known. They, who suggested the death-sentence and the petition as
a substitute for the milder penalty, were surely all on the side of death,
and hoped, if they did not believe, that the prayer of the petition would
be of no avail; else they would not have adopted such a circuitous method
to do what the five officers could immediately have accomplished
themselves. In one word, the contrivers of the device of petition were not
those who desired to save the bare life of the convicted she-conspirator,
but were those who would be satisfied with nothing less than her death on
the scaffold. The suggestion was wholly sinister and malevolent. On the
other hand, the majority of the Court did really desire that her
punishment should not exceed that of Arnold, O'Laughlin and Mudd, and
they certainly would never have had recourse to a petition to the
President, had they not been cheated into believing that that method of
proceeding was likely to effectuate what they had full power to do. Never
would these five soldiers, or any two of them, have given their voices for
the death of this woman, had they dreamed for a moment that their signing
of the petition was, and was meant to be, but a farce. They would not have
played such a ghastly trick under the shadow of the gibbet.

Accordingly, when the Commission reassembled, either after recess or
adjournment, the reinvigorated counsellors immediately unfolded their
plan. We can almost hear their voices, in that upper room of the Old
Penitentiary, as they alternately urge on the Court. Holt, making a merit
of yielding in the cases of Spangler, of O'Laughlin, of Arnold and of
Mudd, denounces the universal disloyalty of the women of the South, and
pleads the necessity of an example.

Bingham, holding up both mother and son as equally deep-dyed in blood with
Booth and Payne, both insinuates and threatens at the same time, that, if
"_tenderness_," forsooth, is to be shown because of the age and sex of
such a she-assassin, then, for the sake of the blood of their murdered
Commander-in-Chief, do not his own soldiers show it, but let his successor
take the fearful responsibility.

One of the five gives way, and now there is a majority for death. One more
appeal! The life of the woman trembles in the balance. Once more to the
breach! The supreme reserve is at last brought forward--an argument much
in use with Judge-Advocates in cases of refractory courts-martial, as a
last resort--that the President will not allow a hair of her head to be
harmed, but that _terror_, TERROR, is necessary; in this instance, to
force the son to quit his hiding place, the life of the mother must be the
bait held out to catch the unsurrendering son. We will hang him and then
free the woman's neck.

Another vote comes over. Two-thirds at last concur, and her doom is
sealed. They sentence "Mary E. Surratt to be hanged by the neck until she
be dead." Judge Bingham sits down and embodies the memorable "suggestion"
in writing as follows:

    [It is without address.]

    "The undersigned, members of the Military Commission detailed to try
    Mary E. Surratt and others for the conspiracy and the murder of
    Abraham Lincoln, late President of the United States, &c.,
    respectfully pray the President, in consideration of the sex and age
    of the said Mary E. Surratt, if he can, upon all the facts in the
    case, find it consistent with his sense of duty to the country, to
    commute the sentence of death, which the Court have been constrained
    to pronounce, to imprisonment in the penitentiary for life.

    Respectfully submitted."

General Ekin copies it on a half-sheet of legal-cap paper, and the five
officers, viz.: Generals Hunter, Kautz, Foster and Ekin, and Colonel
Tompkins, sign the copy; General Ekin keeping the draft of Bingham as a
memento of so gentle an executioner.

The Commission then proceeds to the next and last case, and, again
exercising its prerogative of clemency, sentences Dr. Mudd to imprisonment
for life. It is now Friday noon. The result of the two-days' secret
session, consisting of a succinct statement of the verdict and sentence in
every case, in the foregoing order, is redacted into a record. The
presiding officer signs, and the Recorder countersigns it. It is placed in
the hands of the Judge-Advocate, together with the petition to the
President. There is an adjournment without day. The members disperse, and
the work of the Military Commission is over.



From Friday afternoon, the thirtieth of June, through Saturday, Sunday,
Monday and Tuesday, the first four days of July, the record of the
findings and sentences remained under the seal of sworn secrecy in the
custody of the Judge-Advocate-General. To consummate the work of the
Commission, the signature of the President to a warrant approving its
action and directing the execution of its judgment was necessary. But,
during this interval, as it was given out from the White House, President
Johnson was too ill to attend to public business. In the meantime, the
city, and even the whole country to its very borders, were agitated by the
question: What is to be the fate of Mrs. Surratt? The doom of the male
culprits was for the moment forgotten in the intense anxiety over hers.

Despite the seven-fold seal of secrecy which covered the proceedings of
the secret sessions, whispers of a recommendation of mercy filled the air.
In the War Department, the main source of anxiety, at the same time, must
have been this superfluous paper--the distressing outcome of an
unsuspected sentimental weakness in five of our chosen men. After the
final adjournment of the Commission, the unobtrusive, unaddressed
half-sheet had been fastened to the record of the sentences by the same
narrow yellow silk ribbon which held its own sheets together, and to which
it now dangled as a last leaf, or back. A safety-valve to the misplaced
chivalry of the Court--it had served its purpose, and was henceforth
useless. That it should now turn itself into an implement of evil,
minister to the cause of rebellion and assassination, cause "Our Own Andy"
to flinch at last and thus the she-fiend of the Bureau escape her doom! It
would be treason to suffer it. Upon that resolve, the Triumvirate of
Stanton, Holt and Bingham had once for all determined. Indestructible,
inconcealable, omnipotent, indeed, must that paper be, which could thwart
their united purpose.

At length, on the morning of Wednesday, the fifth, Preston King, who, in
those days, was a favored guest at the White House, announced in the
Judge-Advocate's office that the President was so much better as to be
able to sit up; and at a later hour in the day, General Holt, in pursuance
of an appointment, started on his solemn errand. The volumes of testimony
taken before the Commission by official stenographers, daily reports of
which had been furnished, he, of course, did not carry with him. In the
interview that was to come, there would be no time and no inclination to
read over bulky rolls of examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses.
From aught that appears, the President was not expected to read over the
evidence, nor was it customary in such cases. It may have been the duty of
the Secretary of War or the Attorney-General to scrutinize the testimony,
either from day to day or at the close of the trial. But all that the
President was supposed to know about the merits of the case appears to
have been derived from what any of his Cabinet saw fit to inform him, from
what he himself casually and unofficially read, but, especially and
principally, from what the Judge-Advocate was now coming to tell him. As
to the guilt of the accused, and especially of Mrs. Surratt, his mind had
long ago been made up for him by his imperious War Minister, from whose
despotic sway he had not as yet recovered energy enough to free himself.
He was still in that brief introductory period of his Presidency which may
be called his Stanton Apprenticeship; still eager "to make treason
odious;" full of threatenings to hang Davis and other Southern leaders. He
had not yet awakened from the state of semi-stupefaction into which his
sudden and awful elevation seems to have thrown him; and, in this state,
he must have been extremely averse to dwelling on any of the circumstances
of the assassination to which he owed his high place. The idea of clemency
to any one of the band of assassins, male or female, which his
War-Secretary's court might convict, would have been intolerable to his
imagination and sickening to his sense of security. What Andrew Johnson,
at this moment, wanted was to push away from his mind all thoughts of the
tragic end of his predecessor, and to allow retributive vengeance to take
the most summary course with the least possible knowledge and trouble to
himself. And this mood of the presidential mind was well known to the
Judge-Advocate-General, as he entered the President's room. He brought
with him so much of the record of the proceedings of the Commission as was
necessary to the accomplishment of his errand--viz.: the record of the
findings and sentences, which the President was to endorse. This document
consisted of a few sheets of legal-cap paper fastened together at the top,
written on both sides in the fashion of legal papers, _i. e._, beginning
at the top of the first page and, on reaching the bottom, turning up the
paper and writing on the back from the bottom to top. It was a document
complete in itself, the written record ending on the first page of the
last half-sheet--thus leaving blank the remainder of that page and the
whole of the obverse side; ample room for the death-warrant. To this
record, but forming no part of it, the Petition, as we have said, had been
affixed, but in such a manner as to be easily separable without
mutilation. He must also have brought with him his official report of the
trial--styled "The formal brief review of the case," which was
subsequently appended to the regular Report of the Judge-Advocate-General
to the Secretary of War and transmitted to the Congress in December
following--because it is addressed "To the President," is dated "_July 5,
1865_," and is signed "J. Holt." It recites the verdicts and sentences;
justifies its brevity by referring to "the full and exhaustive" argument
of Judge Bingham; certifies to the regularity and fairness of the
proceedings; and recommends the execution of the sentences; _but it makes
no mention of the Petition, or any "suggestion" of mercy_.

The Judge-Advocate could have anticipated no difficulty in obtaining the
approval of the President, conscious as he was that the grounds of such
approval were to be furnished to the President by himself. The approval
being had, the fixing of the day of execution could cause no disagreement.
His only possible source of embarrassment was the petition for
commutation. But it would be strange, indeed, if a few apt words could not
further emasculate the mild, hypothetical language in which his colleague,
Bingham, had seen fit to clothe that paper.

He found the President "alone," and (as he himself says) "waiting for"
him, "very pale, as if just recovered from a severe illness."

"Without delay" he "proceeded to discharge the duty which brought" him
"into his presence." What took place at this "confidential interview" (as
Holt calls it) can never be precisely known; the distinguished
interlocutors having subsequently risen into unappeasable quarrel over
the presence or absence of the petition, and given contradictory versions.
Whatever the truth may be, it is evident that everything went smoothly at
the moment. The Judge-Advocate was not disappointed. No difficulty was
encountered. What was done was done quickly and at once. The record may
have been read over; but this was hardly necessary, as the bare mention of
the several sentences would convey a correct summary of its contents. He
may have read the "brief review of the case" he had prepared. As Judge
Holt relates, he said to the President, "frankly, as it was his official
duty to do," that in his judgment "the proceedings of the Court were
regular, and its findings and sentences justified by the evidence, and
that the sentences should be enforced." And this was what he had written
in his "Brief Review." What more could the successor of the murdered
Lincoln want? His approval must have been spontaneous and immediate. As
Holt says, "at that time Mr. Johnson needed no urging." Mention may have
been made of the curious weakness infecting some members of "our Court"
towards the wicked woman, who, as Johnson seems then to have thought, "had
kept the nest that hatched the egg;" but only to be scouted by both
Judge-Advocate and President as most reprehensible and actually

Their unanimity over the salutary effect of the hanging of this one woman
on the female rebels was more than fraternal. And it is probable that no
more explicit mention of an actual petition was made by Judge Holt in his
conversation with the President than was made in his written report to the
President, dated the same day, and which he had with him at the time.

The day of execution was fixed upon with the same alacrity. "Make it as
soon as possible, so that the disagreeable business may be over; say the
day after to-morrow--Friday, the seventh." And, thereupon, everything
being agreed upon, Judge Holt turns over the papers to the last page of
the record and spreads it upon the table. Beginning, a few lines below the
signature of "D. Hunter, President" which closes the record, with the

  "Executive Mansion, July 5th, 1865,"

"with his own hand" he writes out the death warrant. As this includes the
approval of the sentences, the appointment of the day and hour of
execution, and the designation of the place of confinement of those
condemned to imprisonment, the bottom of the page is reached before he
completes his task. If he had turned up the page and continued his writing
on the obverse side from the bottom down, as all the foregoing had been
written, then the petition of mercy, unaddressed as it was, would have
been, if still attached, directly beneath the eye of the President as he
signed the death-warrant. But, as now appears from the record itself, the
careful Judge-Advocate did not turn up the page from the bottom. On the
contrary, reverting to the layman's way of writing papers, he whisks the
whole record over, and continues the writing of the death-warrant on the
back of the last half-sheet of the record _from the top to the bottom_--by
this change of method, either throwing the petition under the leaves of
the record, or, if disengaged, leaving it _upside down_.

When he has thus finished his draft he shoves it over to the President.
The President signs it with tremulous hand. The "confidential interview"
is at an end; and the Judge-Advocate, taking up the papers, hurries out
and over to the Department of War.

At this moment the petition disappears from view. We hear no more of it.
Thrust as a convenient succedaneum into the hands of the majority of the
Commission, ignored, suppressed or slurred over when before the President,
it had served its pitiful purpose. Neither the Adjutant-General nor any of
his clerks, appear to have noticed it, although the record must have been
copied more than once in his office. It seems to have sunk suddenly into
oblivion; its very existence became the subject of dispute. It was omitted
from the authorized published proceedings of the Commission. It was
omitted from the annual report of the Judge-Advocate. The disloyal paper
must have been laid alongside the suppressed "Diary," there to repose
unseen until the Impeachment of Johnson and the Trial of Surratt summoned
them together into the light of day.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the morning of Thursday, the sixth day of July, the six days ominous
silence of the War-Department is broken. An order issues from the
Adjutant-General's office which, bearing date the day before and reciting
the findings and death-sentences of the Commission and the death-warrant
of the President, commands Major-General Hancock to see execution done, on
the seventh, between the hours of ten and two.

This order was read to Mrs. Surratt at noon. She had all along been
encouraged to hope. She, herself, had never been able to realize the
possibility of a capital condemnation in her own case. And, here,
suddenly, was Death, with violence and shame, within twenty-four hours.
She sank down under the blow. In faltering accents she protested that she
had no hand in the murder of the President, and pleaded for a few days
more time to prepare for death. During the remainder of the day and
throughout the night, she was so prostrated by physical weakness and
mental derangement as to necessitate medical aid to keep her alive and
sane. The cries of her daughter could be heard in the still darkness
outside the prison. At five o'clock in the morning, the mother (with the
three condemned men), was removed to a solitary cell on the first floor,
preparatory to the execution.

In the meantime, when it first became known that, by the sentence of the
Commission and the direction of the President, Mrs. Surratt was to die by
the rope on the same scaffold with Payne, Herold and Atzerodt within
twenty-four hours, a chill of despairing terror froze the blood of her
relatives and friends, a thrill of consternation swept over the body of
the citizens, and dark misgivings disturbed even the most loyal breasts. A
stream of supplicants at once set in towards the Executive Mansion--not
only friends and acquaintances of the condemned woman, but strangers,
high-placed men, and women too, who were haunted by doubts of her guilt
and could in some degree realize her agony.

But even this expiring effort of sympathy, the powers behind the President
had anticipated. Apprehensive that Andrew Johnson, at the last moment,
might yield to distressing importunities for more time, they had already
taken measures that their sick man's wish to hear nothing till all was
over should be scrupulously respected. Preston King and General James Lane
undertook to keep the door and bar all access to the President during the
dreadful interval between the promulgation of the sentence and its
execution. It was rumored that they, with a congenial crew, held high
revelry around their passive Chief in his private apartments. Be this as
it may, no supplicant--friend, acquaintance or stranger--was allowed to
gain access to the President.

The priests, who had attested upon her trial the good character, the piety
and the general worth of their parishioner, instinctively turned their
steps to the White House to beg for clemency, or, at least, a respite.
They were repulsed from its door. In ghastly mockery, they were told to go
to ---- Judge Holt.

At last, the daughter of the victim made her way to the very threshold of
the President's room. Frenzied with grief she assailed the portal with her
cries for admission to plead for her dying mother. She was denied
admittance. In the extremity of her despair she lay down upon the steps,
and, in the name of God, appealed to the President and to the wardens,
only to listen to her prayer. The grim guardians of the door held it shut
in her face.

Denied, thus, even an appeal to Executive clemency, the friends of the
poor woman, as a last most desperate resort, invoked the Constitution of
their and her country through the historic writ of Habeas Corpus. On the
morning of the day of the execution, they found a judge (Judge Wylie; all
honor to his memory!) who had the independence and courage to grant the
writ. At half-past eleven, General Hancock appeared before the Judge and
made return that by order of the President the Habeas Corpus was suspended
and therefore he did not produce the body. The order of the President
dated ten o'clock, same morning, was annexed to the return and directed
the General to proceed with the execution.

No sooner had the guarantees of the Constitution been, thus, finally set
at naught, than the cell-doors were thrown open and the prisoners summoned
to their doom. As the enfeebled widow raised her trembling limbs from off
the coarse mattress which alone separated her body from the stone floor of
her dungeon, she strove, in broken words, to assure the soldiers, who had
come to bind her arms behind her back and tie cords around her skirts
above and below the knee, of her utter, yet helpless innocence. Her
confessor, who stood by her until the last, gently pointed out to her the
uselessness of such appeals, at such a moment, and directed her hopes
towards Heaven.

Amid the tolling of the bells, sending a shudder through the silent
population of the city, and heralded by the tramp of armed men, the
death-march of the doomed woman and the doomed men begins. The still
breathing men and still breathing woman are clothed already in their
shrouds. As she totters first along the corridor, accompanied by her
priest and requiring two soldiers to hold her erect, the very extremity of
her helplessness and woe bears witness in her favor. Even the bloody
Payne, who walks next behind her, has broken through that stolid
indifference to his own fate, so remarkable as to indicate insanity, to
clear her from all complicity with the assassination. Herold and Atzerodt,
who follow, though themselves speechless with terror, seem to wave her
mute acquittal, as they stumble along into the swift-coming Darkness.
They reach the prison-yard. They mount the high scaffold. They are seated
in four chairs facing the four dangling nooses, while the death-warrant is
once more read. Their graves, already dug, are in full sight close by.
Their coffins stand by the side of the open graves. They are raised up and
pushed forward upon the two drops, Herold and Atzerodt on one, Mrs.
Surratt and Payne on the other; the half-conscious woman still supported
by the two guards. The ropes are adjusted. The hoods drawn over the face.
The signal is given. The two drops fall. Surrounded by the unpitying
soldiery, headed by the unpitying Hartranft, the woman and the men hang
writhing in the agonies of an ignominious death. When pronounced dead, the
bodies are cut down. They are laid out on the top of the coffins. A
hurried post-mortem examination is made. And, then, at four o'clock in the
afternoon, they are inclosed in the coffins and buried side by side. The
soldiers depart with flourish of trumpet and beat of drum. Silence
descends on the grounds of the old Arsenal; broken only by the pace of the
sentinel set to guard the four corpses.

The daughter may beg the stern Secretary to yield up the body of her
murdered mother, that she may place it in consecrated ground. But she will
beg in vain.

And so ended the fell tragedy. And so did brave soldiers avenge the murder
of their "beloved Commander-in-Chief." Methinks their beloved
Commander-in-Chief, could his freed spirit have found a mortal voice,
would have spurned, with indignant horror, the savage sacrifice of a
defenseless woman to appease his gentle shade.



And now what shall be said as to this taking of human life?

Maintaining the most rigorous allegiance to the simple unadulterated
truth, what can be said? Arraigned at the bar of the common law as
expounded by the precedents of centuries, and confronted by plain
provisions of the Constitution of the United States, which need no
exposition and yet have been luminously expounded; but one thing can be

Had Mary E. Surratt the right guaranteed by the Constitution to a trial
singly and alone, in a regularly constituted civil court, and by a jury of
the vicinage, the individuals of which she might select by challenge, both
for cause, in all cases, and without cause to a certain number, before she
could be legally convicted of any crime whatever, or be lawfully punished
by the most trivial loss of property or the minutest injury to limb, to
say nothing of the brutal crushing out of her life? That's the unevadable
question which the ages put and will continue to put. And upon its
precisely truthful answer, depend the character and color of the acts of
every person who had lot or part in the execution of this woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the 21st day of October, 1864--while the war was still raging--Lambdin
P. Milligan, a citizen of the United States and a resident of Indiana, was
arraigned before a Military Commission convened by the commanding General
of that Military District, at Indianapolis, on the following charges
preferred against him by Henry L. Burnett, Judge-Advocate of the
Department of the West:

1. Conspiracy against the Government of the United States.

2. Affording aid and comfort to the rebels.

3. Inciting insurrection.

4. Disloyal practices.

5. Violation of the laws of war.

There were also specifications, the substance of which was that Milligan
had joined and aided a secret society, known as the Order of American
Knights or Sons of Liberty, for the purpose of overthrowing the Government
and authorities of the United States; had communicated with the enemy;
conspired to seize munitions of war in the arsenals, and to liberate
prisoners; resisted and encouraged resistance to the draft: at or near
Indianapolis, in Indiana, "a State within the military lines of the Army
of the United States, and the theatre of military operations, and which
had been and was constantly threatened to be invaded by the enemy."

On these charges and specifications, Milligan was subjected to a lengthy
trial by this Military Commission which finally found him guilty on all
the charges and sentenced him to be hanged. The record was approved by the
Commanding General, and then transmitted to President Lincoln, who held it
long under advisement, and was so holding it when he was killed. His
successor, at about the same time that he summoned the Commission to try
Mrs. Surratt, at length approved the findings and ordered the sentence to
be executed on Friday, the 19th day of May, 1865.

But this object-lesson to the Commission sitting at that date in the old
Penitentiary was intercepted. On the 10th of May, Milligan brought the
record before the United States Circuit Court by a petition for his
discharge, and, the two judges differing upon the main question of the
jurisdiction of the Commission, the cause was certified under the statute
to the Supreme Court of the United States; in deference to which action
the President suspended the execution. The argument before that high
tribunal coming on in the winter of 1865-66, a great array of counsel
appeared upon both sides; David D. Field, James A. Garfield and Jeremiah
S. Black for the prisoner, and Attorney-General Speed and Benjamin F.
Butler for the United States. The counsel for the Government followed the
same line as did Judge Bingham in his argument on the "Conspiracy Trial;"
the counsel for the prisoner on their side, only enlarging, emphasizing
and enforcing the argument of Reverdy Johnson. At the close of the term
the Court unanimously decided that the Military Commission had no
jurisdiction to try Milligan; that its verdict and sentence were void; and
ordered the defendant discharged.

At the next term, the Court handed down two opinions--one the opinion of
the Court, read by Judge Davis, in which four of his colleagues concurred,
and one by Chief-Justice Chase, in which three of his colleagues
concurred. The two opinions agreed that, as matter of law, the President
could not of his own motion authorize such a Commission, and that, as
matter of fact, the Congress had not authorized such a Commission; and
therefore they were at one in their conclusion. But they differed in this;
that, whereas the majority of the Court held that not even the Congress
could authorize such a Court, the minority, while agreeing that the
Congress had not exercised such a power, were of opinion that such a power
was lodged in that branch of the Government.

The attempt has often been made to distinguish the case of Mrs. Surratt
from that of Milligan by alleging that Washington at the time of the
assassination was within the theatre of military operations, and actually
under martial law, whereas Indiana at the time of the Commission of
Milligan's alleged offenses was not.

Now, it must be admitted that at the time of the murder of President
Lincoln the war had swept far away from the vicinity of the Capital.
There had been no Confederate troops near it since Early's raid in the
summer of 1864, and no enemy even in the Shenandoah Valley since October.
It must also be admitted, and was, in fact, proved on the trial, that the
civil courts were open and in full and unobstructed discharge of their
functions. As for the reiterated affirmation of Judge Bingham that the
courts were only kept open by the protection of the bayonet; that is
precisely what was affirmed by General Butler, in his argument before the
Supreme Court, to have been the fact in Indiana.

None of the counsel in the Milligan case claimed that a Military
Commission could possibly have jurisdiction to try a simple citizen in a
State where there was no war or rumors of war.

    "We do fully agree, that if at the time of these occurrences there
    were no military operations in Indiana, if there was no army there, if
    there was no necessity of armed forces there, * * * then this
    Commission had no jurisdiction to deal with the relator, and the
    question proposed may as well at once be answered in the negative."

They contended, as the very basis of their case, that the acts of Milligan
"took place in the theatre of military operations, within the lines of the
army, in a State which had been, and then was constantly threatened with

And, in fact, the record in so many words so stated, and the statement was
uncontroverted by the relator.

General Butler with great earnestness put the question:

    "If the Court takes judicial notice that the courts are open, must it
    not also take judicial notice how, and by whose protection, and by
    whose permission they were so open? that they were open because the
    strong arm of the military upheld them; because by that power these
    Sons of Liberty and Knights of the American Circle, who would have
    driven them away, were arrested, tried and punished.

    "If the soldiery of the United States, by their arms, had not held the
    State from intestine domestic foes within, and the attacks of traitors
    without; had not kept the ten thousand rebel prisoners of war confined
    in the neighborhood from being released by these Knights and men of
    the Order of the Sons of Liberty; there would have been no courts in
    Indiana, no place in which the Circuit Judge of the United States
    could sit in peace to administer the laws."

Moreover, the opinion of the minority Judges bases their contention that
Congress had the power, if it had chosen to exercise it, to authorize such
a Military Commission, upon this very fact.

    "In Indiana, for example, at the time of the arrest of Milligan and
    his co conspirators, it is established by the papers in the record,
    that the State was a military district; was the theatre of military
    operations, had been actually invaded, and was constantly threatened
    with invasion. It appears, also, that a powerful secret association,
    composed of citizens and others, existed within the State, under
    military organization, conspiring against the draft, and plotting
    insurrection, the liberation of the prisoners of war at various
    depots, the seizure of the State and national arsenals, armed
    co-operation with the enemy, and war against the national government."

Not one of which circumstances (except that it was a military district)
can be truthfully predicated of the District of Columbia at the time of
the assassination.

As for actual martial law, there was no declaration of martial law claimed
for the City of Washington, other than the proclamation of the President
which applied as well to Indiana, and, indeed, to the whole North.

We are justified, therefore, in saying, that the Supreme Court of the
United States, in this case of Milligan, pronounced the final condemnation
of the whole proceedings of the Military Commission which tried and
condemned Mary E. Surratt; declaring, with all the solemn force of a
determination of the highest judicial tribunal known to this nation, that
every one of its acts, from its creation by the President to its
transmission of its record of doom to the President, was in direct
contravention of the Constitution of the United States and absolutely null
and void.

That illustrious Court, speaking by Judge David Davis, thus enunciates the

    "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people,
    equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its
    protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all
    circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences,
    was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions
    can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government.
    Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism."

    "From what source did the Military Commission * * derive their

    "It is not pretended that the commission was a court ordained or
    established by Congress."

    "They cannot justify on the mandate of the President; because he is
    controlled by law and has his appropriate sphere of duty, which is to
    execute not to make the law; and there is no unwritten criminal code
    to which resort may be had as a source of jurisdiction."

    "The laws and usages of war can never be applied to citizens in states
    which have upheld the authority of the government and where the courts
    are open and their processes unobstructed. And no usage of war could
    sanction a military trial there for any offence whatever of a citizen
    in civil life, in nowise connected with the military service. Congress
    could grant no such power; and to the honor of our national
    legislature be it said it has never been provoked by the state of the
    country even to attempt its exercise."

    "All other persons," (_i. e._, all other than those in the military
    and naval service) "citizens of states where the courts are open, if
    charged with crime, are guaranteed the inestimable privilege of trial
    by jury. This privilege is a vital principle, underlying the whole
    administration of criminal justice; it is not held by sufferance, and
    cannot be frittered away on any plea of state or political necessity."

    "It is claimed that martial law covers with its broad mantle the
    proceedings of this Military Commission."

    "Martial law cannot arise from a threatened invasion. The necessity
    must be actual and present; the invasion real, such as effectually
    closes the courts and deposes the civil administration."

    "Martial law can never exist where the courts are open, and in the
    proper and unmolested exercise of their jurisdiction. It is also
    confined to the locality of actual war."

Had the swift process by which this unfortunate woman was hurried to the
scaffold been interrupted by a stay to allow a review by the same high
tribunal which rescued Milligan from the jaws of death, it cannot be
doubted that in her case, as in his, the same conclusions would have been
reached, viz.:

    1st. "One of the plainest constitutional provisions was, therefore,
    infringed when" (Mary E. Surratt) "was tried by a court not ordained
    and established by Congress, and not composed of judges appointed
    during good behavior."

    2nd. "Another guarantee of freedom was broken when" (Mary E. Surratt)
    "was denied a trial by jury;"

that, in her case, as in his, the Court would have set the prisoner free;
there would have been no hanging, no felon's grave, and not even an
ulterior attempt at a constitutional trial.

For it is remarkable that although the Military tribunal which tried
Milligan pronounced him guilty of crimes deserving a traitor's death; the
seeming strength of the evidence must have melted away, strangely enough,
when subjected to the prospective investigation of constitutional courts,
as there was not even a subsequent effort on the part of the Government to
call him to account.

Let us add, as a final corollary to this exposition of the Constitution by
the Supreme Court, the following remark: that the ground and argument
employed by Attorney General Speed in his opinion upon the right of the
President to order the trial of the alleged assassins by Military
Commission, and by Judge-Advocate Bingham in his address to that
Commission, involve a _reductio ad absurdum_, or, rather, a _reductio ad
monstrosum_, that is, a _Reductio ad absurdum quia monstrosum_.

For, that ground and that argument, invoked to uphold and sanction the
trial of civilians by military commissions, necessarily and inevitably go
farther, and proclaim the right of President Johnson, alone, of his own
motion and without the interposition of a formal court, whether military
commission or drum-head court-martial, to have commanded the immediate
execution of every person whom he might believe to be guilty of
participation in the assassination of his predecessor or in the presumed
attempt upon himself.

The conclusion forced upon us, therefore,--the one only thing to be
said--is, that the hanging of Mary E. Surratt was nothing less than the
crime of murder.

Murder, not only in the case of the private soldiers who dragged her to
the scaffold and put the rope about her neck; they, at least can plead the
almost irresistible force of military discipline.

But murder, also, in the case of the Major-General whose sword gave the
signal for the drop to fall. General and soldiers are in the precise
position, before the law, of a mob of Lynchers carrying out the judgment
of a Lynch court.

Murder, not only in the case of the one military officer who superintended
the details of the execution. He, too, though with much less force, can
plead that he was the mere bailiff of what he believed to be a competent

But murder, also, on the part of the nine military officers and the three
advocates who tried and sentenced this woman to death. These men, in the
forum of the law, stand in the precise position of any nine policemen
steered by any three police attorneys in the city of New York, who should
dare to try, convict and sentence to death a citizen of that city.

Murder, not only on the part of the Commission and its lawyers; they too
might, possibly, plead--though with still diminishing force--that,
although they were warned and took the awful responsibility, still they
believed in their competency.

But murder, also, in the President of the United States, who appointed the
court, approved its findings, and commanded the execution of its sentence.
He stands before the law in the same position as though, sweeping aside
all empty forms, he had seized a sword and with his own hand cut off the
head of the woman, without the mockery of a trial. In our frame of
government, there is surely no room for such a twi-formed
barbarian-despot, as a President having the power to pick out from the
army, of which he is the commander-in-chief, the members of a court to try
and punish with death, at his option, any one of the citizens, for an
abortive attempt on his own life.

And it was murder, not only in the case of the President; he, too, but
with scarcely audible voice, might plead the coercion of his
situation--sitting as he did in the seat of the murdered Lincoln.

But it was murder, also, in the Secretary of War, who initiated the
iniquitous process, pushed on the relentless prosecution, shut his own
ears and the ears of the President to all pleas for mercy, presided like a
Moloch over the scaffold, and kept the key of the charnel-house, where,
beside the unpitied carcasses of the reputed ruffians forced upon her in
her ordeal of torture and in the hour of death, the slaughtered lady lay
mouldering in her shroud. Here, at least, the plea of mitigation exhales
in a cry like that of Payne, "I was mad!"

Weigh the extenuating circumstances in whatever scale you may; extend as
much mercy as possible to those who showed no mercy in their day of
power--still, the offense of every one and all, who had hand, part or lot
in this work of death, contains every element which, under the most
rigorous definition of the law, makes up the Crime of Murder. The killing
was there. The unlawful killing was there. The premeditated design to
effect death was there. The belief of the perpetrators, that they had a
right to kill, or that they were commanded to kill by an overruling power,
before a court of law avails not a whit. Ignorance of the constitution as
well as the law excuses no man, be he civilian or soldier, President or
assassin, War-Minister or Payne.

Murder it essentially was, and as such it should be denounced to the
present and future generations.

Garrett Davis told no more than the exact truth when he declared in his
place in the Senate of the United States:

    "There is no power in the United States, in time of war or peace, that
    can legitimately and constitutionally try a civilian who is not in the
    naval or military service of the United States, or in the militia of a
    State in the actual service of the United States, by a court-martial
    or by a military commission. It is a usurpation, and a flagitious
    usurpation of power for any military court to try a civilian, and if
    any military court tries a civilian and sentences him to death and he
    is executed under the sentence, the whole court are nothing but
    murderers, and they may be indicted in the State courts where such
    military murders are perpetrated; and if the laws were enforced firmly
    and impartially every member of such a court would be convicted,
    sentenced and punished as a murderer."

Although the actual guilt of any of the victims constitutes no legal
defense to this fearful charge, yet as the unquestioning obedience which
the soldier yields, as a matter of course, to the commands of his superior
officer must alleviate, if it do not wipe away, the guilt of the members
of the Commission, in the forum of morals; so the ascertainment that the
sufferers on the scaffold and in prison, in fact, deserved their doom,
cannot but blunt the edge of our condemnation of the iniquity of the
trial, as well as weaken our pity for the condemned and our sense of shame
over the tyrannous acts of the government.

A word or two, therefore, will be appropriate in respect to the
sufficiency of the testimony to establish the guilt of the accused.

I. As to Arnold and O'Laughlin, it may be said in one emphatic word, that
there was no evidence at all against them of complicity in the plot to
kill. The letter of Arnold to Booth shows, when fairly construed, that, if
the writer had conspired with the actor, he conspired to abduct; and,
also, for the time being, even that conspiracy he had abandoned. He was at
Fort Monroe for the two weeks prior to the assassination. His confession,
used on the trial against himself not only but also against O'Laughlin
because he was mentioned in it as present at a meeting of the
conspirators, was a confession only of a conspiracy to abduct which had
been given up. The condemnation of these two men was brought about by the
conduct of Judge Bingham, to which we have drawn attention, in
systematically shutting his eyes to the existence of any conspiracy to
capture, and employing the letter and confession as proof that both these
men were guilty of conspiracy to murder.

II. As to Dr. Mudd, the evidence leaves it doubtful whether or not he
recognized Booth under his disguise on the night he set his broken leg,
and therefore whether he may have been an accessory after the fact or not;
but the testimony of the informer Weichman, by which chiefly if not solely
the prosecution sought to implicate the doctor in the conspiracy to
murder, was greatly damaged, if not completely broken down, by the proof
on the part of the defense that Dr. Mudd had not been in Washington from
November or December, 1864, until after the assassination.

III. As to Payne, his guilt of the assault on Seward in complicity with
Booth was clear, and confessed by himself. He was but twenty years of age,
of weak mind, entirely dominated by the superior intellect and will of
Booth. He claimed he acted under the command of his captain. He was so
stolidly indifferent during the trial as to raise suspicion of his sanity,
and he repeatedly expressed his wish for the termination of the trial so
that he might cease to live.

IV. As to the boy Herold, it was manifest that, as the mere tool and
puppet of Booth, he was acquainted beforehand with the design of his
master to kill the President, but there is no evidence that he aided or
abetted Booth in the actual assassination in any way except to participate
in his flight after he had got out of Washington.

V. As to Atzerodt, for whom there appears to have been no pity or sign of
relenting, it is nevertheless a fact, that the testimony to his lying in
wait for Andrew Johnson is so feeble as to be almost farcical. The poor
German was a coward and never went near Johnson. There is no circumstance
in the evidence inconsistent with his own confession, that he was in the
plot to capture, knew nothing of the design to murder until 8 o'clock on
the evening of the 14th, and then refused to enact the part assigned him
by Booth.

Indeed, it would appear as if the Commission, by a sort of proleptic
vision of the future course of the President in his desperate struggle
with the Congress, in grim irony actually hung Atzerodt because he did
_not_ kill Andrew Johnson.

VI. And as to Mrs. Surratt, the only witnesses of importance against her
are Weichman and Lloyd. Without their testimony the case for the
prosecution could not stand for a moment. Weichman, a boarder and intimate
in her house, the college chum of her son, and, equally with him, the
associate of Payne, Atzerodt, Herold and Booth, who, frightened almost to
death at the outlook, was swearing, under a desperate strain, to clear his
own skirts from the conspiracy and thus save his threatened
neck:--Weichman's testimony before the Commission, even at such a pass, is
for some reason quite vague and indefinite, and only becomes deadly when
supplemented by Lloyd's. This man Lloyd it was who, in fact, furnished the
only bit of evidence directly connecting Mrs. Surratt with the crime. He
testifies to two conversations he had with her--one on the 11th and the
other on the 14th of April--when she alluded to the weapons left weeks
before at the hotel at Surrattsville owned by her and kept by Lloyd--on
the 11th, that the "shooting-irons" would be wanted soon; on the 14th,
that they would be called for that night. Lloyd, himself, however, admits,
and it is otherwise clearly shown, that on the 14th he was so drunk as
hardly to be able to stand up. Lloyd, also, was deeply implicated in the
conspiracy to capture if not to assassinate. He had aided the fugitive
assassins to escape, had kept their weapons hidden in his house, and he
had, for two days after his arrest, denied all knowledge of Booth and
Herold's stopping at his hotel at midnight after the murder. He had been
placed in solitary confinement and threatened with death. His nervous
system, undermined by debauchery, gave way; his terrors were startling to
witness and drove him well-nigh mad, and, at last, in a moment of
distraction, he turned against Mrs. Surratt and her son. Like Weichman's,
his, also, was the frenzied effort of a terror-stricken wretch to avoid
impending death by pushing someone forward to take his place. Reverdy
Johnson, at the close of his plea to the jurisdiction of the court, let
fall the following words, no less weighty for their truth than their

    "This conclusion in regard to these witnesses must be, in the minds of
    the Court, and is certainly strongly impressed upon my own, that, if
    the facts which they themselves state as to their connection and
    intimacy with Booth and Payne are true, their knowledge of the purpose
    to commit the crimes and their participation in them, is much more
    satisfactorily established than the alleged knowledge and
    participation of Mrs. Surratt."

Moreover, the testimony of both these witnesses, suborned as they were
alike by their terrors and their hopes, is perfectly reconcilable with the
alternative hypothesis, either that the woman in what she did was an
innocent dupe of the fascinating actor, or that she was unaware of the
sudden transformation of the long-pending plot to capture, of which she
might have been a tacit well-wisher, into an extemporaneous plot to kill.

Much stress was laid by Mr. Bingham on her solemn denial of any prior
acquaintance with Payne when confronted with him on the night of her
arrest. But it is more than probable that the non-recognition was
unsimulated, because of the disguise and pitiable plight of the desperado,
who had been hidden in the mud of the suburbs three days and three nights,
and, also, because the non-recognition was shared with her by the other
ladies of the house. Besides, that a woman, caught in the toils in which
Booth and her own son had unwittingly involved her, under the terror of
recent arrest and imminent imprisonment, should have shrunk from any
acknowledgment of this midnight intruder, even to the extent of falsehood,
certainly is in no wise incompatible with innocence.

These are the only circumstances by which Mrs. Surratt is brought nearer
than conjectural connection with the assassination, and the force of these
is greatly weakened by the testimony in her defense.

It is neither necessary, nor relevant to this exposition, to enter into a
lengthy discussion upon the _pros_ and _cons_ of her case. Her innocence
has been demonstrated in a more decisive manner by subsequent events, and
stands tacitly admitted by the acts of the officers of the government. Few
impartial hearers would have said then, and no impartial readers will say
now, that the testimony against her is so strong as to render her
innocence a mere fanciful or even an improbable hypothesis. No one can say
that a jury, to a trial by which she was entitled under the Constitution,
would have pronounced her guilty, and every one will admit that had her
sentence been commuted to imprisonment for life, as five of her judges
recommended, she would have been pardoned with Arnold, Spangler and Mudd,
and might have been living with her daughter to-day. The circumstances of
the whole tragedy warrant the assertion that, had John H. Surratt been
caught as were the other prisoners, he, and not she, would have been put
upon trial; he, and not she, would have been condemned to death; he, and
not she, would have died by the rope. If he was innocent, then much more
was she. Mary E. Surratt, I repeat, suffered the death of shame, not for
any guilt of her own, but as a vicarious sacrifice for the presumed guilt
of her fugitive son.





When the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, the
Military Commission, the Judge-Advocates, and the Executioner-General had
buried the woman against whose life the whole military power of the
Government, fresh from its triumph over a gigantic rebellion, had been
levelled;--buried her broken body deep beneath the soil of the
prison-yard, in close contact with the bodies of confessed felons;
flattened the earth over her grave, replaced the pavement of stone, locked
the door of entrance to the charnel-house and placed the key in the
keeping of the stern Secretary;--they may have imagined that the iniquity
of the whole proceeding was hidden forever.

But, _horribile dictu!_ the ghost of Mary E. Surratt would not down. It
troubled the breast of the witness Weichman. It haunted the precincts of
the Bureau of Military Justice. It pursued Bingham into the House of
Representatives. It blanched the laurels of the great War Minister.
Politics, history and the very vicissitudes of human events seemed
subservient to the vindication of this humble victim.

Hardly had the delivery of the prisons of Washington, which followed the
close of the trial, taken place, before the man who, as he himself swore,
always had been treated as a son by the woman he betrayed, began to make
advances to her sorrowing friends. He pretended to make confession of his
perjury. He told a friend that his testimony would have been very much
more favorable had it not been dictated to him by the officers who had him
in charge; that the meeting of Lloyd and Mrs. Surratt was accidental, as
she and he (Weichman) had already started for home before Lloyd returned,
and only turned back because the buggy was discovered to be broken. The
traitor soon discovered that he made no headway by such disclosures, but
only met with a sterner repulse and a deeper loathing. His troubled soul
then turned to another quarter. It has been stated that his testimony on
the trial was somewhat indefinite and inconclusive. Complaints had been
uttered by the officers conducting the prosecution. It was proved upon a
subsequent occasion that one of these officers had actually threatened the
witness that he would hang as an accomplice in the assassination did he
not make his evidence more satisfactory. It appeared, also, that the
Secretary of War had promised to protect and take care of him. Driven back
by Mrs. Surratt's friends from his attempt at propitiation, Weichman
resolved that he would yet earn his reward by retouching his former
testimony so as to make it more definite and telling. He saw, at last,
that to save himself from everlasting ignominy he must, as far as in him
lay, make sure of the guilt of his victim. Actuated by these or similar
motives, he, on the 11th day of August, 1865, wrote out, and swore to, a
statement in which he, by a suspicious exercise of memory, detailed
conversations with Mrs. Surratt and significant incidents, all pointing to
complicity with Booth, no mention of which had been made on the trial, and
which this candid witness stated "_had come to my_ (his) _recollection
since the rendition of my_ (his) _testimony_."

This affidavit, containing (if true) more evidence of the guilt of Mrs.
Surratt than his whole testimony on the trial, but, on the other hand,
drawn up to suit himself without fear of cross-examination--he transmitted
to Colonel Burnett, who, as though he, too, distrusted the sufficiency of
the evidence against the dead woman as it had been actually given on the
trial, was careful to append the _ex parte_ statement to the published

Weichman, at length, gets his reward in the shape of a clerkship in the
Custom House at Philadelphia.

But the final breaking down of the fabric of testimony against the leaders
of the rebellion, as instigators of the assassination, threw consternation
into the Bureau of Military Justice and the Cabinet. Jefferson Davis was
still confined in Fort Monroe, and two companies of United States
soldiers, who had fought and shed each other's blood in their eagerness to
be the first to seize the fugitive, were already quarreling over the
$100,000 reward for his arrest as an accomplice of Booth. Clement C. Clay,
for whose arrest $25,000 reward had been offered, as another accomplice,
was also still in the hands of the authorities. Jacob Thompson, George N.
Sanders and Beverly Tucker, for the arrest of each of whom $25,000 had
been offered, were still at large. Every one of these men, it should be
borne in mind, had been pronounced guilty by the military board which had
condemned Mrs. Surratt. John H. Surratt, her son, for whose capture an
enormous reward had been offered both by the Government and by the City of
Washington, and whom the Military Commission had condemned as the
go-between of the President of the Confederacy and his agents in Canada in
the instigation of the murderous conspiracy, and also as the active aider
and abettor of both Booth and Payne in the perpetration of their bloody
crimes; he, too, had so far eluded all efforts to find even his
whereabouts. It is only fair to presume that the astute lawyers connected
with the Bureau of Military Justice must have had serious misgivings from
the first, concerning the testimony of the spies, Montgomery, Conover and
others, going to implicate Davis and the Canadian Rebels in the
assassination. Such testimony was hearsay or secondary evidence at best;
and they could have cherished no hope that such loose talk and the
fragmentary repetition of letters heard read would ever be allowed to pass
muster by an impartial judge in a civil court. And they had reason to
believe that public opinion would not tolerate the experiment of another
military commission. As early as July, 1865, an attempt was made to buy
the papers of Jacob Thompson, among which it was supposed were the
criminatory letters of Davis; and Attorney-General Speed was dispatched
with $10,000 government money to effect the purchase. William C. Cleary,
for whom $10,000 reward had been offered as one of the conspirators, and
who had just been found guilty by the Military Commission, was to deliver
the letters and receive the money. Speed met Cleary at the Clifton House,
but the latter, in the meanwhile, had seen in a newspaper a portion of the
testimony before the Military Commission implicating him, and he utterly
refused to give up the papers, as he had to rely upon them, as he said, to
vindicate himself. The shadows thus began to darken over the credibility
of the corps of spies that the Bureau had employed. Indictments for
perjury against Montgomery, Conover and other paid witnesses began to be
talked of. Friends, and enemies as well, of the imprisoned ex-President
began to clamor for his trial or release. Even the implicated agents in
Canada showed a bold front, and professed a willingness to meet the
terrible charge if guaranteed a trial by jury. A jury! A jury of twelve
men! Trial by jury! If there was anything that could shake the souls of
the members of the Bureau of Military Justice, it was to hear of trial by
jury. It was a damnable institution. It impeded justice. It screened the
guilty. It was beyond control. It could not be relied on to convict. And
yet it was to this tribunal they foresaw they must come.

In September, 1865, embarrassing news arrived at the Department of State.
The consul at Liverpool informed the American Minister at London that John
H. Surratt was in England and could be extradited at any time. Here was
the villain who was, with Booth, the prime mover of the conspiracy and the
active accomplice of Booth and Payne in their work of blood. At least, so
the Military Commission found, who hung his mother in his stead. And yet
the United States Government informed Mr. Adams, and Mr. Adams so informed
the consul, that the Government did not intend to prosecute. On the 24th
of November ensuing, the War Department, by general order, revoked the
"rewards offered for the arrest of Jacob Thompson, Beverly Tucker, George
N. Sanders, William S. Cleary and John H. Surratt." Where now was the
redoubtable Bingham who, over and over again, had assured the Commission
he guided of the unmistakable guilt of all these persons? The whole theory
of the Secretary of War, which he had preconceived in the midst of the
panic following the assassination, that the murder of the President was
the outcome of a deep-laid and widespread conspiracy, of which Jefferson
Davis was the head and Booth and Payne the bloody hands--this theory,
which the Bureau of Military Justice, aided by Baker and his detectives,
had so sedulously labored to establish, and which Judge Bingham had so
persistently pressed upon the nine military men who composed the Court, to
the exclusion of any such hypothesis as a plot to capture--this
preconceived theory all at once fell to the ground. The perjured spies,
who had been the willing and paid tools to build it up, were about to be
unmasked and their poisoned fangs drawn. After no great interval, Conover
was, in fact, convicted of perjury in another case, and sentenced to
imprisonment in the Albany penitentiary. The whole prosecution of the
so-called conspirators, from its inception to its tragic close, turned out
to have been founded on an enormous blunder. The findings of the
Commission were falsified. Whatever the guilt of the doomed victims, they
were not guilty of the crime of which they were convicted. The terrible
conspiracy, stretching from Richmond to Canada, and from Canada back to
Washington, involving statesmen and generals, and crowning the wickedness
of rebellion with the Medusa-head of assassination, shrank into the
comparatively common-place and isolated offense of the murder of Lincoln
and the assault upon Seward, suddenly concocted by Booth, on the afternoon
of the 14th of April, in wild despair over the collapse of the rebellion.
In such a predicament, the hanging of Mrs. Surratt could not have been a
pleasing reminiscence to the Secretary of War, to Judge-Advocate Holt, or
to the hangers-on of the Bureau of Military Justice. At such a moment they
certainly had no use for her son John.

On the 12th of November, Preston King, who held one side of the door of
the White House while the daughter of Mrs. Surratt pleaded for admission,
walked off a ferry-boat into the Hudson River, with two bags of shot in
the pockets of his overcoat, and was seen no more. This event might have
passed as a startling coincidence, to be interpreted according to the
feelings of the hearer, had it not been followed by the suicide of Senator
James S. Lane, who held the other side of the door, and who, on the 11th
day of July, 1866, blew his brains out on the plains of Kansas. That these
two men had together stood between the President and the filial suppliant
for mercy, in a case of life and death, and that, then, within a year,
both had perished by their own hands, aroused whispers in the air, caused
a holding of the breath and a listening, as if to catch the faint but
increasing cry of innocent blood, coming up from the ground.

When the Congress met in December, 1865, the leaders of the dominant party
were in a fierce and bitter humor. The Rebellion had been suppressed, the
South subjugated and its chiefs captured, yet no one--not even the
arch-traitor Davis--had been hung. And, more deeply exasperating still,
the man they had elected Vice-President, and who had thus succeeded the
martyred Lincoln, upon whom their hopes had been fixed to make treason
odious, to hang the leaders higher than Haman, and to set aside the humane
policy of reconstruction his predecessor had already outlined and
substitute a more radical and retributive method--this man, whose precious
life had been providentially spared from the pistol of the assassin to be
the Moses of the colored people, and for harboring any such blasphemous
purpose as lying in wait for him, a Court, appointed by himself and whose
sentence he himself had approved, had hung a bewildered German--why this
man had already shown himself a renegade, was bent on a general amnesty,
appeared to have forgotten the assassination, was already hobnobbing with
southern traitors, and was attempting to carry out a policy of
reconstruction in the South, the result of which could be nothing less
than the dethronement of the party who had brought the war for the Union
to a triumphant end. These men resolved that such treachery should be
balked at whatever cost. Ignorant as yet of the tainted character and of
the break-down of the evidence adduced to show Confederate complicity in
the assassination, the House of Representatives passed resolutions calling
for the trial of Jefferson Davis for treason and for the other crimes with
which he was charged; the ill-starred Bingham, once again in the House,
insisting that the Confederate Chief should be put upon trial before a
military tribunal for the same offense of which his former court had found
him guilty in his absence. The House appointed a committee to investigate
the complicity of Davis and others in the assassination, and in July,
1866, through its chairman, Mr. Boutwell, made a report, followed by a
resolution, "that it is the duty of the executive department of the
Government to proceed with the investigation of the facts connected with
the assassination of the late President without unnecessary delay, that
Jefferson Davis and others named in the proclamation of President Johnson
of May 2d, 1865, may be put upon trial," which was adopted _nem. con._ In
this action, little as they reeked, these radical politicians were the
unconscious tools of that Nemesis which stalks after lawlessness and
triumphant crime. This resolution, and the news that John H. Surratt had
been betrayed by one of his comrades in the Papal Zouaves into the hands
of the Roman authorities, who had detained him to await the order of the
American Government, and that the prisoner had escaped from his guard and
fled to Malta, forced the Department of War to revoke the order of
November, 1865, withdrawing the reward for the arrest of the fugitive.

Meanwhile the great contest over the reconstruction of the South waxed
fiercer and fiercer. Congress, during this session, became farther and
farther alienated from the President, so that when that body met in
December, 1866, the reckless majority in both Houses united in the resolve
to get rid of Andrew Johnson, not indeed by the bloody method employed by
Booth, but by the no less efficient, though more insidious and less bold,
expedient of impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate. No
sooner had Congress convened than Mr. Boutwell made an attack upon the
Executive for its dilatory action in the arrest of John H. Surratt,
stating that he had reason to believe that the Government knew where the
assassin was the May before. A committee appointed to investigate the
matter made a report just at the close of the session obliquely censuring
the Executive Department for its lack of diligence in effecting the
arrest. On January 7th, 1867, the famous Ashley introduced his resolutions
impeaching Andrew Johnson. The Judiciary Committee, to which they were
referred, took testimony during the winter and made a report at the close
of the session that it was unable to complete the investigation, and
handed it over to the Fortieth Congress. That Congress met immediately at
the close of the Thirty-ninth, and the testimony already taken was
referred to the Judiciary Committee of its House, which proceeded with the
matter during the spring and summer, and in November, 1867, after the
recess; with the final result of a failure to pass the resolution of
impeachment reported by a bare majority of the committee.

In process of this investigation all sorts of accusations and charges were
made against the President. His enemies now employed the very same weapons
against him which had been employed to convict the alleged assassins of
his predecessor and the alleged conspirators against his own life. General
Baker and his detectives, Conover and his allies, appear once more upon
the scene. They actually invaded the privileged quarters of the White
House and stationed spies in the very private apartments of the President.
This time, however, they are ready to swear, and in fact do swear, not to
having seen letters from Jefferson Davis to his agents in Canada advising
assassination, but letters from Andrew Johnson to Davis squinting in that
direction. They actually charged the President with being an accomplice in
the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Forgetting that a human being had
been hung for lying in wait to kill Andrew Johnson as a part of a general
conspiracy to murder the heads of the Government, these desperate men
propose to impeach the President for being an accomplice in his own
attempted murder. Ashley openly denounced him, in the House of
Representatives on the 7th of March, 1867, as "the man who came into the
Presidency through the door of assassination," and alluded to the "dark
suspicion which crept over the minds of men as to his complicity in the
assassination plot," and "the mysterious connection between death and
treachery which this case presents." Ashley had private interviews in the
jail with Conover and Cleaver, who were confined there for their crimes,
and they assured him of the guilt of Andrew Johnson. They furnished him
with memoranda and letters purporting to show that Andrew Johnson and
Booth were in communication with each other before the murder of Lincoln,
and that Booth had said before his death that if Andrew Johnson dared go
back on him he would have him hung higher than Haman. To such preposterous
stuff, from professional perjurers, did the zealous Ashley seriously

It was during this investigation that the evidence given by Secretaries
Seward and Stanton and by Attorney-Generals Speed and Stansbery,
demonstrated the utter futility of an attempt to establish complicity in
the assassination on the part of Davis, Thompson and the rest, by
witnesses who had been shown, in other cases, to be unworthy of a
moment's belief.

While the impeachers were in the very act of pursuing the President as an
accomplice in the murder of Abraham Lincoln, while the mighty Bingham, who
had so eloquently defended President Johnson before the Military
Commission against the charge of usurpation of power, and so bitterly
denounced Jefferson Davis for alluding to Johnson as "The Beast," now,
with a complete change of tune, was clamoring for the impeachment of "his
beloved Commander-in-Chief;"--Jefferson Davis, himself, is brought, by
direction of the Secretary of War, in obedience to a writ of habeas
corpus, before the United States Court at Richmond; there, without a word
of remonstrance, transferred to the custody of the civil authority; and
forthwith discharged on bail, Horace Greeley, who had never seen him
before, becoming one of his bondsmen. Since that day in May, 1867, no
attempt has ever been made to call the ex-President of the Southern
Confederacy to account as one of the conspirators in the murder of
Lincoln. Clay had been let go on parole as long before as April 19th,
1866; his property was restored to him in February, 1867; and proceedings
under an indictment found against him for treason and conspiracy,
indefinitely suspended on the 26th of March of the same year. Thompson and
Sanders and Tucker returned to their country and appeared unmolested
amongst us. Jefferson Davis died recently full of years and honors. At
the death of Thompson, the flags of the Interior Department were lowered
half-mast. Tucker was appointed to office not long ago by President
Harrison. And all this, notwithstanding the Judge-Advocate had assured the
Military Commission that the guilt of these men was as clear as the guilt
of Booth or of Surratt, notwithstanding the Military Commission under his
guidance so found, and, had these men been present before that tribunal,
would doubtless have hung them on the same scaffold with Mrs. Surratt.

It was during this same investigation, that the diary of Booth, which had
been so carefully concealed by the War Department and the Bureau of
Military Justice from the Military Commission, was unearthed. Its
publication produced a profound sensation, as it made clear the reality of
a plan to capture the President; a plan, which had been blasted by the
collapse of the Rebellion and, only at the last moment and without
consultation, arbitrarily superseded by a hurried resolution to kill. When
produced by Judge Holt before the committee, its mutilated condition gave
rise to a terrible suspicion. Holt, himself, and Stanton were confident
the book was in the same condition as when they first saw it. Colonel
Conger, also, though not positive, thought it was unchanged since he took
it from the dead body of Booth. But, to the great wonder of everybody, the
distinguished detective, General Baker, testified, and stuck to it with
emphasis when recalled, that, when he first examined the diary before it
was lodged with the Secretary of War, there were no leaves missing and no
stubs, although the diary, as exhibited to the committee, showed by means
of the stubs remaining that sixteen or twenty leaves had been cut or torn
out. The disclosures made by the production of the diary, together with
the fact of its suppression, stirred the soul of General Butler; and, in
this way, it came about that the ghost of Mrs. Surratt stalked one day
into the House of Representatives. Judge Bingham, in his rollicking way,
was upbraiding General Butler for having voted for Jefferson Davis fifty
times as his candidate for President, and slurring his war record by
calling him "the hero of Fort Fisher;" when, suddenly, at the petrific
retort of his adversary that "the only victim of the gentleman's prowess
was an innocent woman hung upon the scaffold!" the spectre stood before
him, forcing, as from "white lips and chattering teeth," the exclamation
of Macbeth: "Thou canst not say I did it!"

"Look to the true and brave and honorable men who found the facts upon
their oaths and pronounced the judgment!" he retorted, clutching at the
self-soothing sophistry of the murderer of Banquo, ignoring the fact that
he himself was a part of the tribunal and virtually dictated the

Another discovery was made by the Judiciary Committee in the "Article"
which, as recorded in his diary, Booth had left behind him for publication
in the National Intelligencer. John Matthews, a fellow actor and an
intimate friend of the assassin, testified that on the afternoon of the
14th of April Booth had met him in the street and left with him a letter
directed to that newspaper, to be delivered in the morning. The witness
was on the stage of the theatre that night at the time the fatal shot was
fired, and, in the confusion that followed, he called to mind the
communication. Hurrying to his lodgings he opened the envelope, read the
letter, and, fearing to be compromised by the possession of such a
document, burnt it up. The substance of the letter, as near as Matthews
could recollect, was that for a long time he (Booth) had devoted his
money, time and energies to the accomplishment of an end, but had been
baffled. "The moment has at length arrived when my plans must be changed.
The world may censure me for what I do; but I am sure that posterity will
justify me." And the communication was signed (all the names being in the
hand-writing of Booth): "Men who love their country better than gold or
life. J. W. Booth, ---- Payne, ---- Atzerodt, ---- Herold."

The significance of this piece of testimony was negative. The name of
Surratt was not there.

One suggestive circumstance was called out in the testimony of Secretary
Seward and General Eckert. It appeared that Payne before his trial had
talked with General Eckert about his motives and movements in the assault
upon the disabled Secretary of State, the particulars of which
conversation Eckert had related to Seward, after the recovery of the
latter from his wound, and had promised to reduce to writing. Among other
things, Payne had said that he and Booth were in the grounds in front of
the White House on the night of Tuesday, the 11th of April, when Abraham
Lincoln made his speech of congratulation on the fall of Richmond and the
surrender of Lee; and that on that occasion Booth tried to persuade him to
shoot the President as he stood in the window, but that he would take no
such risk; and that Booth, turning away, remarked: "That is the last
speech he will ever make."

Such an incident is consistent only with the theory that the assassination
plot was concocted at the last moment as a forlorn hope, and that, if
there had been any conspiracy, it was a conspiracy to capture. It is easy
to see why the Bureau of Military Justice suppressed this testimony also,
because, although it bears hard upon Payne himself, and Herold, and
possibly John Surratt, it renders it highly improbable that Mrs. Surratt
was aware of any design to kill.

Even such a fragmentary review, as the foregoing, of the public history of
the two years succeeding the execution--which any reader may complete, as
well as test, for himself by referring to the Congressional Globe of that
period, to the printed reports of the Committee, and to the leading
newspapers of the day--is sufficient to indicate how the general tendency
of events, and every event in its place, appear to have conspired to the
accomplishment of one result,--the setting aside, in the public mind, of
the verdict of the Military Commission in the case of Mrs. Surratt.

This was not done by a direct assault upon that tribunal, or upon its mode
of procedure; not even upon the character of the witnesses against the
particular culprit, nor upon the weakness of the case made against her.
These points of attack were all passed by, and the verdict was taken on
the flank.

The condemnation of the woman was subverted by the _wind_, so to speak, of
passing events.

The irrepressible conflict between the President and the Congress; the
consequent schism in the very ranks of the triumphant conquerors; the
insane charge against Andrew Johnson of complicity in a conspiracy against
his own life, supported by the incredible statements of the very witnesses
who were responsible for the charge of complicity against Jefferson Davis
and others; the final and complete exposure of the fiction of a conspiracy
to assassinate, either by the Confederate authorities, or anybody else;
and the true, historical character of the Assassination of Abraham
Lincoln;--all combined to shake the edifice of guilt, which the Bureau of
Military Justice had so carefully built up around their helpless victim,
upon such an aerial foundation. Whilst the gradual abatement of that
furious uncharitableness, which in the hey-day of the war could find
nothing not damnable in the Southern people, and no secessionist who was
not morally capable either of murder or of perjury in its defense or
concealment, was, surely but imperceptibly, clearing up the general
atmosphere of public opinion, and thus preparing for the cordial reception
of such a measure of retributive justice, as Time, with his sure revenges,
was daily disclosing to be more and more inevitable.

The Milligan decision dissipated the technical jurisdiction of the
Commission. But lawyers could still distinguish, and the hyperloyal could
still maintain the essential rightfulness of the verdict.

But the explosion of the great assassination conspiracy; the nol-pros. of
the awful charge against Jefferson Davis, Clement C. Clay, Jacob Thompson,
and their followers--a crime, which, if capable of proof, no government on
earth would have dared to condone--discredited forever the judgment of the
Military Commission, reopened wide all questions of testimony, of
character, of guilt or innocence, and summoned the silent and dishonored
dead to a new and benignant trial.



The new trial was in fact at hand. In the summer of the year 1867, the
interest excited by the investigation of the Judiciary Committee of the
House of Representatives, referred to in the last chapter, suddenly became
merged into the intenser and more widespread interest excited by the trial
of John H. Surratt in the Criminal Court of the District of Columbia.

Surratt, after escaping from his captors in Italy by leaping down a
precipice, fled to Malta and thence to Alexandria, where, on the 21st of
December, 1866, he was recaptured and taken on board the United States
vessel "Swatara." In this vessel, bound hand and foot, the prisoner
arrived at Washington on the 21st of February following. Thus the radicals
in Congress, impelled by their growing enmity to the President over the
reconstruction contest, by scattering abroad sinister intimations that the
cause of his remissness in bringing to punishment the accomplices of the
convicted assassins was fear for himself of a full investigation of the
assassination, succeeded at last in forcing the Executive Department,
apprehensive, as it had good reason to be, of the shadows which any future
trial in the civil courts was likely to reflect back upon the Military
Commission, and aware of the breaking down of the case against the
Canadian confederates and Jefferson Davis, face to face with the necessity
of ratifying the conviction of the mother by securing the conviction of
the son. On the one hand, the radicals, in blind ignorance of the true
inwardness of affairs, clamored for the trial, in the hope that the guilt
of the prisoner's supposed accomplices, Davis and Company, and possibly of
the President himself, might be detected. On the other hand, the
administration, now that the man had been forced upon its hands, knowing
the futility of the hope of its enemies, pushed on the trial in the hope
that, with its powerful appliances, a result could be obtained which would
vindicate the verdict of the Military Commission. No one on either side,
however, so much as dreamed of renewing the iniquity of a trial by
court-martial. Amid the silence of the Holts and the Binghams and the
Stantons, Surratt was duly indicted by a grand jury for the murder of "one
Abraham Lincoln," and for conspiring with Booth, Payne, Atzerodt, Herold
and Mary E. Surratt to murder "one Abraham Lincoln," which conspiracy was
executed by Booth. There was no averment about the traitorous conspiracy
to murder the heads of Government, in aid of the rebellion; nor were the
names of Dr. Mudd, O'Laughlin, Arnold or Spangler, then undergoing
punishment on the Dry Tortugas, inserted as parties to the conspiracy; nor
was any mention made of Seward or Johnson or Grant, as among the
contemplated victims. All was precise and perspicacious, as is required in
pleadings in the civil courts. The loose, vague, indefinite and impalpable
charges permissible, seemingly, on military trials, gave place to plain
and simple allegations, such as an accused person might reasonably be
expected to be able to meet. On Monday, June 10, 1867, while the
investigation before the Judiciary Committee of the House was still going
on, while the sensation produced by the sight of Booth's diary and by
Matthews' disclosures was still fresh, while the echoes of the encounter
of Bingham and Butler still lingered in the air, the momentous trial came
on. Great and unprecedented preparations had been made by the prosecution.
Again the country was ransacked for witnesses, as in the palmy days of
Baker and his men. Again the Montgomeries and other Canada spies haunted
the precincts of the District Attorney's office, willing as ever to swear
to anything necessary to make out the case for the prosecution. Even the
voice of Conover was heard, _de profundis clamavi_, from his dungeon cell.
The Bureau of Military Justice started into active life, and Holt and his
satellites bestirred themselves as though fully conscious of the impending
crisis. Indeed, every one of these officials, from the President and the
Secretary of War down to the meanest informer and hired hangman, who had
had anything to do with the trial and execution of Mary E. Surratt, felt
as if he, too, was to be put on trial in the trial of her son. A Court
recognized in, and drawing its life and jurisdiction from, the
Constitution was to act as a court of appeal to review the process and
judgment of that extra-constitutional tribunal, which had, summarily and
without legal warrant, put a free American woman to a felon's death. A
Daniel in the shape of a jury--a common law jury--a jury of
civilians--unadorned by sword, epaulette or plume--a jury guaranteed by
the Bill of Rights--a Daniel had come to judgment! The Shylocks of the
days of arbitrary power dropped their sharpened knives and ejaculated, "Is
that the law?"

Great, assuredly, must have been the flurry of the once omnipotent Bureau,
when it was ascertained that the tribunal before which it must come could
not be "organized to convict;" that there could be no soldiery around the
Court, no shackles on the prisoners or the witnesses for the defense, no
prosecuting officers in the jury room. Everything must be done decently
and in order, with the same calm dignity, unruffled composure, the same
presumption of the innocence of the accused, as though the murdered man
had been the humblest citizen of the land. One great advantage, however,
the prosecution managed to secure. A Judge was selected to preside whom
they could rely on, as "organized to convict." But this was the sole
reminiscence of the unbridled reign of the military only two years before.
A jury of twelve intelligent men, some of them the best citizens of the
District, was speedily obtained to the evident satisfaction of both the
people and the prisoner,--and the succeeding Monday, the 17th, the
struggle began.

As we have given the names of the members of the Court which tried the
mother, we may be pardoned for giving the names of the jurors who tried
the son. Although there were no major-generals among them, they are
entitled to the honor of being within, and not without, the ægis of the

The jurors were W. B. Todd, Robert Ball, J. Russell Barr, Thomas Berry,
George A. Bohrer, C. G. Schneider, James Y. Davis, Columbus Alexander,
William McLean, Benjamin Morsell, B. E. Gittings, W. W. Birth.

They were thus spoken of by the District Attorney:

"It is a matter of mutual congratulation that a jury has been selected
agreeable to both parties; the representatives of the wealth, the
intelligence, and the commercial and business character of this community;
gentlemen against whose character there cannot be a whisper of suspicion.
I would trust you with my life and my honor; and I will trust you with the
honor of my country."

The scene which the court-room presented, when the Assistant District
Attorney arose to open the case for the United States, afforded a speaking
contrast to the scene presented at the opening of the Military Commission.
The Court was not held in a prison, and there was an entire absence of the
insignia of war. The doors of the court-room were wide open to the
entrance of the public, not locked up in sullen suspicion, and the keys in
the hands of the prosecuting officer. The counsel for the prisoner
confronted the jury and the witness-stand upon an equal line with the
counsel for the United States; and there was neither heard, seen, nor
surmised, in the words or bearing of Edwards Pierrepont, the leading
counsel for the prosecution, any of the insolence and supercilious
condescension shown in the words and bearing of John A. Bingham.

As the prisoner entered the court and advanced to the bar, no clank of
fetters jarred upon the ear; and, as he sat at his ease by the side of his
counsel, like a man presumed to be innocent, the recollection of that wan
group of culprits, loaded down with iron, as they crouched before their
imperious doomsmen, must have aroused a righteous wrath over the barbarous
procedure of the military, in comparison with the benign rules of the
civil, tribunals. The atmosphere surrounding the court and the trial
seemed, also, to be free from passion and prejudice, when contrasted with
the tremendous excitement and the thirst for blood, which permeated the
surroundings of the Military Commission. Although the Bureau of Military
Justice had busied itself in the prosecution, and thrust its aid on the
office of the District Attorney; although the whole weight of the federal
administration was thrown in the same direction to vindicate, if possible,
the signature of the President to the death warrant of the victims of his
military court; and notwithstanding the presence upon the bench of a judge
"organized to convict:" still, so repellant to partial passion were the
precincts of what might fitly be styled a temple of justice, a neutral
spectator might feel reliance that in that chamber innocence was safe.

But there was one sentiment hovering over the trial and dwelling in all
bosoms, which clothed the proceedings with a peculiar awfulness. All felt
that the dead mother was on trial with the living son. She had been
executed two years before for the same crime with which he was now
charged. And, as he stood in the flesh, with upraised hand, looking at the
jury which held his life in its hands, it required no great effort of
fancy to body forth the image of his mother, standing beside him,
murmuring from shadowy lips the plea of not guilty, amid the feeble
repetitions of which, to her priest, she had died upon the scaffold. To
convict her son, now, by the unanimous verdict of twelve men, and punish
him according to law, would go far to condone the unconstitutional trial
and illegal execution of the mother. Whereas, on the other hand, the
acquittal of her son of the same crime, by the constitutional tribunals
of the country, would forever brand the acts of the Military Commission as
murder under the forms of military rule. This dread alternative met the
prosecution at the threshold of the trial, oppressed them with its
increasing weight during its progress, and tarried with them even at its
close. It appeared in the indictment, where the name of the mother, as one
of the conspirators, was associated with the name of her son. It appeared
in the examination of the jurors, when Judge Pierrepont endeavored to
extract from them whether they had formed or expressed an opinion as to
the guilt or the innocence of the prisoner, not only, but also as to the
guilt or the innocence of his mother. It appeared during the taking of
testimony, where evidence bearing upon the guilt of Mrs. Surratt alone was
admitted at all times as evidence against her son. It appeared in the
argument of the District Attorney, when he compares the mother of the
prisoner to Herodias and Lucrezia Borgia, and "traces her connection with
the crime" and "leaves it to the jury to say whether she was guilty;"
where he pleads, like Antony, in behalf of the members of the Military
Commission that they were "all honorable men," and were not to be blamed
for obeying the orders of the President. It appeared in the arguments of
the counsel for the prisoner, when Mr. Merrick taunted the Government that
they were pressing for a verdict to "vindicate the fearful action they
had committed;" when he appealed to the jury to "deal fairly by this young
man," "even if the reputation of Joseph Holt should not have the
vindication of innocent blood;" when he invoked the spirit of Mrs. Surratt
as a witness for her son, and rebuked the prosecution for objecting to the
admission of her dying declaration when they were putting her again on
trial though dead; when Mr. Bradley charged that for four weeks and more
they had been trying Mrs. Surratt and not her son, and denounced Weichman
and Lloyd, avowing that "the proof against her was not sufficient to have
hung a dog" and was "rotten to the core." It appeared in the speech of
Judge Pierrepont, when he flourished the record of the Military Commission
before the jury, and asserted that the recommendation of Mrs. Surratt to
mercy was attached to it; in his avowal of his belief in her guilt; in his
extolling the jury as a tribunal far more fit for the trial of such crimes
than any military court; and in his covert threat that the people would
punish the City of Washington by the removal of the Capitol, if the jury,
by their verdict, did not come up to the high standard erected for them.
And, lastly, it appeared in the charge of the Judge, which is a model of
what a one-sided charge ought to be. It opens with the words of the Old
Testament: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
Then follows a sneer at the "sentimental philosophers," who were opposed
to capital punishment. Then the Court inveighs against some imaginary
advocates, who argued that to kill a king was a greater crime than to kill
a president; and then casts an imputation upon the integrity of the
decision in the Milligan Case, as "predicated upon a misapprehension of
historic truth," and that therefore "we could not perhaps have looked for
a more rightful deduction," "all loyal hearts" being "unprepared for such
an announcement." The Judge, then, holds that the Court will take judicial
cognizance that the crime charged was the murder of the President of the
United States, and a more heinous offense than the murder of a simple
individual. He, then, complacently sets aside the rule of Sir Matthew
Hale, implicitly followed since, as he himself admits, by "writers and
judges seeming contented with his reasons or indisposed to depart from his
principles," as "not very satisfactory to my (the Judge's) mind;" and
accordingly he declares that, in felonies of such high grade, as in cases
of treason, there can be no accessories before the fact, but all are
principals; and, to support this conclusion, he then cites and details at
length two cases, apparently overruling Sir Matthew beforehand; (as he
says) "reported in that book of highest authority known among Christian
nations, decided by a judge from whose decision there can be no appeal and
before whose solemn tribunal all judges and jurors will in the great day
have their verdict and judgments passed in review." One, the case "of
Naboth and Ahab, contained in the 21st chapter of the First Book of
Kings," the other, "that of David and Uriah, recorded in the 11th chapter
of Second Samuel;" at the end of the statement of which case the Judge
remarks, "this judgment of the Lord was not that David was accessory
before the fact of this murder, but was guilty as the principal, because
he procured the murder to be done. It was a judgment to the effect that he
who does an act by another does it himself, whether it be a civil or a
criminal act." This extraordinary deliverance closes with an echo of Judge
Pierrepont's warning to the jury, to uphold by their verdict the District
of Columbia, as a place for "the public servants, commissioned by the
people of the nation, to do their work safe and sacred from the presence
of unpunished assassins within its borders."

It would be foreign to our purpose, as well as tedious to the reader, to
examine in detail the testimony given on this trial. One conclusion--and
that is the important thing--is certain. It is true, beyond the shadow of
a doubt, that the prosecution made an incomparably stronger case against
Surratt than was made against his mother. They had but one culprit at whom
to direct their aim, and they made a far more desperate and thorough-going
effort to convict, because of the known unreliability of a jury to do what
the prosecution might tell them to do without the aid of proof. Before a
Military Commission, tossed about by the passions of its members and
steered by Judge-Advocates, the accusers could afford to be careless of
gaps in their scheme of proof, missing links in the chain of
circumstantial evidence. Not so now and here. Vehement affirmation without
evidence availed nothing. Curses against treason, traitors, disloyalty,
apostrophes to the imperiled Union, tears over the beloved
Commander-in-Chief, could fill no void in the testimony. Of course, there
was no such outrage against not only the elementary rules of evidence, but
against ordinary decent fairness, as an attempt to introduce testimony of
the horrors of Libby Prison and Andersonville; but the door looking in
that direction was opened as wide as possible by the eager Judge. All the
material testimony given upon the "Conspiracy Trial" against Mrs. Surratt,
not only, but also against Payne, Herold, Atzerodt, Arnold and O'Laughlin,
was reproduced here. The direct testimony on the part of the United States
occupied from June 17th to July 5th, and in that period eighty-five
witnesses were examined. On the Conspiracy Trial, the direct case consumed
the time from May 12th to May 25th, and about one hundred and thirty
witnesses were examined against the eight accused persons, not only, but
also against the eight accessories, headed by Jefferson Davis, included in
the charge, the testimony ranging over the whole rebellion and including
Libby, Andersonville, Canada, St. Albans, and projected raids on New York,
Washington and other cities. Every witness, whose testimony on the former
trial had the remotest bearing upon the question of the guilt or innocence
of Mrs. Surratt, once more showed his face and retold his story.

Lloyd was there, compelled, despite his superstitious reluctance to speak
against a woman now she was dead, to rehearse the tale which his terrors
had evolved out of his drunken imagination. This time, however, his
sottish memory or failure of memory, his fright at the time of his arrest,
his repeated denials of the visit of Booth and Herold, his temptations and
bribes to accuse his landlady, were, under the keen cross-examination of
the counsel for the prisoner, fully exposed.

Weichman "came also:" this time with his story carefully elaborated,
touched and retouched here and there, and written down beforehand. He had
been engaged for three or four months in aiding the prosecution, had
prepared a carefully detailed statement for the use of the Assistant
District Attorney, and now openly acknowledged that "his character was at
stake" in this trial, and that he "intended to do all he could to help the
prosecution." He had conned over and over again the report of his evidence
on the Conspiracy Trial, had corrected it to meet objections subsequently
made and to eliminate discrepancies and contradictions, and had thus
brought its several disjointed parts into some logical sequence; he then
had added to it the incidents and conversations disclosed for the first
time in the affidavit sent to Colonel Burnett, which was appended to the
published report of the trial, to which allusion has been made; and, now,
in the final delivery of his deadly charge, coolly averring that his
memory was much more distinct now than at the time of the former trial two
years ago, he, with a superadded concentrated venom, flavored his
narrative with a few damning incidents never heard of before--one, the
most poisonous of all, that on the evening of the fatal 14th, while Booth
was about his murderous work, Mrs. Surratt was pacing her parlor floor
begging her pious boarder "to pray for her intentions." This time,
however, the witness did not escape unscathed. When he emerged from the
skillful hands of Mr. Bradley, his malicious and sordid _animus_ laid
bare,--his self-contradictions, his studied revisions, his purposeful
additions to his testimony, exposed--his intimacy with the conspirators,
his terrified repentance, his abject self-surrender and his cowardly
eagerness to shift his peril upon the head of his protectress,--and then
his simulated remorse and his later recantation--all made clear--he was an
object of loathing to gentlemen; a stumbling block to the philanthropist;
to the indifferent, an enigma; and to the common man, a perpetual
provocation to a breach of the peace.

Twelve witnesses testified that they saw John H. Surratt in Washington on
the 14th of April, only one of whom had testified to that effect on the
other trial. It is curious now to discern how the memory of the
witnesses, it may be unconsciously, swerved under pressure toward the mark
of identification. The witnesses for the defense established that the
prisoner was in Elmira on the afternoon of the 13th, made it more than
probable he was there on the 14th, and almost certain he was there on the
15th. The prosecution, under the force of this proof, suddenly conceded
his presence in Elmira on the 13th, and then, by the accident of a special
train and the testimony of a ferryman whom the notorious Montgomery
unearthed in the very crisis of the emergency, contrived with much
straining to land him in Washington at 10 o'clock on the morning of the
fatal day. Any calm observer, reading the account of the trial now, can
see plainly that the truth is, the prisoner had not been in Washington
since the 3rd of April.

The production of Booth's diary by the prosecuting officers was forced
upon them by the popular indignation over its suppression before the
Military Commission; otherwise, it is clear they would not have been
guilty of such a mistake in tactics as its introduction as a part of the
case for the United States. Its opening sentences--"Until to-day nothing
was ever thought of sacrificing to our country's wrongs. For six months we
had worked to capture. But our cause being almost lost something decisive
and great must be done"--settled the question of a plot to kidnap suddenly
given up; and the testimony of Weichman indicated the hour of

That every conceivable effort to obtain the conviction of the prisoner was
made, and that a most formidable array of circumstances was marshalled
against him, compared to which the two disconnected pieces of evidence
which were so magnified against his mother seem weak indeed, will be
controverted by no sane person. From June 10th to August 7th--nearly two
months--the contest went on. On the last-mentioned day, which was
Wednesday, Judge Fisher delivered his remarkable charge, and a little
before noon the jury retired. At one o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday,
the 10th, after a session of three days and three nights, a communication
was received from the jury to the effect that they stood as at first,
nearly equally divided, that they could not possibly agree, and the health
of several of their numbers was becoming seriously impaired. The Court,
notwithstanding the protest of the prisoner, discharged the jury, and the
prisoner was remanded to jail.

There he did not long remain, however. Every one recognized the futility
of another trial. The strength of the proof of the prisoner's presence in
Elmira on the day of the assassination wrought a reaction of public
opinion in his favor. The administration was glad to escape with less than
an unequivocal condemnation. The Bureau of Military Justice was silent.
John H. Surratt was quietly let go.

This obscure occurrence, the discharge of John H. Surratt, which caused
not a ripple on the surface of human affairs, nevertheless constituted a
cardinal event; for it worked a national estoppel. When that young man
stepped forth from the threshold of the prison, to which the United States
had brought him in irons from Egypt across the Mediterranean and the
Atlantic, not to follow his mother to the scaffold and a felon's grave,
but to walk the earth a living, free man,--the innocence of the mother was
finally and forever established by the universal acknowledgment of all
fair men. No condemnation of the Military Commission could be so heavy,
and at the same time so indubitably final, as the simultaneous conviction
arrived at by all men, that if the son had been tried by such a tribunal
he would assuredly have been put to death, and that if the mother had been
reserved to calmer times and the tribunal guaranteed by the Constitution
to every man and woman, she would now have been living with her daughter,
instead of lying, strangled to death, beneath the pavement of a prison.



The worst was still behind.

It was left to Time to disclose the astounding fact, that all the military
machinery of the War Department, its Bureaus, its Court, its
Judge-Advocates, its unconstitutional, anti-constitutional and
extra-constitutional processes, would not have compassed the death of this
helpless woman, had not the prosecutors, in the last extremity, called in
the help of Fraud.

It has been narrated in the chronological order of events, how five
members of the Military Commission were, in all probability, beguiled into
the abdication of their own power of commutation and did, as matter of
fact, sign a paper "praying" the President, "if he could find it
consistent with his sense of duty to the country," to commute the death
sentence of Mrs. Surratt; how that the paper may have been carried to the
President by Judge Holt and have been present at the confidential
interview when the death warrant was composed; and how that Judge Holt, in
drafting the death warrant, went out of his way to so write it out, as in
fact, if not by design, to withdraw from the eye of the President, as he
signed it, this paper praying him to withhold his signature.

But it should be borne in mind that all this was shrouded in the deepest
secrecy. That there had been any hesitation among the members of the
Commission in fixing the sentence of Mrs. Surratt--any more than in the
cases of Herold, Atzerodt and Payne--much more that it had been found
necessary to resort to a petition to the President, was entirely unknown
to the public at large. As to what had taken place in the sessions of the
Court when the sentences were made up, every member thereof and the three
Judge-Advocates were sworn to secrecy; and, outside these officers, the
knowledge of the petition was confined to the Secretary of War (possibly
the Attorney-General) and one or two subordinates in the War Department.
The record of the findings and sentences, to which the petition was
attached, was kept from the official reporters, and not a soul outside a
close coterie in the War Department was allowed to set eyes on it.

In the recital of the death sentences in the order of the Adjutant-General
directing their execution, the sentence of the woman differed in no
respect from the three sentences of the men which preceded it. So far as
the public eye could discover, there was not a gleam of mercy for the
woman in the bosom of the Commission.

It is true, that even before the execution there were rumors that the
Court had united in a recommendation to mercy, and it was stated in the
newspapers of the 6th and 7th of July that five members of the Commission
had signed such a recommendation and the whole Court concurred in it. It
is also certain, that almost immediately after the execution the story
sprang up that the President had never been allowed to see the
recommendation which the Court had addressed to him.

But all these statements remained without corroboration from any authentic
source, and could not stand before the indubitable facts of the sentence,
its approval by the President, and its summary execution. The single
indication that in all these reports the paper is miscalled "a
recommendation to mercy" shows of itself that the real nature of the
secret was well kept.

In November, 1865, there appeared a volume compiled by Benn Pitman styled
"The Recorder to the Commission," claiming to be "An authentic record of
the trial of the assassins of the late President," to which was prefixed a
certificate "to its faithfulness and accuracy" by Colonel Burnett, who had
been assigned by Judge Holt to superintend the compilation and "made
responsible for its strict accuracy." This work, so authenticated, was on
its face intended by its compiler to be a complete history "for future use
and reference" of the proceedings of the Commission, from the order of
the President convening it to the approval of the President of its
findings and sentences. It had for frontispiece portraits of the
conspirators and a map of portions of Maryland and Virginia showing the
route of Booth, and for afterpiece a diagram of the stage of Ford's
theatre and a diagram of the streets in its vicinity. Beside matter
strictly of record, such as the testimony and the findings and sentences,
it included the arguments of all the counsel, the approval of the
President, the order changing the place of imprisonment from Albany to the
Dry Tortugas, the proceedings under the writ of habeas corpus in the case
of Mrs. Surratt; and (in the appendix) the opinion of Attorney-General
Speed; army instructions in ten sections; a proclamation of President
Lincoln; a poisonous affidavit of Weichman, inclosed in a letter to
Colonel Burnett; and an affidavit of Captain Dutton, who took Dr. Mudd to
the Dry Tortugas, giving the confessions the Captain swears the Doctor
made on the way, sent to General Holt in obedience to his request for such
information. Nevertheless, amid all this wealth of illustration, there is
not the faintest allusion to any such thing as a recommendation to mercy,
in the volume. On the one hand, Pittman may not have seen the paper. His
findings and sentences are obviously taken from the order of the
Adjutant-General, and not from the original record, as he puts them in the
same order, which is not the order of the record. But, if he never saw the
paper, it must have been purposely kept from his knowledge, and thus from
the knowledge of the public, by some person interested in its suppression.
And Colonel Burnett, who had himself attached the paper "at the end" of
the record, instead of certifying to the "faithfulness and accuracy" of a
compilation omitting it, ought rather to have insisted that so important
and interesting a document, about the existence of which so much talk had
arisen, be at last given to the world.

On the other hand, if Pitman knew of the paper, he certainly would not
have voluntarily left it out of his book for the reason, he himself felt
constrained afterwards to assign, that "it formed no part of the
proceedings, was not mentioned in open session;" since he had given room
to so much matter, not of record, solely for the purpose of adding
interest and completeness to his work, and this critical document could
add so much to the one and its absence detract so much from the other.

Moreover, in December, the report of the Judge-Advocate-General to the
Secretary of War appeared, in which the trial was reviewed, and to which
the report to the President, dated July 5th, 1865, was appended. But in
both the existence of the petition was ignored.

Whatever may have been the true inwardness of these significant omissions,
their inevitable effect was to convince the mass of the people of the
non-existence of a recommendation to mercy; and the petition of the five
officers might have reposed in silence in the secret archives of the War
Department, had it not been for the alienation of the President from the
party which had elected him, his gradual gravitation towards his own
section, and finally his revolt from the sway of Stanton. During this
period, the rumors that the Court had recommended Mrs. Surratt to the
clemency of the Executive and that the paper had never reached the
Executive, coupled with stories that from the close of the trial to the
hour of the execution the President had been kept under confinement and in
a state of semi-stupefaction by a band of reckless partisans who were
bound there should be no clemency, grew louder and louder. But they were
never traceable to any reliable source. In fact, the coolness which had
been for a long time growing between Andrew Johnson and Edwin M. Stanton
did not break out into an open rupture until as late as the month of
March, 1867. The other members of the Cabinet, which Johnson had inherited
from Lincoln, who disagreed with Johnson on the question of
Reconstruction, Harlan, Dennison and Speed, resigned, on account of that
disagreement, in the summer of 1866; but Stanton stayed on. When the
Tenure of Office bill was passed by the Congress in February, 1867, the
Secretary of War was still so much in accord with the President as to
unite with the other members of the reconstructed Cabinet in an emphatic
condemnation of the bill as unconstitutional, and to be asked by the
President to draft his veto message.

But, on the passage of that Act over the veto, Stanton, thinking his
tenure of office secure, at last threw off the double-faced mask he seems
to have worn in every Cabinet to which he ever had the honor to belong.
From that time he stood alone in the Cabinet, irreconcilable in his
hostility to every move of his Chief, in open league with his Chief's
active enemies, and determined to remain where he was not wanted and could
only act as a hindrance and a spy. In this perilous state of affairs, a
secret like that of the petition of the five officers burned towards
disclosure. Yet, so far as is at present ascertainable, no authoritative
affirmation of the existence of such a paper, on the one hand, and no
authoritative denial that it had been presented to the President, on the
other, had yet been made.

Upon such an arrangement of combustible material, the trial of John H.
Surratt acted like a spark of fire.

On the second day (June 11th, 1867), during the impanelling of the jury,
Mr. Pierrepont, the leading counsel for the United States, alluding to the
rumors then flying about, took occasion to predict that the Government on
that trial would set all these false stories at rest.

Among other things he said:

    "It has likewise been circulated through all the public journals that
    after the former convictions, when an effort was made to go to the
    President for pardon, men active here at the seat of government
    prevented any attempt being made or the President being even reached
    for the purpose of seeing whether he would not exercise clemency;
    whereas the truth, and the truth of the record which will be presented
    in this court, is that all this matter was brought before the
    President and presented to a full Cabinet meeting, where it was
    thoroughly discussed; and after such discussion, condemnation and
    execution received not only the sanction of the President but that of
    every member of his Cabinet."

The testimony in the case closed, however, and the summing up began, and
there had been no attempt at a fulfillment of this prediction.

On Thursday afternoon, August 1st, Mr. Merrick, the junior counsel for the
prisoner, then nearing the close of his address, twitted the prosecution
with this breach of its promise in these words:

    "Where is your record? Why didn't you bring it in? Did you find at the
    end of the record a recommendation to mercy in the case of Mrs.
    Surratt that the President never saw? You had the record here in

    "Mr. Bradley: And offered it once and withdrew it?

    "Mr. Merrick: Yes, sir; offered it and then withdrew it.

    "Did you find anything at the close of it that you did not like? Why
    didn't you put that record in evidence, and let us have it here?"

Stung by the necessity of making some answer to this defiant challenge,
Mr. Pierrepont on the moment sent for the record. And in response to the
summons, Judge-Advocate Holt, who naturally must have followed the
prosecution and trial with the most absorbing anxiety, on that very
afternoon brought the record "with his own hand," "with his own voice"
told its history, in the presence of "three gentlemen," to Mr. Pierrepont,
and then left the papers with him.

On the succeeding day, August 2nd, Mr. Bradley, the senior counsel of the
prisoner, renewed the attack:

    "It was boastfully said in the opening of this case that they would
    vindicate the conduct of the law officers of the Government engaged in
    the conspiracy trials. They would produce Booth's diary; they would
    show that the judgment of the court was submitted to the Cabinet and
    fully approved; that no recommendation for mercy for Mrs.
    Surratt--that no petition for pardon to the Government--had been
    withheld from the President. Is it so?"

The next morning, Saturday, August 3d, Mr. Pierrepont began his address to
the jury. Having kept possession of the record since Thursday afternoon,
and having been made acquainted with its history by Judge-Advocate Holt in
such an impressive manner, he, thus, in his exordium, at last, redeemed
the promise of the prosecution:

    "The counsel certainly knew when they were talking about that
    tribunal" (_i. e._ the Military Commission), "and when they were thus
    denouncing it, that President Johnson * * * ordered it with his own
    hand, that President Johnson * * * signed the warrant that directed
    the execution, that President Johnson * * * when that record was
    presented to him, laid it before his Cabinet, and that every single
    member voted to confirm the sentence, and that the President with his
    own hand wrote his confirmation of it, and with his own hand signed
    the warrant. I hold in my hand the original record, and no other man
    as it appears from that paper ordered it. No other one touched this
    paper, and when it was suggested by some of the members of the
    Commission that in consequence of the age and the sex of Mrs. Surratt,
    it might possibly be well to change her sentence to imprisonment for
    life, he signed the warrant for her death with the paper right before
    his eyes--and there it is (handing the paper to Mr. Merrick). My
    friend can read it for himself."

This is the first appearance in public of the precious record. On
Wednesday, July 5th, 1865, Andrew Johnson put his name to the
death-warrant written on its back by Judge Holt. And, now, two years
after, emerging from its hiding-place, it is flung upon a table in a
court-room by the counsel for the United States.

Even now it seems to be destined to a most unsatisfactory publication. For
the counsel of the prisoner decline to look at it, because (as Mr. Merrick
subsequently explained), "he mistrusted whatever came from the
Judge-Advocate-General's office;" because it "had been carefully withheld
until all opportunity had passed for taking evidence in relation to it;"
and because the official report of the trial contained no recommendation
of mercy. The mysterious roll of paper, consequently, lies there unopened,
until Judge Holt comes to reclaim it that same afternoon; and that officer
is careful, when receiving it back, to repeat over again, before other
witnesses, the same history of the document, he had told before to the
counsel for the prosecution, and which that counsel had just retold to the

But that had been said and done which must blow away the atmosphere of
unwholesome secrecy which had so long enveloped this addendum to the
record. The explicit declaration of the counsel for the United States,
made in a crowded court-room on so celebrated a trial, with the "identical
paper" in his hand, that the President had laid the record before his
Cabinet and "every single member voted to confirm the sentence," and that
the President had signed the death-warrant with the "suggestion" of
commutation "right before his eyes," was immediately published far and
wide, and must have been read on Sunday, the 4th, or at latest on Monday,
the 5th, by the President himself. And the President was certainly
astounded. By a most singular providence, Judge Holt himself, in a letter
written to himself, at his request, by his chief clerk, and published by
him in 1873 for another purpose, has furnished independent proof that the
President was now for the first time startled into sending for the record.

Here is what Chief Clerk Wright says:

    "On the 5th day of August, 1867, Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War,
    sent for me, and in the presence of General Grant asked me who was in
    charge of the Bureau in your absence. I informed him Colonel Winthrop.
    He requested I should send him over to him, which I did. The Colonel
    returned and asked me for the findings and sentence of the conspiracy
    trial, telling me he had to take it to the President. On taking the
    portion of the record referred to from the bundle, I found, from the
    frequent handling of it, several of the last leaves had torn loose
    from the ribbon fastening, and to secure them I put the eyelet in one
    corner of it."

The Judge-Advocate-General, though in court on Saturday getting back the
record and retelling its history, was absent, it would appear, from his
office on Monday, or was considered absent by Stanton, who it also appears
was still Secretary of War and in communication with Johnson. It was
thought best to employ a deputy to carry the papers to the President.
Holt, probably, had no stomach for another "confidential interview," with
the identical record in his hand.

Let Andrew Johnson himself tell what followed. The statement is from his
published reply to Holt in 1873, and was made with no reference to, and
apparently with no recollection of, the foregoing incidents of the John H.
Surratt trial:

    "Having heard that the petition had been attached to the record, I
    sent for the papers on the 5th day of August, 1867, with a view of
    examining, for the first time, the recommendation in the case of Mrs.

    "A careful scrutiny convinced me that it was not with the record when
    submitted for my approval, and that I had neither before seen nor read

It may have been only a coincidence, but on this very day, Monday, August
5th, 1867, and necessarily after the sending for the record, because that
was done through the Secretary of War, the following interesting missive
was dispatched by the President to that member of his Cabinet:

    "Sir: Public considerations of a high character constrain me to say
    that your resignation as Secretary of War will be accepted."

Stanton immediately replied:

    "Public considerations of a high character constrain me not to resign
    before the next meeting of Congress."

And, on the 12th, he was suspended from office.

But Andrew Johnson was not the only interested personage who read the
explicit declaration of Mr. Pierrepont. The statement that every member of
the Cabinet voted to confirm the sentence of Mrs. Surratt, with the
record, including, of course, the recommendation, before them, must have
been read also by William H. Seward, Edwin M. Stanton, Hugh McCulloch, and
Gideon Welles, the members of that "full Cabinet" who still remained in
office. They surely knew the truth of the statement, if it was true, or
its falsity, if it was false. If it was true, is it not perfectly
inconceivable that the President, conscious that these four of his
confidential advisers had seen the record and voted to deny the petition,
would have dared to enact the comedy of sending for the record, and then
brazenly assert that the petition had not been attached to it when before
him, and that he had neither seen nor read it?

And if he had been guilty of so foolhardy a course of action, now was the
time for the Judge-Advocate to fortify the declaration which he had
inspired Mr. Pierrepont to make, by appealing to these members of the
Cabinet to confront their shameless chief with their united testimony, and
forever silence the "atrocious accusation."

From his course of proceeding at a later day, it is not probable that he
made any such attempt. At all events, he got no help from Seward, from
McCulloch or from Welles. Nay, he got no help to sustain his history of
the record, even from Stanton. If help came from that quarter at all, it
was to shield him from the awakened wrath of the hood-winked Executive, by
drawing the fire upon the head of his department.

But what the Judge-Advocate-General did do, in view of the crisis, is
sufficiently apparent. He took immediate measures to retract all that
portion of Mr. Pierrepont's declaration of Saturday, which expressed or
implied any knowledge on the part of the Cabinet of the disputed paper.

The counsel for the United States had continued his speech to the jury all
day Monday, apparently unconscious of the tempestuous effect of his
statement of Saturday, and of the predicament in which it had involved his
informant. In the evening, he must have had a "confidential interview"
with Judge Holt. For, on rising to resume his speech on Tuesday morning,
the 6th of August, from no apparent logical cause arising from the course
of his argument, he saw fit to recur to the now absent record, and to
interpolate the following perfectly insulated and seemingly superfluous
piece of information:

    "You will recollect, gentlemen, when a call was made several days ago
    by Mr. Merrick * * asking that we should produce the record of the
    Conspiracy Trial, that I brought the original record here and handed
    it to counsel. I then stated that as a part of that record was a
    suggestion made by a part of the Court that tried the conspirators,
    that, if the President thought it consistent with his public duty,
    they would suggest, in consideration of the sex and age of one of
    those condemned, that a change might be made in her sentence to
    imprisonment for life. I stated that I had been informed that when
    that record was before the President, and when he signed the warrant
    of execution, that recommendation was then before him. I want no
    misunderstanding about that, and I do not intend there shall be any.
    That is a part of the original record which I here produced in Court.
    It is in the hand-writing of one of the members of that Court, to wit,
    General Ekin. The original of that is now in his possession and in the
    hand-writing of Hon. John A. Bingham. When the counsel called for that
    record, I sent the afternoon of that day to the
    Judge-Advocate-General, in whose possession these records are. He
    brought it to me with his own hand, and told me with his own voice, in
    the presence of three other gentlemen, that that identical paper, then
    a part of the record, was before the President when he signed the
    warrant of execution, and that he had a conversation with the
    President at that time on the subject. That is my authority.
    Subsequently to this, having presented it here, the
    Judge-Advocate-General called to receive it back, and reiterated in
    the presence of other gentlemen the same thing. That is my knowledge
    and that is my authority."

Here we have, then, the final statement of his side of the case, made by
Judge Holt, through the mouth of counsel, revised and corrected under the
stress of the occurrences at the White House and the negatory attitude of
the members of the Cabinet present on the spot. Stripped of the allegation
that the record was laid before the Cabinet and voted upon by every
member of the Cabinet, its affirmations, carefully confined to "the
confidential interview" between the President and the Judge-Advocate, go
no farther than that "the identical paper" was "before the President,"
when he signed the death warrant, and they had a conversation "on the

"He wants no misunderstanding" and does "not intend there shall be any."
The counsel in great detail relates how he came by his facts. "That is my
knowledge and that is my authority." Of course it is open to everybody to
believe, if he choose, that the talk of the Cabinet meeting and of the
unanimous vote of its members against the petition, was a mere rhetorical
exaggeration of a simple narrative of Holt relating the incidents of an
interview between the President and himself, struck off by Judge
Pierrepont in the full fervor of his eloquence; but, nevertheless, it
remains true that the Judge-Advocate, until the catastrophe befell, was
satisfied it should stand, rhetoric and all; because he "reiterated the
same thing" on Saturday, _after_ the counsel had concluded his statement,
and on Monday the counsel continued his address all day without being
advised of the necessity for any retraction.

Be this as it may, there is now, at the last, no appeal by the
Judge-Advocate to the members of the Cabinet, all of whom were living, as
witnesses to the President's knowledge of the petition of mercy. He
abandons hope of corroboration from members of the Cabinet, and he takes
his stand upon the single categorical affirmation, that the "identical
paper" formed part of the record when the record was before the President
in 1865.

And, singular as it may appear, this is the very thing that the President
does not categorically deny; he only infers the contrary from the
appearance of the record in 1867.

The single categorical negation of the President is that he neither saw
nor read the recommendation. And, singular as it may appear, this the
Judge-Advocate does not categorically affirm; he leaves it to be inferred
from his averment of the presence of the paper and a conversation on the

In short, the statements of the two disputants are not contradictory. Both
may be true. And, when we recollect the feeble state of health of the
President at the time of the "confidential interview" and his mood of mind
towards the distasteful task forced upon him in a season of nervous
debility; when we recollect the mode and manner the Judge-Advocate adopted
of writing out the death warrant; it will seem extremely probable that
both statements _are_ true. The President made no "careful scrutiny" of
the record in 1865, or he would not have needed to do so in 1867. The
Judge-Advocate, inspired by his master, would not be too officious in
pointing out to the listless and uninquiring Executive the superfluous
little paper. He might do his whole duty, by conversing on the subject of
the commutation of the sentence of the one woman condemned, and, then, by
so placing the roll of papers for the President's signature to the death
warrant as to bring the modest "suggestion" of the five officers "_right
before his eyes_," though upside down. If the sick President did not
carefully scrutinize the papers, was that the Judge-Advocate's fault? Nay,
in writing out the death warrant in the inspired way he did, this zealous
patriot may have felt even a pious glow, in thus lending himself as an
instrument to ward off a frustration of Divine justice. Alas! one may
easily lose one's self in endeavoring to trace out the abnormal vagaries
of the "truly loyal" mind, at that period of hysterical patriotism.

       *       *       *       *       *

After these incidents on the Surratt trial, and at the White House, there
could be no more mystery about the recommendation to mercy. It was
historically certain that such a document, or rather a "suggestion," did
in fact emanate from the Commission, and was at some time affixed to the
record. Left out of Pitman's official compilation, nevertheless it was
there. The only question about it which could any longer agitate the
people was, had it been suppressed? And this, unfortunately, was now
narrowed down to a mere question of veracity between the President and his
subordinate officer, as to what occurred at the Confidential Interview;
and which, moreover, threatened to resolve itself into a maze of special
pleading about the lack of attention, on the part of the Executive, and
the duty of thorough explanation, on the part of the Judge-Advocate, in
the delicate task of approving the judgment of a Military Commission.

Whether this unsatisfactory and ticklish state of the issue was the cause
or not, nothing was done in consequence of these revelations of the
Surratt trial. The President, indeed, plunged as he was in the struggle to
get rid of Stanton, which finally led to his impeachment, and remembering
his own remissness in not scrutinizing the papers before he signed the
death-warrant, could have had but little inclination to provoke another
conflict, on such precarious grounds, by attempting the removal of the
incriminated subordinate of his rebellious Secretary. He kept possession
of the record, however, long enough to subject it to a thorough inspection
by himself and his advisers, for (as appears from the letter of the chief
clerk already quoted) it was not returned to the Judge-Advocate-General's
office until December, 1867.

The Judge-Advocate, on his part, remained likewise passive and displayed
no eagerness for a vindication by a court of inquiry.

He pleads in 1873, as excuse for his non-action, that "it would have been
the very madness of folly" for him "to expose his reputation to the perils
of a judicial proceeding in which his enemy and slanderer would play the
quadruple role of organizer of the court, accuser, witness and final
judge." Forgetting the "history" he had told Mr. Pierrepont, and then
withdrawn, in 1867, he actually claims that he "was not aware that any
member of Mr. Johnson's Cabinet knew of his having seen and considered the
recommendation," and that he "was kept in profound ignorance of" "this
important information" "_through the instrumentality of Mr. Stanton_"!

But, were it credible that the Judge-Advocate "supposed," as he says,
"that this information was confined to" the President and himself, (not
even his master, Stanton, knowing anything of the petition), even in that
case the "perils" of an investigation, which he affects to dread, were all
on the side of his adversary. The necessity for the President of the
United States, himself, to come forward as the one sole witness to his own
accusation--especially when the charge involved an admission of his own
delinquency, and was to be met by the loud and defiant denial of his
arraigned subordinate--was enough, of itself, to deter the Chief
Magistrate of a great nation from descending into so humiliating a combat.

But, to lay no stress upon this consideration, it must be manifest to any
one acquainted with the state of public feeling at the time, that the
single, uncorroborated testimony of the maligned, distrusted Andrew
Johnson, branded as a traitor by the triumphant republican party, on the
eve of impeachment, a hostile army under his nominal command, Stanton
harnessed on his back, unfriendly private secretaries pervading his
apartments, and detectives in his bed-chamber; in support of such a
"disloyal" charge, disclosing, as it was sure to be asserted, a latent
remorse for the righteous fate of the she-assassin; would have been hailed
in all military circles with derision. The popular, the eminently loyal,
the politically sound Judge-Advocate, backed by Stanton, Bingham and
Burnett, by his Bureau and his Court, by General Grant and the Army, had
certainly nothing to fear.

But, though this hero of so many courts-martial appears to have had no
mind for a dose of his own favorite remedy, he began, in his
characteristic secret way, to collect testimony corroborative of his
version of the confidential interview. He writes no letter to a single
Cabinet officer. But, immediately after the close of the John H. Surratt
trial (August 24, 1867), he writes to General Ekin reminding him of an
interview, soon after the execution, in which he (Holt) mentioned that the
President had seen the petition; and he obtains from that officer the
information he sought. In January, 1868, he quietly procures from two
clerks in his office, letters testifying to the condition of the record
when it arrived from the Commission, when the Judge-Advocate took it to
carry to the President, and when he brought it back. It is needless to say
that, though these clerks state that the page, on which the petition was
written, and the page, on which the latter portion of the death-warrant
was written, are "directly face to face to each other;" they do not notice
that, when the death-warrant was signed, the page, on which the petition
was written, must have been, either under the other pages of the record,
or upside down.

In this same month, the resolution of the Senate refusing to concur in the
suspension of Stanton was adopted (January 13th, 1868). General Grant, the
Secretary of War _ad interim_, in violation of his promise to the
President, as alleged by the latter, thereupon surrendered the office to
the favorite War-Minister, who thus forced himself back among the
confidential advisers of the President.

On the 21st of February, the President, with one last desperate stroke,
removed him from office; and on the 24th, Andrew Johnson was impeached for
this "high crime."

In the midst of his troubles, the President finds time to pardon Dr. Mudd
(Feb. 8th), who soon returns to his family and friends.

The impeachment trial ends May 26th, the President escaping conviction by
but one vote; and Stanton at last lets go his hold on the War office.

In December, 1868, the Judge-Advocate is privately seeking testimony from
the Rev. J. George Butler, of Washington, the minister who attended
Atzerodt in his last moments, whose letter of the 15th is most
satisfactory on Johnson's belief in the guilt of Mrs. Surratt, but most
unsatisfactory in regard to the petition of mercy.

On the 1st of March, 1869, among the last acts of his stormy
administration, the President undid, as far as he could then undo, the
work of the Military Commission by setting Arnold and Spangler free;
O'Laughlin having died from the effects of the climate. Had the five
officers of the Military Commission been permitted to exercise their power
of mitigating the sentence of Mrs. Surratt, as they did in the cases of
these men, or had the Executive granted their prayer for clemency; the
President might have signalized the close of his term by a still more
memorable pardon, and the mother, rescued from death by mercy, would have
joined the son, rescued from death by justice.

During the four years of the first administration of President Grant,
while Andrew Johnson was fighting his way back to his old place, among the
people of Tennessee, the story of the suppressed recommendation ever and
anon circulated anew with unquenchable vitality. The reappearance of Mudd,
Spangler and Arnold, as free men; the "doubtful" death of Stanton, "with
such maimed rites" of burial, as might "betoken

  The corse, they follow, did with desperate hand
        Fordo its own life;"

every incident connected in any way with the tragedy of the woman's trial
and death, and every prominent event in the career of the men who had
surrounded the illstarred successor of the murdered Lincoln in the awful
hour of his accession, revived the irrepressible question; and the friends
of Mrs. Surratt's memory, and the friends of Johnson, alike, each by their
own separate methods, on every such opportunity, appealed and re-appealed
to the public, asserting again and again the suppression of the plea for
mercy, propagating what General Holt brands as "the atrocious accusation,"
or, as he elsewhere characterizes their actions, "for long years wantonly
and wickedly assailing" the ex-Judge-Advocate. And yet, during all these
years, the baited hero is silent. He lies low. As far as appears, he makes
no further efforts to secure testimony. His friend and old associate,
Bingham, is by his side, yet he makes no appeal to him. He keeps close by
him the letters he has already secured to substantiate his own version of
the confidential interview. But he seeks for no Cabinet testimony. His
stern master in the War Department, after the acquittal of the President,
lays down his sceptre, and then, though the deadliest enemy of Johnson, is
allowed to die in silence. Seward lives on and is asked to give no help.
The ex-Judge-Advocate still lies low.

At length came the appointed time.

William H. Seward died on the 12th day of October, 1872.

On the 11th day of February, 1873, Gen. Holt makes his appeal for
testimony from the officers of Johnson's first Cabinet, by letter to John
A. Bingham, requesting him to furnish his recollections of the late
Stanton and the late Seward. On March 30th, 1873, he writes to James
Speed, Ex-Attorney-General, inclosing a copy of Bingham's reply. On May
21st, 1873, he writes to James Harlan, Ex-Secretary of the Interior,
inclosing a copy of Bingham's reply. In July, 1873, he writes to General
Mussey, once Johnson's private secretary; and, in August, armed with the
answers of these correspondents and with the letters he had gathered in
1867 and 1868, and unprovoked by any revivification of the old charge, he
rushes into the columns of the Washington Chronicle with his formidable



On the threshold of his Vindication, Gen. Holt revives the discredited and
apparently forgotten declaration made by Mr. Pierrepont on the trial of
John H. Surratt, and stakes his whole case upon the establishment of the
truth of the allegation that the petition for commutation, attached as it
was to the record of the findings and sentences of the Military
Commission, was the subject of consideration at a meeting of the Cabinet
of President Johnson, and its prayer rejected with the concurrence of the
members present at such meeting.

So long as the contention is limited to what took place during that
momentous hour between the President and himself, "alone," with the light
thrown upon it by the record including the endorsed death-warrant and the
affixed paper, he exhibits a certain lack of confidence in the strength of
his defense. For, although he prints the "circumstantial evidence," as he
calls it, to sustain his own version of the "confidential interview"
(consisting of the two letters from his former clerk, heretofore alluded
to, and the letter from Gen. Mussey saying that the "acting President"
told him of the recommendation "about that time"), he confesses it was not
until he recently had secured certain testimony that the petition had been
considered by officers of the Cabinet, that he at length felt his case
strong enough to warrant a public challenge of his adversary, and himself
justified in submitting it to the public.

In short, we have a sort of reversal of the position of six years before.
_Then_, after having at first put forward the assertion that the petition
was considered by the Cabinet, the Judge-Advocate summarily suppresses
that branch of his case, and puts into the foreground the explicit
asseveration of the identical paper being "right before the President's
eyes" when he signed the death-warrant. "He wants no misunderstanding
about that." _Now_, while he keeps in mind, it is true, this version of
the confidential interview, he relegates it to the rear, and constitutes
the Cabinet consideration the very citadel of his cause.

As to what takes place at a meeting of the Cabinet, its members of course
are the first, if not the only, witnesses. And it is a matter of surprise
that General Holt, so far as is apparent, never, in all these past years,
applied to any one of them to substantiate so essential a part of his
vindication. He states that he has always been satisfied that the matter
must have been considered in the Cabinet, and adds that "from the
confidential character of Cabinet deliberations" he has "thus far been
denied access to this source of information." But he does not say when,
or to whom, he applied for such "access," or how he had been "denied." It
is certain, from what he says elsewhere, that he never applied to Stanton
or to Seward; he admits in a subsequent communication that he never
applied to McCulloch, Welles or Dennison; and, from the tenor of their
letters now in reply to his, it appears he never applied before to Harlan
or to Speed. And these are all the members of the Cabinet of President
Johnson in July, 1865. Moreover, he does not, even now, in 1873, make
application in the first instance to an ex-Cabinet officer. His first
application is made to John A. Bingham, his old colleague in the
prosecution of Mrs. Surratt, for Cabinet information in the shape of
conversations with the two ministers, who, after so many years of
unsolicited silence in life, are now silent, beyond the reach of
solicitation, in death. And it is not until he has secured the desired
information, which he would have us believe was entirely unexpected, that
he is stirred up to the necessity of a public vindication of his
character; and then he selects the two of the surviving ministers of the
Cabinet, known to be hostile to the ex-President, as the objects of
solicitation, sending them, as a spur to their recollections, the letter
containing the reminiscences of his serviceable ally. But, by some
fatality, the industrious inquirer takes nothing by his somewhat
complicated manoeuvre. The letters he produces from Cabinet officers
afford him no assistance. Judge Harlan can recall only an informal
discussion by three or four members of the Cabinet (Seward, Stanton,
himself and probably Speed) of the question of the commutation of the
sentence of Mrs. Surratt because of her sex; which, she being the one
woman under condemnation, would surely arise in a tribunal of gentlemen,
whether there was a recommendation or not, as in fact it did even among
the stern soldiers of the Military Commission. But the writer, who, as
Senator from the State of Iowa, had voted for the conviction of President
Johnson, makes the positive declaration, that "no part of the record of
the trial, the decision of the court, or the recommendation of clemency
was at that time or ever at any time read in my (his) presence." He
remembers, with undoubting distinctness, inquiring at the time whether the
Attorney-General had examined the record, and was told that the whole case
had been carefully examined by the Attorney-General and the Secretary of
War; and he states that the question was never submitted to the Cabinet
for a formal vote.

This letter is most significant, both for what it says and for what it
refrains from saying. Its positive statement annihilates the story of a
"full Cabinet" when "the vote of every member" was adverse, and indeed of
any Cabinet meeting whatever, where the paper was present and
considered--such a story as Judge Pierrepont first gathered from the
"voice" of Holt; and the absence of all affirmation that the writer had
either seen or heard of the recommendation, while he expressly states that
it was never read in his presence (considering the occasion and object of
the letter and the bias of the ex-Senator), warrants the conclusion that
such a document was not mentioned at the informal Cabinet consultation he

In any view, the letter furnishes no support to Holt's contention. The
writer expressly negatives the presence of the record and the paper, and
he does not affirm that such a petition was alluded to, in terms, in the
discussion in the presence of the President; which he surely would have
done, in aid of his sorely tried friend, if such had been the fact.

The Judge-Advocate fares even worse at the hands of the
Ex-Attorney-General. Here is a man who knew, if any other member of the
Cabinet except Stanton knew, whether the paper in question ever came up
for discussion before the President in his Cabinet. He goes so far as to
say that, after the findings and before the execution, he saw the paper
attached to the record "in the President's office;" a statement which
reminds us of another of the same elusive and evasive character, (that the
paper was "_before the President_"), and, like that, affirms nothing one
way or the other as to the consciousness of the President of its presence.

And then he proceeds as follows:

"I do not feel at liberty to speak of what was said at Cabinet meetings.
In this I know I differ from other gentlemen" (presumably an allusion to
the Seward and Stanton of Bingham's letter), "but feel constrained to
follow my own sense of propriety."

His friend's necessity would have been met by something less than a
repetition of what was _said_ at Cabinet meetings. He had only to tell
whether he saw a certain paper (not in the President's office), but at a
meeting of the President and his advisers, or knew of the recognition
there of its mere existence;--a revelation which would not have violated
the most punctilious sense of official propriety; and he feels constrained
to withhold the least ray of light upon so simple a question.

The witness "declines to answer."

Ten years after the present controversy, Judge Holt, feeling acutely this
weak point in his vindication, again appeals to Speed, in the most moving
tones, to break his unaccountable silence and rescue his friend's gray
head from "the atrocious accusation," "known to him to be false in its
every intendment," with which that perfidious monster, dead now eight
years, and, (as Holt significantly quotes), "gone to his own place,"
sought "to blacken the reputation of a subordinate officer holding a
confidential interview with him."

And, strange to say, Speed first neglects even to reply to Holt's repeated
communications for six months, and then just opens his lips to whisper, "I
cannot say more than I have said." He had offered in private (if we may
credit Holt) to write a letter to his aggrieved friend, giving him the
desired information, "but not to be used until after Holt's death;" a
proposition quite naturally discouraged by Holt, who made this sensible
reply: "that a letter thus strangely withheld from the public would not,
when it appeared, be credited."

But, when repeatedly implored to spread "the desired information" before
the public, he again declines to answer. James Speed would not tell the
truth, when by telling the truth he might relieve his old friend in "the
closing hours of his life" from a most damnable calumny, because,
forsooth, "of his sense of propriety." He could not violate the secrecy of
a Cabinet meeting, held nearly twenty years before; a secrecy which he had
good reason to believe had already been broken, in the professed interest
of truth, by three of his own colleagues, and, in the alleged interest of
a most foul falsehood, by the President himself.

Before the Judge finally gives up his old associate as hopeless, he
craftily points out to him a way by which the ex-Cabinet officer may give
his testimony without violating the most punctilious sense of propriety,
not only, but without departing one iota from the literal truth. Since his
first letter, General Holt informs him: "I have learned that although you
gained the information while a member of the Cabinet, it was not strictly
in your capacity as such, but that at the moment I laid before the
President the record of the trial, with the recommendation for clemency
on behalf of Mrs. Surratt, you chanced to be so situated as to be assured
by the evidence of your own senses that such petition of recommendation
was by me presented to the President, and was the subject of conversation
between him and myself." Does this mean that Speed was an unseen spectator
of the confidential interview, and witnessed the writing of the
death-warrant? At all events, for some reason, the ex-Attorney-General was
afraid to accept this opportunity to equivocate.

Holt may well wonder at Speed's obstinate silence. He exclaims: "It is a
mystery to me." It will be a mystery to every one, provided the black
charge was false. But, on the hypothesis that the charge was true, that
the paper was suppressed, either actually or virtually, there is no

Had Speed known that the paper was, not only "_before_" the President, but
considered by him, either in or out of the Cabinet, it is beyond the limit
of human credulity to believe, for a moment, that, with all possible
motives to lead him to succor his friend, and with none to lead him to
shield the character of his dead political foe, he would not have uttered
the one decisive word in the controversy. And he comes as near doing so as
he dares, evidently. He shows, in 1873, a yearning to help his old
friend--a yearning so strong that we may be sure it was not the frivolous
pretext of "official propriety" which constrained him, then, much less in

If he, too, as Holt said of Stanton, feared the resentment of the
dethroned Johnson in life, he certainly could not have feared the
resentment of Johnson's ghost after death.

He must be numbered among those who,

  "With arms encumbered thus, or this head-shake,
  Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
  As, _'Well, well, we know;' or 'We could, an' if we would;' or
      'If we list to speak;' or 'There be, an' if they might;'_"

"ambiguously give out" to know what they are sworn "never to speak of." If
there was any oath-guarding "fellow in the cellarage," rest assured it was
not the pale wraith of the hood-winked Johnson, but the blood-boltered
spectre of his once wide-ruling Minister of War.

       *       *       *       *       *

Amid such a dearth of direct explicit testimony of members of the Cabinet
about a disputed Cabinet incident, it is curious and interesting to watch
the assiduous ex-Judge-Advocate, with the most ingenious and industrious
sophistry, attempt to extract corroboration from the statements of the two
ex-Cabinet officers, whom he has induced to speak, where in truth no
corroboration can be found.

After all his efforts, he is forced at last to fall back upon the single
testimony of the one man without whose encouraging information he frankly
informs us he would not have dared to come before the people, and upon
whom he brings himself to believe he might safely rest his defense. That
man is John A. Bingham, now, as once before, Special Assistant
Judge-Advocate to Joseph Holt.

During the eight years which had elapsed since their crowning achievement
of hanging a woman for the murder of Abraham Lincoln, these two men had
lived, for a considerable portion of the time, in the same city. They were
together in the contest over reconstruction and impeachment, standing in
the front rank of the enemies of Johnson. They were both at the Capital
during the trial of John H. Surratt, when the ghastly reminiscences of the
trial of the mother along with seven chained men must have drawn the two
military prosecutors into a most sympathetic union.

And yet when, in February, 1873, Joseph Holt sits down in Washington to
write his letter of inquiry to John A. Bingham, then in the same city, he
would have us believe that he had never before poured into the bosom of
his old colleague his own sufferings over the frightful calumny so long
poisoning the very air he breathed, never before told him his
embarrassment over the difficulty to elicit evidence from Cabinet
officials, never before besought his friend for his own powerful testimony
on the side of his persecuted fellow-official.

He writes to his former assistant, as though the information were now
communicated for the first time, that the President and he were alone
when the record was presented and the death-warrant signed; that he had
always been satisfied the petition was considered in a Cabinet meeting,
but has hitherto been unable to obtain any evidence upon that point; and
then, in an artless, ingenuous manner, as if putting the question for the
first time, asks his correspondent whether or not he had had a
conversation with William H. Seward, Secretary of State under President
Johnson, in reference to the petition, and "if so, state as nearly as you
may be able to do all he said on the subject;" with a like request as to
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

With a diviner's skill he selects the two members of the Cabinet who are
then dead; and, not to disappoint him, Bingham, in a letter from
Washington six days later, informs him that he has struck the two-fold
mark. With the same apparent artlessness which characterizes the letter of
inquiry, this useful advocate now, as if for the first time, discloses to
his long-tried colleague, that he did indeed have a conversation with each
of the eminent men he had hit upon, who are now, alas! dead.

Judge Bingham is a most willing witness. He relates with great
circumstantiality that "after the Military Commission had tried and
sentenced the parties" he "prepared the form of the petition to the
President." He then gives the form thus prepared as he now recollects it
(in which there are two significant mistakes); he states that he wrote it
with his own hands, that General Ekin copied it, and the five signed the
copy; as if all this particularity had any relevance to the question at
issue, as if the point in dispute was the existence of the paper, and not
its suppression at a critical moment after it was written. He affects to
believe it necessary to state to his old colleague, that he "deemed it his
duty to call the attention of Secretary Stanton to the petition, and did
call his attention to it before the final action of the President;"--as if
it were among the possibilities, that the head of the War Department could
in any case have overlooked so important a paper, much less that the
imperious Chief of this very prosecution could have been kept in
ignorance, one hour, of what was done by his tools.

The Special Assistant, however, at last comes to the point:

    "After the execution, the statement to which you refer was made that
    President Johnson had not seen the petition for the commutation of the
    death sentence upon Mrs. Surratt. I afterwards called at your office,
    and, without notice to you of my purpose, asked for the record in the
    case of the assassins. It was opened and shown me, and there was then
    attached to it the petition, copied and signed as hereinbefore

Oh, what an artless pair of correspondents! The former Special Assistant
tells the former Judge-Advocate how he played the detective on him to his
friend's justification; "_without notice of my purpose_"!

    "Soon thereafter I called upon Secretaries Stanton and Seward, and
    asked if this petition had been presented to the President before the
    death-sentence was by him approved, and was answered by each of those
    gentlemen that the petition was presented to the President, and was
    duly considered by him and his advisers, before the death-sentence
    upon Mrs. Surratt was approved, and that the President and the Cabinet
    upon such consideration were a unit in denying the prayer of the
    petition; Mr. Stanton and Mr. Seward stating that they were present."

In weighing the credibility of this statement, so conclusive if true, two
considerations should be borne in mind.

1. That we have here, not the testimony of either Seward or Stanton, but
the testimony of a man who, if the paper was in fact suppressed, must have
been a participant in the foul deed. For no one will believe, for a
moment, that Joseph Holt would have dared to perpetrate, if he could, or
could have perpetrated, if he dared, so unspeakable a wickedness, without
the knowledge and coöperation of his fiery leader in the conduct of the

2. If this decisive information was in the possession of Judge Bingham at
so early a date as "soon after the execution," why had he not communicated
it to his distressed partner while Stanton and Seward lived? He had taken
pains to obtain it to meet the ugly stories that were even then
circulating against the Judge-Advocate. He knew it at the time of the
struggle at close quarters over the petition during the Surratt trial, and
he must have been cognizant of the fact, that for the lack of it, that
officer had been forced to withdraw the allegation of a full Cabinet
consideration of the petition, which he had at first prompted the counsel
of the United States boldly and publicly to make.

After the trial the reports grew louder and louder, until it was
everywhere said that Andrew Johnson habitually declared that he had never
seen the paper. Holt ran hither and thither collecting testimony from all
available quarters. Hear Holt himself: "Every time the buzz of this
slanderous rumor reached him (Bingham) during the last eight years--which
was doubtless often--his awakened memory must have reminded him that he
held in his keeping proof that this rumor was false." Why did not his
former assistant even relieve his tremendous anxiety by telling him that
he had evidence which would blow the calumny into the air? General Holt,
in a letter in reply to Bingham's, dated at Washington the next day, which
he also prints in his Vindication, says:

"It would have been fortunate indeed, could I have had this testimony in
my possession years ago."

He calls its concealment "a sad, sad mockery." Yes; and why was Judge
Bingham willing to perpetrate such a "mockery," and continue the "mockery"
until Stanton's death, and then until Seward's death, which occurred only
a few months before he at last enlightens his colleague? Can the most
credulous of men believe that, during all these years, he was guilty of
such cruelty as not even to whisper such welcome intelligence into the
ears of his sorely distressed brother officer?

And what shall we say of William H. Seward?

If that great man told Judge Bingham in 1865 what the Judge, after Seward
was dead, first says he did, why had William H. Seward kept silent so many
years, and at last died and made no sign? He must have heard the charge,
so infamous if false, and, if Judge Bingham be believed, he must have
known it to be false.

He must have heard the statement of Judge Pierrepont in open court in
1867. He must have known of the President's sending for the record and of
the explosion thereupon in the Department of War. Why did he not at that
crisis come forward with the proof of which the Judge-Advocate was so
dreadfully in need?

The Secretary of State could not have intrenched himself behind the
inviolability of proceedings of Cabinet meetings, as did the
over-scrupulous Attorney-General, because, according to Judge Bingham, he
himself had betrayed the secret long before.

And why did not Judge Bingham force him to speak, or else make public his
interview with him, while Seward was alive and could either affirm or
contradict it?

No, these two eminent lawyers, yoked together as the common mark of what
they call a "most atrocious slander," originating with a President of the
United States, bruited about everywhere both in official and private
circles, wait eight long years, and until after the death of the head of
that President's Cabinet, from whose lips one of them at least had heard
at its very inception a solemn refutation of the black lie, before they
venture to proclaim it to the world.

Mr. Bingham admits in his letter that, in 1865, "he desired to make" the
facts he had ascertained "public." Why did he not "make public" what
Seward had told him, while Seward was living?

He furnishes no answer to this question, and until he does, his testimony
on the matter is tainted with a most reasonable suspicion.

And, besides, what we know of the situation of the Secretary of State at
the time of the execution of Mrs. Surratt, of his subsequent career, and
of his lofty character as a man, is sufficient to stamp the account of
Judge Bingham as incredible.

William H. Seward, one of the most distinguished statesmen of the era of
the civil war, one of the most illustrious founders of the republican
party, and one of the most trusted advisers of Abraham Lincoln, remained
in the Cabinet of Andrew Johnson until the close of his administration. He
united in the pardon of Mudd, Spangler and Arnold. He stood by the
President fearlessly in the dark days of the impeachment, and when the
President had become the target of the daily curses of thousands of
Seward's former political friends. Had he known that the accusation
against General Holt was false, and at the same time heard the daily
reiteration of its truth from the lips of his Chief, he would not have
remained an hour in the Cabinet of such a monumental slanderer. So far
from allowing the ceremonial restraints of Cabinet rules to make him a
silent accomplice in a foul falsehood, he would have proclaimed the truth,
if necessary, even from the steps of the Capitol.

Mr. Seward, at the time of the execution of Mrs. Surratt, could have but
barely recovered from the broken jaw and broken arm from which he was
suffering, when he bore the savage assault of Payne, and from the grievous
wounds which that mad ruffian inflicted. One of his sons was still
incapacitated because of injuries from the same hand, and his wife died
June 21st, 1865. It is not at all probable that, in such dolorous
circumstances, he would be required to give close attention to a subject
entirely outside of the duties of his department, and in which his
personal feelings as a sufferer were so deeply involved. He said himself
under oath to a Congressional Committee: "Having been myself a sufferer in
that business, the subject would be a delicate one for me to pursue
without seeming to be over-zealous or demonstrative."

In spite of the eight-years-embalmed testimony of a hundred Binghams, we
would not believe that the uncomplaining victim of Payne voted to deny the
Petition of Mercy.

While no attempt is made to explain the silence of Seward during his
lifetime, or the silence of Judge Bingham himself regarding the
information he got from Seward, this willing witness does give a most
singular and perplexing explanation of his long silence regarding the
information he got from Stanton.

He says: (in the same letter) "Having ascertained the fact as stated, I
then desired to make the same public, and so expressed myself to Mr.
Stanton, who advised me not to do so, but to rely upon the final judgment
of the people."

General Holt, in a subsequent article, states that Stanton "enjoined upon
the Judge silence in reference to the communication."

We are called upon to believe that the Secretary of War, at the very first
interview with Judge Bingham, when, upon the theory of the truth of the
information, there could have been no conceivable motive for its
concealment, advised his inquiring friend to suppress a fact essential to
the refutation of a despicable slander, blotting the fair name of a
brother officer. Not only this; but that the Secretary continued the
injunction of silence during all the years the terrible charge was being
bandied about on the lips of men to the daily torment of the poor man so
cruelly assailed. As General Holt says: "It was a deliberate and merciless
sacrifice of me, so far as he could accomplish it."

And he "enforced" the "silence" up to the day of his death.

But we ask what reason had the "Great War Minister" "to perpetrate so
pitiless an outrage?" Why, in the days of the trial of John H. Surratt,
why, in the days of his stern enmity towards the President, when his
removal furnished the main ground of impeachment, did he not once speak
out for his slandered servant, or even unlock the sealed lips of the
obedient Bingham and suffer him to tell the truth?

General Holt, in 1883, on affirming in the text of his article that
"Messrs. Seward and Stanton declared the truth to Judge Bingham," adds the
following explanatory note:

"This praise was certainly due to Mr. Seward, but not, in strictness, to
Mr. Stanton, since on making the communication to Judge Bingham, he
endeavored and successfully, to prevent him from giving it publicity.

"The fear of Andrew Johnson's resentment, added to a determination on his
part to leave my reputation--then under fire from his silence--to its
fate, sufficiently explain his otherwise inexplicable conduct."

But does it? Is this in truth a sufficient explanation?

Stanton, the stern War Minister, fear the resentment of Andrew Johnson!
When was he taken with it? When he bearded the President in his Cabinet?
When he defied him in the War Department, and scattered his missive of
removal to the winds? Or did he wait to begin to fear him until the
President retired to private life, just escaping conviction by
impeachment, and shorn of all popularity North or South? The preposterous
nature of the cause assigned casts suspicion upon the assignor himself.
As to the second cause, we are at a loss to conceive why Mr. Stanton
should harbor such motiveless malignity against the reputation of his
former colleague, then his pliant subordinate, and always his friend. We
need, in this regard, an explanation of the explanation. If it be true, it
settles the character of Stanton for all time.

But, it appears, in the words of General Holt, that "while he (Stanton)
lived, this enforced silence was scrupulously obeyed." Again we ask why?

Why should Bingham have obeyed the "advice," even if given by Stanton so
long before? Why should the associate of Holt, in the prosecution and
execution of Mrs. Surratt, have ministered to the malignity of Stanton,
scrupulously obeyed his base injunction, and never even told his beloved
fellow-laborer on the field of courts-martial, that he possessed such
secret sacred testimonials in his favor?

The General gives us no explanation of this "inexplicable conduct."

Surely, the undaunted Bingham--who, as manager on the impeachment trial,
so clawed the character of the arraigned President, could have had no
"fear of the resentment of Andrew Johnson." And, unless the masterful
Stanton held some secret back to feather his "advice," or lend weight to
his injunction of silence, we see no reason why the fear of Stanton should
have closed the lips of the voluble Special Judge-Advocate. He surely
could not have joined in the fine irony of the Secretary, that it would
be better for their mutual friend, although "under fire," "to rely on the
judgment of the people."

But another, and a final, explanation is necessary. The Great War Minister
died in December, 1869. Holt more than hints that "Providence" shortened
his life so that he should no longer "perpetrate so pitiless an outrage"
as keeping Bingham's mouth shut.

Why, then, do we hear nothing from Judge Bingham for three years more? In
the words of Holt, "after the Secretary had, amid the world's funeral
pomp, gone down into his sepulchre, the truth came up out of the grave to
which he had consigned it," and was "resurrected and openly announced by
Judge Bingham." But why was the resurrection delayed until February, 1873?
He does not tell us. Why should "the buzz of this slanderous rumor" (to
use Holt's own words), "sadly recall to him that, though holding that
proof, he was not yet privileged to divulge it?" There is no answer to
this; none. The "scrupulosity" of Bingham did not end with the
providential taking off of Stanton, but prolonged its reverential
obedience to the advice of the dead, until his great colleague also was
summoned from the scene.

Such resurrected truth, like the suggested letter of Speed to be used only
after poor Holt's death, seems doubly obnoxious to the latter's own
common sense remark: "thus strangely withheld from the public, it would
not, when it appeared, be credited."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the whole, it is exceedingly doubtful whether Judge Bingham's testimony
does not do more harm than good to General Holt's case. It is the
testimony of an accomplice, if the charge it is meant to refute is true.
Its subject-matter is hearsay, withheld, so long as the direct evidence
was attainable, for no good reason, or for a reason assigned which will
not stand a moment's examination.

This interchange of letters between two associates in infamy, if infamy
there were, the one applying for, and the other disclosing ostensibly for
the first time, at so late a day, decisive information, which, in the
ordinary course of things, the one must have asked for or the other
revealed, and both talked over from the beginning, wears upon the face all
the features of a collusive correspondence.

No one acquainted with the facts can be induced to credit what both these
men state upon the threshold of their correspondence, and upon the truth
of which their credibility is staked for all time, that, if two such
conversations with Judge Bingham actually took place, this co-victim of a
common charge would ever have withheld all knowledge of such important
testimony from his brother in affliction for eight years, and until the
lips of his two eminent interlocutors, whose confirmation would have at
once and for ever crushed the calumny, were closed in death.

And, with this incontrovertible assertion, we dismiss John A. Bingham to
keep company with Richard Montgomery and Sanford Conover, two witnesses
who were once the subjects of his own fervid eulogy.

Another aspect of the case must for a moment detain us.

Under the admitted fact that the President approved the death-sentence on
Wednesday, July 5th, it is by no means clear how we are to find room for
this supposed Cabinet meeting.

The natural construction of Bingham's letter would lead us to believe that
the Cabinet meeting, which the two Secretaries are said to have described,
was a regular consultation between "the President and his advisers," held
_before_ the "confidential interview" at which the President "approved the
death-sentence;" and that the entire Cabinet voted on the question raised
by the petition, because it was "a unit in denying the prayer." This is
but another version of the "full Cabinet" of Judge Pierrepont's first
statement, and forcibly suggests that the two have an identical origin--at
first withdrawn under compulsion while Seward lived, at last brought
forward again after his death.

And every one, on such construction, would expect to hear the voices of
McCulloch, Welles and Dennison, still living in 1873, and accessible to
the ex-Judge-Advocate.

He states in his "Refutation," that he "had satisfactory reasons for
believing that they were not there;" but he could not have gathered those
reasons from Judge Bingham or his letter, which really is only consistent
with the presence of some, if not all, of the three; and it is naturally
to be inferred he got them from the ex-members themselves in letters
repudiating all knowledge of the petition;--letters he takes care not to

Again: the Cabinet meeting described in Judge Bingham's letter cannot be
made to square with the meeting described in the letter of Judge Harlan.
The former was a regular Cabinet meeting, the latter was an informal
discussion by a few members of the Cabinet. At the one, the petition was
"duly considered," at the other, neither record nor petition was present.
At the one, "a formal vote" was taken upon the "question as to Mrs.
Surratt's case;" at the latter, her case "was never submitted to a formal

But--not to dwell further on dispensable points--it is enough to say that
_any_ Cabinet meeting whatever, for the consideration of the petition,
held _before_ the President's approval of the death-sentence, is, on the
admitted facts of the case, an impossibility.

Indeed Holt himself, when driven to the question, does not claim that
there was. The record was in the custody of the Judge-Advocate from the
30th of June until that officer carried it to the President on the 5th of
July, and during that interval the President was sick-a-bed. It was
General Holt, as he himself states, who first "drew his attention to the
recommendation," and "the President then and there read it in my (his)
presence." And this was at the confidential interview on Wednesday, July
5th. There could have been no meeting of the President and his Cabinet at
which the record and petition were present and discussed, "before the
approval of the death-sentence;" which confessedly was done at the
confidential interview.

When this impossibility was pointed out by Andrew Johnson, General Holt,
in his "refutation," with great show of indignation, denounces such an
argument as "intensely disingenuous." While conceding at once that from
the adjournment of the Commission to the 5th of July, the President "had
been sick in bed, and had, of course, had no opportunity of conferring
with any members of his Cabinet;" he proceeds to show what his idea of
intense ingenuousness is, by claiming that what "Messrs. Seward and
Stanton" (of Bingham's letter) "clearly meant was, that before the
President had _finally_ and _definitely_ approved the sentences in
question," the recommendation to mercy "had been considered by him and his
advisers in Cabinet meeting;" and therefore such a meeting might have been
held _after_ the signature to the death-warrant, say on Wednesday
afternoon (5th), or on Thursday, the 6th. And he, now, once again, as in
the days of the Surratt trial, abandons all idea of a "full" or regular
Cabinet meeting, and endeavors, with the most transparent sophistry, to
identify the informal discussion of Judge Harlan's letter with the Cabinet
Council of Judge Bingham. But alas! for the ingenuous General!
Circumstances are too strong for him. For there is no more room for a
Cabinet meeting, formal or informal, to do what Judge Bingham's informants
are said to relate--_i. e._ consider, and then vote upon the
petition--_after_ the confidential interview than _before_.

It is agreed on all hands that the President approved of the
death-sentence on Wednesday, at the confidential interview between Holt
and himself, and, at that very time, and by the same warrant, appointed
Friday the 7th, for the executions. The whole matter was begun and ended
in an hour.

There was neither opportunity, nor, if there had been, use, to hold a
Cabinet consultation upon the question of commutation after that.

The President had reviewed the record, and, without consultation with any
human being but Holt, put his name to the death-warrant. Why consult his
confidential advisers after he had decided the whole matter? Holt himself
says that, at this private interview, it was not he, but Andrew Johnson,
who had fully made up his mind that Mrs. Surratt must be put to death;
that the President needed no urging or advice on that subject; that he
inveighed against the women of the South with a ferocity which reminds us
of the loyal Bingham himself. Holt says that the President himself,
without a suggestion from him, was "prompt and decided" "as to _when_ the
execution should take place," "and in the same spirit too, in which he
subsequently suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus, he fixed the Friday
following." Why call in his "advisers" after he had, with the approval of
his judgment and his conscience, put his hand to the work of blood!
Besides, if he needed such a supererogatory endorsement of his "advisers,"
there was no time to get it.

The record with the death-warrant went direct to the Adjutant-General's
office that very Wednesday. Holt cannot remember whether he took it or
not, nor can the Adjutant-General remember when or how he received it. But
this is of no consequence. The order for the execution was drawn on that
day, the necessary copies made that day; it was promulgated on the morning
of Thursday the 6th, and on that day at _noon_, the warrant for her death,
within twenty-four hours, was read to the fainting woman in her cell. All
day long, on the 6th, the White House was besieged by her friends, her
priests and her daughter, to obtain a reprieve. The guardians of the
President had no time to hold Cabinet consultations over foregone dooms of
death. They were too busy intercepting verbal prayers for mercy, holding
shut the doors of the President's private room, sending away all
petitioners, for a few more hours' life, to the merciful Judge-Advocate,
making sure that there should be four pine coffins and four newly dug
graves, and that the Habeas Corpus should not leave one empty. Hold a
Cabinet meeting after the President had signed the bloody warrant, and
Stanton had once clutched it! Reopen the perilous question to hear Welles
and Dennison, and McCulloch and Seward, to say nothing of Harlan and Speed
And Stanton, discuss a petition addressed to the President who had already
denied it! "Five members of our court have been suborned by their feelings
to swerve from their duty. We run no more risks of soft-hearted gallantry
this time amid the members of the Cabinet. Let the funeral games begin."

The ex-Judge-Advocate insists that the signature to the death-warrant was
a matter of very little moment. The President could withdraw it at any
time. But would he have us believe that, after the President had
dispatched such a fatal missive to the officer whose sole duty, with
regard to it, consisted in the promulgation of an order for its execution
within twenty-four hours, such action was simply provisional and,
according to usage, still subject to rescission by a Cabinet vote?

Desperate, indeed, must be the necessities of a defence, which drive the
defendant on the forlorn hope of identifying a Cabinet meeting, voting as
a unit to deny a petition for clemency, "_before the death-warrant was
approved_," with a Cabinet discussion of the petition, _after_ the
death-warrant, fixing the execution on the next day but one, had been
signed by the President, (who is represented as urgent and eager at the
moment of his signature to exact in the shortest time the extremest
penalty); on the ground that the latter was held _before_ the theoretical
_animus revocandi_ of the Executive had become technically inoperative
with the last sigh of the condemned.

       *       *       *       *       *

It has been suggested by one of his subordinate officers that the
Secretary of War having seen the petition as soon as the record came to
his department, it is inconceivable that, at some moment between the 30th
and the 7th, the matter should not have been discussed by him with the

Of course, there can be no doubt that Stanton knew all about the
recommendation. But, (and this obvious answer seems to have altogether
escaped the attention of his friend), if the paper was in fact suppressed,
it was suppressed with Stanton's own knowledge. Indeed, his must have been
the master-hand. He it was who kept the late Vice-President up to the mark
of severity as long as the bloody humor lasted.

He was the sovereign, and Bingham and Holt but his vassals. Everybody will
give them the credit of not having dared to dream of suppression without
the electrifying nod of their imperious lord.

And, from the long silence of one, if not both, of his slaves, it would
appear, that he not only directed the suppression of the paper, but was
too proud to deny, or suffer his minions to deny, it to his dying day.



Let us turn from the case made by General Holt, which on a cursory
inspection seems so strong, but the seeming strength of which, on a closer
scrutiny, dissipates itself among such perplexing questions, and lands us
at last in the "enjoined silence" of Stanton, to the first public,
authoritative charge made by the ex-President.

It appeared, November 12th, 1873, in the same newspaper which had
published General Holt's Vindication, to which it was a reply. For it must
be remembered that it was Joseph Holt, for eight years the accused, and
not Andrew Johnson, for eight years the accuser, at the bar of rumor, who
first threw down his gage in the public arena, defying his secret
antagonist to come forth.

The gallant knight chose his own good time; and, at last, surrounded with
sponsors, both clerical and martial, with banners flying and a most
sonorous peal of trumpets, he burst into the lists, as though he would
fain hope by noise and show to over-awe his dreaded adversary into
submissive silence.

His thunders availed nothing. His glove had no sooner reached the ground
than it was taken up.

Let us hear the plain, straightforward statement of Andrew Johnson. There
are no mysteries to unravel, no explanations to explain.

    "The findings and sentences of the court were submitted on the 5th of
    July (he and I being alone), were then and there approved by the
    Executive, and taken by the Judge-Advocate-General to the War
    Department, where on the same afternoon the order to carry them into
    effect was issued. Mr. Speed, doubtless, saw the record, but it must
    have been in the Department of War, and not in the Executive office."

After thus quietly disposing of Mr. Speed's evidence, he proceeds:--

    "The record of the court was submitted to me by Judge Holt in the
    afternoon of the 5th day of July, 1865. Instead of entering the
    Executive Mansion in the usual way, he gained admission by the private
    or family entrance to the Executive office. The examination of the
    papers took place in the library, and he and I alone were present. The
    sentences of the court in the cases of Herold, Atzerodt and Payne,
    were considered in the order named, and then the sentence in the case
    of Mrs. Surratt. In acting upon her case no recommendation for a
    commutation of her punishment was mentioned or submitted to me."

He then states that the question of sex was discussed alone; Holt
insisting upon carrying out the sentence without discriminating as to sex;
that a woman unsexed was worse than a man; that too many females had
abetted traitors during the war, and that there was a necessity an example
should be made.

    "He was not only in favor of the approval of the sentence but its
    execution on the earliest practicable day.

    "Upon the termination of our consultation, Judge Holt wrote the order
    approving the sentences of the Court. I affixed my name to it, and,
    rolling up the papers, he took his leave, carrying the record with
    him, and departing as he had come through the family or private

And there we must leave him.

True, he rejoined, in December, in another very long article, contributed
to the same newspaper, in which he endeavored to break the force of
several points made in Johnson's answer, and dwelt with much insistence on
the abstention of the President from making any open charge against him,
and on his adversary's present silence with regard to General Mussey's
letter. But there is nothing new in the way of testimony, except two
sympathizing letters from Generals Ekin and Hunter, respectively; the
former of which might be construed by the uncharitable as evidence that
General Holt, at the time of the execution, was already forestalling
anticipated accusation by defending himself in private to his friends; the
latter is a tribute from the grim President of the Military Commission to
the Judge-Advocate's _tenderness_ to the prisoners before that body, of
which the printed record of the trial affords such striking illustrations.

This lengthy "Refutation," as it was entitled, upon the whole added
little, if any, strength to the "Vindication." His accuser, on his side,
resting content with his one single explicit public utterance, paid no
attention to it.

And when, at the present hour, we calmly survey the relative standing, the
position, the character and career of the two combatants, the
circumstances surrounding the momentous confidential interview, the silent
testimony of the record with the significant twist of the death-warrant,
the nature of the accusation, the mysteries enveloping the belated
defense, the probable motives actuating each, the thirst for blood which
for a time maddened the leading spirits of the War Department, the
passivity of Johnson for the few weeks after his sudden and sombre
inauguration, and for the same period the wild and reckless predominance
of Stanton;--what valid reason exists why we should discredit, or even
suspect for a moment, the veracity of the ex-President? Andrew Johnson
looms up in history a very different figure from the one discerned by his
enemies, both North and South, amid the passions of his epoch. He was no
inebriate, as he was stigmatized because of the unfortunate incident at
his inauguration as Vice-President. He was no weak, frightened tool, as he
appeared to be at the bloody crisis of his accession to the Presidency. He
was no apostate from his section, as he was cursed by the South for being
at the breaking out of the war. He was no traitor to the North, as he was
denounced by the impeachers for the mere endeavor to carry out the
reconstruction policy of his lamented predecessor. He was not the
garrulous fool, he was called in ridicule when he "swung around the
circle." He is now recognized, when his career is reviewed as a whole, as
a man temperate in his habits, firm, self-willed and honest; as a
statesman, intelligent though uncultured, sometimes profound and always
sincere; and as a union-loving, non-sectional, earnest patriot. His
impeachment is looked back upon by the whole country with shame. His
impeachers are already, themselves, both impeached and convicted at the
bar of history.

In sober truth, so unique and perfect a triumph never capped and completed
the career of Roman warrior or modern ruler of men, as when, but little
more than a year after his reply to General Holt, the ex-President--once
again the chosen representative of that State whose rebellious people he
had coerced with an iron hand as military governor during the Civil
War--took his seat in that body, before which he had been arraigned on the
impeachment of the House of Representatives and had escaped conviction by
but a single vote.

With the words of Holt's denunciation still fresh in their remembrance,
the citizens of Washington loaded the desk of the retributive Senator with
flowers; and, when he advanced, amidst so many colleagues who had
condemned him as judges, to take the oath of office, and again when, a few
days later, his voice, which had before been heard pleading for the
imperiled Union, was from the same place once more heard pleading for the
imperiled Constitution, the crowded galleries and corridors gave him a
conquering hero's welcome.

When in the following summer he died, his body was followed to its grave
in the mountains by what it is hardly an exaggeration to call the whole
people of his State. When Congress reassembled, the Senate and the House
clothed themselves with crape. One of his former judges, who had voted him
guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors (Morton, of Indiana), thus spoke of
him in the Senate:

"In every position in life he showed himself to be a man of ability and
courage, and I believe it proper to say of Andrew Johnson that his honesty
has never been suspected; that the smell of corruption was never upon his

The same Senator related that when Johnson, as the newly appointed
Military Governor, arrived at Nashville "he was threatened with
assassination on the streets and in the public assemblies, but he went on
the streets; he defied those dangers; he went into public assemblies, and
on one occasion went into a public meeting, drew his pistol, laid it on
the desk before him, and said: 'I have been told that I should be
assassinated if I came here. If that is to be done then it is the first
business in order, and let that be attended to.' No attempt having been
made he said: 'I conclude the danger has passed by;' and then proceeded to
make his speech."

Again the Senator said: "After I had voted for his impeachment, and met
him accidentally, he wore the same kindly smile as before, and offered me
his hand. I thought that showed nobility of soul. There were not many men
who could have done that."

The man, of whom two such incidents could be truthfully related, could
never have invented so foul a charge against an innocent subordinate.

A Senator from a neighboring State, (McCreery), on the same mournful
occasion said of him:

    "When he went to Greeneville he was a stranger, and a tailor's "kit,"
    his thimbles and his needles, were probably the sum-total of his
    earthly possessions; at his death, the hills and the valleys and the
    mountains and the rivers, sent forth their thousands to testify to the
    general grief at the irreparable loss.

    "I honor him for that manly courage which sustained him on every
    occasion, and which never quailed in presence of opposition, no matter
    how imposing. I honor him for that independence of soul which had no
    scorn for the lowly, and no cringing adulation for the exalted. I
    honor him for that sterling integrity which was beyond the reach of
    temptation, and which, at the close of his public service, left no
    blot, no stain upon his escutcheon. I honor him for that magnanimity
    which after the war cloud had passed, and the elements had settled,
    would have brought every citizen under the radiant arch of the bow of
    peace and pardon."

Another Senator (Paddock, of Nebraska) gave utterance to the following
unchallenged statement:

    "I believe, sir, notwithstanding the fact that a painful chapter
    relating to the official acts of Andrew Johnson was made in this very
    chamber, that no Senator here present will refuse to-day to join me
    in the declaration that he was essentially an honest man; aye, sir, a
    patriot in the fullest sense of the term."

Yet another (Bogy, of Missouri), said:

    "His last election to a seat on this floor as Senator was the work of
    his own hands, brought about by his own indomitable will and pluck,
    the reward of a long and terrible contest, continuing for seven years,
    unsuccessful for a time, and appearing to all the world besides
    himself as utterly hopeless; nevertheless, finally he was triumphant.
    From what I have learned from those who are familiar with this, his
    last contest, he exhibited more openly his true and peculiar nature,
    than at any other period of his life--which was to fight with all his
    might and all his ability, asking no quarter and granting none; and
    although like bloody Richard now and then unhorsed, still to fight and
    never surrender, until victory perched upon his banner."

Senator Bayard said: "Friend or foe alike must admit his steady, unshaken
love of country; his constant industry; his simple integrity and honesty;
his courage of conviction, that never faltered."

       *       *       *       *       *

Truly, the solemn word of a man, of whom such things can be said, is no
light thing,--to be thrust aside by windy abuse or vociferous denial.

Now, what conceivable motive had such a man, seated in the chair of the
Chief Magistracy of this republic, surrounded by Cabinet officers who had
been the advisers of his predecessor, to invent, in the first place, so
horrible a story as that a friendly subordinate officer had deliberately,
in a case of life and death, suppressed so vital a document? For it is
contradictory of historical fact, that he never openly made the charge
until the year 1873.

This may be true of the period from about the time of the execution up to
the disclosures of the John H. Surratt trial in 1867. But our review of
the incidents of that trial, which General Holt in his refutation seemed
to have totally forgotten, proves, beyond the possibility of controversy,
that the President then first thought himself driven to inspect the record
to ascertain the existence of such a paper, and then first, after the
discovery that there was in fact a recommendation, at once, and at all
times afterwards, openly asserted that he had not seen it or read it.
Every one around him knew that he so said. Stanton, his great enemy,
Seward, his great friend, knew it. Bingham, at the very beginning when
Stanton forbade him to refute it; Bingham, when Butler pierced his shield
in the House of Representatives, and Bingham, when at the bar of the
Senate as manager of the impeachment he belabored his old-time
Commander-in-Chief, knew it; Holt, when he delivered his contradiction
through Judge Pierrepont to the Surratt jury, and when he felt the shadows
darkening over his head because of the "inexplicable conduct" of the great
War Minister in "perpetuating the pitiless outrage," knew it, and
recognized the President of the United States as the responsible author of
the tremendous accusation.

If Holt is to be credited, the President must have known that four at
least of his confidential advisers stood ready to shatter the baseless
calumny. What conceivable motive, we ask again, to invent such a story--so
easy of refutation, so ruinous to himself, if refuted?

The necessity to make some reply to this pressing question seems to have
driven both General Holt himself and his defenders into the maintenance of
the most absurd, antagonistic and untenable positions.

Holt's theory on this subject in his "Refutation" is even ingenious in its
absurdity. He would have us believe that when Johnson originally
fabricated the calumny, "he had not yet broken with the Republican party,
and was, doubtless, in his heart at least, a candidate for reëlection," of
course by that party. If this is true, then the "fabrication" was made
before the fall of 1865, for by that time the President was in full swing
of opposition to the men who had elected him Vice-President. During this
brief transitory period, according to Holt, Johnson discovered that the
hostility of the Catholics (especially, as may be inferred, those of the
Republican party), on account of his signature to the death-warrant of
Mrs. Surratt, would blast this otherwise felicitous prospect. Accordingly,
to abate this uncomfortable hostility, this Republican candidate concocted
the vile slander and set it secretly and anonymously circulating among his
friends and followers;--even his greed for reëlection being not strong
enough to give full effect to his cowardly policy by openly clearing his
own skirts. Could the fatuity of folly farther go? The dream of Andrew
Johnson as a Republican candidate for President had ceased to be possible
even before the execution of Mrs. Surratt. The Catholics who could be
conciliated by any such story might be numbered on Johnson's fingers. And
the undisguised signature to the death-warrant could be obliterated by no
plea of abatement which the petitioner dared not avow.

On the other hand, the other suggestion put forward, if not by Holt
himself; by several of his defenders, viz.: that the President propagated
the lie "to curry favor with the South in the hope to be elected to the
Presidency," has the one merit of being in direct antagonism to the
foregoing theory, but nevertheless is yet more flimsy and preposterous. At
the time he invented the story, if invention it was, (as Holt appears to
have perceived), the road to the Presidency was to curry favor with the
North and not with the down-trodden South. And after Johnson had escaped
conviction and removal by but one vote, and had retired from office
execrated by the North and distrusted even yet by the South, the chance of
the Presidency for such a character as he was popularly considered
then--especially by truckling to the discredited South--could only look
fair in the imagination of a lunatic.

No Southern man has seriously thought of being, or has been seriously
thought of as, a candidate for President of either political party since
the termination of the war, let alone the one Southerner reputed to have
been false alternately to both parties and both sections.

Besides, Andrew Johnson never apologized for his appointment of the
Military Commission, for his approval of its judgment, or for his
signature to the death-warrant. He pardoned Dr. Mudd on the very eve of
the Impeachment Trial. And he pardoned the two remaining prisoners just
before he went out of office. And he may, therefore, be held to have thus
signified his reawakened reverence for constitutional rights as expounded
in the Milligan decision.

But in no other way did he ever acknowledge that in taking the life of
Mary E. Surratt he had done wrong. On the contrary, he defended his action
in his answer of 1873, and he justified his denial of the habeas corpus,
which the ex-Judge-Advocate had the exquisite affrontery to cast up
against him. That a President in his situation could cherish
aspirations--or hope--of reëlection, based on such a phantom foundation as
the whining plea that he would have commuted the unlawful sentence of a
woman, hung by his command, to imprisonment for life, had he been
permitted to see the petition of five of her judges;--such an imputation
can only be made by men mad enough to believe him to have been the
accomplice of Booth and Atzerodt.

Finally, let us sternly put the question:--What right has Holt to ask us,
on the word of himself and his associates, to reject the testimony of
Andrew Johnson, who at the best was their accomplice or their tool? He,
and his associates, demanded the life of Atzerodt for barely imagining the
death of so precious a Vice-President. He, and his associates, hounded the
woman to the scaffold, welcoming with delight the stories of spies,
informers, personal enemies, false friends, against her, and meeting with
contumely and violence the least scrap of testimony in her favor. He
suppressed the "Diary." Why may he not have been bad enough to suppress
the recommendation? Two of the same band of woman-stranglers kept back
from the President the petition for mercy, which wailed out from the lips
of the stricken daughter. Why should he not have kept back the timorous
suggestion of five officers, who were so soft-hearted as to "discriminate"
as to sex? His fate will be--and therein equal and exact justice will be
done him--to go down through the ages, stealing away, in the dusk of the
evening, from the private entrance of the White House, bearing the fatal
missive--the last feeble hope of the trembling widow crushed in his
furtive hand.



That the petition for commutation was a device of the Triumvirate of
prosecutors to secure the coveted death-sentence, employed in reliance
upon the temporary ascendency of the chief of the three over the
beleaguered President, and upon the momentary pliability, heedlessness,
or, it may be, semi-stupefaction of the successor of the murdered Lincoln,
to smother the offensive prayer:--such an hypothesis alone seems adequate
in any degree to reconcile the apparent contradictions, clear up the
perplexities and solve the mysteries, which hang around this dark affair.

It furnishes the only rational answer to the else insoluble question, how
it happened that a court, a majority of whose members had the inclination
and the power to lower the punishment of the solitary woman before them to
life-long imprisonment, as the court did with the three men who were tried
with her and convicted of the same crime, did nevertheless, by at least a
two-thirds vote, condemn her to die by the rope.

It lights up the else inscrutable prohibition by Stanton of a public
exculpation of his subordinate officer, softened by the sardonic
admonition "to rely" for justification "on the final judgment of the
people." A source of glorification, rather, it should be, that no maudlin
pity for a woman had been suffered to intercept the death-stroke of a
righteous vengeance.

It accounts for the "scrupulous obedience" of Bingham, not only until
Stanton's death, but three years after, until Seward, too, had gone.
Stanton knew the petition had been suppressed or made invisible; Seward,
that the petition never had been before the Cabinet.

It throws a glimmer, faint it is true, on the shameful attitude of Speed,
eight years after the death of Johnson--still shutting his ears to the
repeated appeals of his agonized friend, and still falling back on his
propriety. According to Judge Harlan, the whole record had been examined
by the Attorney-General, as well as the Secretary of War. Speed, too,
under the spell of Stanton, may have fingered the obnoxious paper, which
might nip the bloody consummate flower of his "_common law of war_."

It furnishes the only plausible reason why such an historic document did
not appear in the published official record of the proceedings of the
Military Commission, in November, 1865, or in the reports of the
Judge-Advocate, first, to the President, and, second, to the Congress.

It illumines with a baleful light the atmosphere of sinister secrecy, in
which this adjunct to the record, for no lawful reason, has been
enshrouded; the mysterious incidents at the Surratt trial, such as the
tardy and reluctant production, the faltering and imperfect exhibition,
and the hasty withdrawal of the "roll of papers;" the two statements of
Mr. Pierrepont; the shrinking of the "full Cabinet meeting" into a
"confidential interview," until after Seward's death; and the singularly
equivocal language that the petition was "_before the President_" when he
signed the warrant.

And, finally, when it is considered that the suppression of the paper was
not the overt act of any one man, but the result of a strictly formal
presentation of the record on the part of the Judge-Advocate, aided, it
may be, by a timely sleight-of-hand in writing the order of approval, and
of a blind carelessness on the part of the President in the examination of
the papers; this hypothesis goes far to explain the reluctance of General
Holt to rest his defense on his own evidence of the confidential
interview, his eager grasping after Cabinet corroboration, and the
abstention of both Judge-Advocate and President from taking official
action upon the charge, the one for vindication, the other for punishment.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so the history of this murder of a woman by the forms of military rule
slowly unrolls itself, to disclose, as its appropriate finis, the writer
of the death-warrant struggling in the meshes of his own fraud.

The draughtsman of the unaddressed petition for commutation, after waiting
eight years for death to clear the way, comes to the help of his old
colleague, only to be caught in the same net.

The entangled twain call up the sullen shade of their departed master, and
force him to father the trick he fain would have scorned.

These three are the men who, when the summary methods of martial law would
else have failed to crush out entirely the life of their victim, contrived
to attain their bloody end by cool and deliberate chicanery.

The other actors on the scene may plead the madness of the time. For these
three no such plea is open. They superadded to the common madness of the
time the particular malice of the felon. Upon their three heads should
descend the full weight of criminal turpitude involved in this most
unnatural execution.

They sat upon the thrones of power. They dragged a woman from her humble
roof and thrust her into a dungeon. They chose nine soldiers to try her
for the murder of their Commander-in-Chief. They chained her to the bar
along with seven men. They baited her for weeks with their Montgomerys and
Conovers, their Weichmans and Lloyds, the spawn of their bureau, dragooned
by terror or suborned by hope. They shouted into the ears of the court
appeal on appeal for her head. And, when at last five of their chosen sons
sickened at the task, and shrank from shedding a woman's blood, they
procured the death-sentence by a trick. They forged the death-warrant by
another. They turned thimble-riggers under the very shadow of the gallows.
They cheated their own court. They cheated their own President. They
cheated the very executioner. They sneaked a woman into the arms of death
by sleight-of-hand. They played their confidence game with the King of
Terrors. They managed to hide the cheat from the country until they
quarreled with their new Commander-in-Chief. Then ensued an interval of
ambiguous mutterings, dark equivocations, private accusation, private
defenses. From one side: "I never saw the paper." From the other: "It was
right before his eyes."

The twin ex-Judge-Advocates, at length, brace each other up to the
sticking-point and venture on an appeal to the public. The ex-President,
thus driven at bay, fulminates the secret infamy in all its foul extent to
the whole world. Thereupon, Great Nemesis finds her opportunity, and makes
these once high-placed, invulnerable woman-slayers the sport of her mighty

Every one, as if coerced by some magic power, comes at last to act as
though he were afraid of the other, and, willing or unwilling, contrives
to show how profoundly base the others are.

Stanton slinks mysteriously into the shadow of death, refusing to cut his
co-conspirator down from the gibbet where the dreaded Johnson has swung
him. Bingham, standing like an Indian with a single female scalp bleeding
from his girdle, presses his finger to his lips until Stanton and Seward
die. Speed, with the obnoxious petition pressed again and again to his
nostrils, feebly yet persistently refuses to open his mouth.

Holt pictures the dead Johnson exulting even in Hell over the silence of
his old Attorney-General; blasts the character of Stanton by ascribing his
injunction of silence to a motive the most diabolic; and, unconscious
seemingly that he does it, at the same time ruins the credit of Bingham by
extolling his "scrupulous obedience" to such an infernal command.

Johnson unwittingly proclaims the pardon of the slain woman in his anxiety
to show that he signed her death-warrant through ignorance, forced upon
him by the ineffable depravity of the men in whom he was compelled to

This controversy over the petition of clemency was the only thing needed
to round out and decorate the entire, complete and perfect iniquity of the
whole drama. It is immaterial and indifferent to history where the truth
lies between these combatants in so unsavory a strife. Each one tears off
the burning brand of shame, not to extinguish it, but to pass it on to his
colleague. If we credit Holt, it is difficult to conceive the malignity
of soul of Andrew Johnson, who could invent so foul a charge, the meanness
of spirit of Edwin M. Stanton, who, knowing its blackness, could forbid
the promulgation of the truth, the cowardly silence of John A. Bingham,
whose lips the death of the dreaded Stanton alone could unclose. If we
credit Johnson, then in all the crowded catalogue of inquisitors,
persecutors, cruel or pettifogging prosecuting officers, devil's advocates
and murderous Septembrisers, there is not one who would not spurn with
profane emphasis association with Holt or Bingham or Stanton.

As the choicest specimen in this shower of accusations and
counter-accusations, listen to the tender-hearted ex-Judge-Advocate of
1873--once the stony head of the death-dealing Bureau--rebuking Andrew
Johnson for his cold-blooded cruelty! "I would have shuddered to propose
the brief period of two days within which the sentences should be
executed, for with all the mountain of guilt weighing on the heads of
those convicted culprits I still recognized them as human beings, with
souls to be saved or lost, and could not have thought for a moment of
hurrying them into the eternal world, as cattle are driven to the
slaughter-pen, without a care for their future."

Listen again to the former expounder of the "common law of war" before the
Military Commission, as he arraigns the ex-President for his disregard of
the writ of habeas corpus: "The object of which was, and the effect of
which would have been, had it been obeyed, to delay the execution of Mrs.
Surratt at least until the questions of law raised had been decided by the
civil courts of the District; yet this writ was, by the express order of
the President, rendered inoperative. And so, under this Presidential
mandate, the execution proceeded. * * * But for his direct intervention
and defiant action on the writ, whatever might have been the final result,
it is perfectly apparent her life would not then have been taken."

Once more. Hear J. Holt, the Recorder of the Commission! "As Chief
Magistrate he was, under the Constitution," (HEAR HIM!) "the depositary of
the nation's clemency and mercy to the condemned, and a pressing
responsibility rested upon him as such _to hear the victims of the law
before he struck them down_." (The italics are his who wrote out the
death-warrant.) "Did he do this? On the contrary, * * he gave * * a
peremptory order to admit nobody seeking to make an appeal in behalf of
the prisoners, saying that he would 'see no one on this business.'

"He closed his door, his ears, and his heart against every appeal for
mercy in her behalf, and hurried this hapless woman almost unshrived to
the gallows."

What a picture is this!

The minion of Stanton, the colleague of Bingham, the tutor of Weichman,
the tutor of Lloyd, the procurer of the death-warrant, weeping over the
empty grave in the Arsenal, which, after his master's relentless watch was
over, had at length given up its dead!

Here we are forced to stop. After such an exhibition, we can linger no
longer over this miserable scramble to shirk responsibility. Its only
consequence of historic importance, after all, is the light it casts upon
the memory of the sacrificial victim. Out of the cloud of mutual
vituperation, which covers the men who, among them, somehow, compassed her
slaughter, her innocence rises clearer and clearer, like the images of
retribution from the foul fumes of the witches' cauldron.

Her vindication must be held to be final, complete and unassailable, when
John A. Bingham is anxious to acquaint the country that he drafted a
petition to save her life; when J. Holt pretends to weep for her; when
Andrew Johnson is forced, by the inexorable pressure of events, to confess
that when he signed her death-warrant he knew not what he did.

       *       *       *       *       *

As we let fall the curtain at the close of this dark and shameful tragedy,
let us endeavor to anticipate the verdict of history.

The execution of Mary E. Surratt is the foulest blot on the history of the
United States of America.

It was a violation of the most sacred provisions of that Constitution,
whose enforcement was the vaunted purpose of the War.

It was a violation of the fundamental forms and principles of criminal
jurisprudence, centuries older than the Constitution.

It was a violation of that even-handed justice, which is said to rule in
the armies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.

It was a violation of those chivalrous impulses which spring unbidden to
the manly breast in the presence of woman.

It was a violation of the benign precepts of Jesus, which enjoin
tenderness to the fatherless and the widow.

It was a violation of the magnanimity of the brave soldier, which scorns
to wound the weak, the fallen and the helpless.

It was a violation of even the common instincts of fairness, which
subsist, as a matter of course, between man and man.

It was unconstitutional. It was illegal. It was unjust. It was inhumane.
It was unholy. It was pusillanimous. It was mean. And it was each and all
of these in the highest or lowest degree. It resembles the acts of
savages, and not the deeds of civilized men.

The annals of modern times will be searched in vain to furnish its
parallel. Execrations rise to our lips, as we read, in the pages of
Macaulay, of the hanging of Alice Lisle, and the burning of Elizabeth
Gaunt. But Alice Lisle and Elizabeth Gaunt were indicted by grand juries,
tried by petit juries, found guilty, and sentenced, in strict accordance
with criminal procedure. The forms of law, which the bigoted James, and
even the infamous Jeffrey, were careful to observe, were swept aside by
Holt and Bingham and Stanton, with a sneer.

We turn aside with sickening horror from the recital of the murderous
orgies of the Terrorists of the French Revolution--shedding the blood of
the young, the tender, the beautiful, the brave. But the Terrorists of
France could plead the excuse, that they were driven to madness by the
thought, that the invading hosts, encompassing the new-born Republic, were
drawing nearer and nearer, every hour, with vengeance and
counter-revolution perched upon their banners; and a merciful destiny
granted them the grace to expiate their bloody deeds on the same scaffold
as their victims.

But, in the case of Mary E. Surratt, not a single redeeming feature

  "The deep damnation of her taking off."

Alas! Alas! Right in the centre of the glory which beams from the triumph
of the Union and Emancipation, there hangs a dark figure--casting an
eclipsing shadow--ever widening--ever deepening--in the eyes of all the
coming generations of the just.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

In the original text, the list on pages 72-73 skips from 2 to 7.

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