by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
It should come as no surprise that Edwin M. Stanton sought to manipulate the civilian court trial of John Surratt Jr. I suppose he felt that being Secretary of War gave him certain “prerogatives” not usually available to mere mortals.
A man who was a special War Department counsel, Albert Gallatin Riddle, was tapped by Stanton to oversee the “general management of the case.” Campbell observed that: “In other words, tlhe war secretary had arranged to dictate the trial of a civilian in a civilian court, as he had dictated the trial of civilians in a military court. Assisting the prosecution, the House Judiciary Committee worked night and day on plans to remove the president, and turn over to the War Department any information its members thought would help to unseat Andrew Johnson and hang John Surratt. Looking at this whole sorry situation it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to, in the words of Patrick Henry, “smell a rat.”
Surratt’s lead attorney, Joseph Bradley knew what the game really was. He was no neophyte. Although he was a Democrat he had supported the Union, but for all that, the Lincoln administration had never been on his top ten list of favorites. Campbell has stated that: “He (Bradley) knew, as all Washington now knew, that these radicals had used perjured testimony not so much to obtain the death of an innocent woman as to ensure political control…He knew all about Lou Weichman’s false testimony in court and his retractions in private…Infuriated by the prosecution’s bland denial of War Department control, he showed malicious delight in leading unsuspecting prosecution witnesses to admit they had been examined in Judge Advocate General Holt’s office.”
A big problem for the prosecution was to show that John Surratt had been on the scene to help Booth with the Lincoln assassination and they worked mightily trying to do that. They came up with all manner of people who said they saw Booth and Surratt together in Washington on April 14th. They had an impressive list of liars to “prove” this, as well as some who were actually mistaken.
Does this sound like the current situation with Kavanaugh? People are literally coming out of the woodwork (or from under rocks) to testify that they have seen Kavanaugh falling down drunk, gang-raping girls by the score, both he and his friends. Of course the stories fail to hold up and most people called on to admit they were at these “parties” state they know nothing about them. And there is no evidence to contradict them. But as I said in an earlier article–who needs evidence in today’s atmosphere? Isn’t just making the accusation enough? And if it isn’t enough for us, then we are all racists or whatever other perjury they can dredge up for us. After all, none of these people would ever lie to us, right? Right? Don’t all answer at once!
Just as this current situation is all about keeping Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court and dragging this sorry farce on until the midterms in hopes of a Demoncratic victory so they can impeach Trump, so the Surratt situation was all about validating the guilty verdict for the Lincoln “conspirators” so Stanton and company would not look as if they had railroaded the whole thing through, and if John Surratt were not found guilty, especially after all the perjured testimony, that’s exactly what it would look like. Stanton stood to have egg on his face. The price of removing that egg was attempted military control over a trial in civil court.
But hold on, to go back to the trial of the Lincoln “conspirators” it gets worse. Campbell noted, on page 277 that: “Sunday’s newspapers carried a bombshell: the majority of Mrs. Surratt’s judges had not been convinced of her guilt. Five of her nine judges had recommended mercy for her to the president. At last, the truth was out. The source of the information was incontrovertible. The reporters had seen the official Report of the Trial of the Conspirators. More specifically, they had seen, attached to the end of the report, the half sheet of paper on which the request for mercy had been made to the president. It bore the signatures of the five judges. The defense lawyers had not touched the report; it had not been admitted as evidence. At the end of the session Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt had come to the courtroom to retrieve the document, but the newsmen had already seen its explosive contents.” On Sunday next, the 4th of August, Andrew Johnson read in the news the commentary that blamed Mrs. Surratt’s death on him. The very next day, immediately, if not sooner, a messenger was sent to the office of Edwin Stanton, with orders to come immediately to the president, with the official trial report in hand.
The messenger carried this identical message to Mr. Stanton three separate times. After the third attempt, Stanton dispatched a ribbon clerk to the president with the report. No way was he going to face Johnson personally.
Enter again William P. Wood, former superintendent of Old Capitol Prison, who had been “a lackey to Stanton.” He showed up at the White House and spent some time with Johnson. Campbell noted that “He told the president that after Mrs. Surratt’s arrest he, Wood, had been sent to her brother, Zad Jenkins, with the promise that she would be released if she or her family gave any information about Booth’s whereabouts.” Relying on Wood’s promise, Zad gave him some information he had heard. “This tip led to Booth’s apprehension but Stanton had refused to honor his promise. Wood then tried to reach the president, but upon Stanton’s written order had been refused entry to the White House.”
Wood’s story shook Johnson up, and as Campbell noted: “Yet there before him lay the proof, the formal Brief Review of the Case which two years before had been delivered to him personally by Judge Holt. The long pages of report, convictions, statements of death warrants, all tied together will yellow linen tape. But there was something else; a half sheet of paper on which was written a recommendation for mercy for Mrs. Surratt. A black sheet of legal length paper separated it from the last page of the report…The pages were fastened together at the top and each page as read was turned back and folded under the unread portion. In that way the little half page had been hidden from sight.” Odd that Judge Holt had neglected to mention it. Odder still that it hadn’t been included in the “official publication of the trial, approved and released by Stanton, nor in the judge advocate’s annual report to the Secretary of War.” It would seem that, the way the report was presented to the president, that he never saw the clemency request–which was probably Mr. Stanton’ intention.
All this considered, Johnson wrote a letter to Stanton in which he said: “Sir: Public considerations of a high character constrain me to say that your resignation of Secretary of War will be accepted.”
Though Johnson removed Stanton, the radical Congress simply reinstated him under the Tenure of Office Act, but, thankfully, Johnson had the will to persevere–at which point Stanton simply refused to leave his office until he was removed by force. So the would-be dictator who would be president finally got his comeuppance–and Mrs. Surratt had to die so he could cover up his actions both before and after the Lincoln assassination. There are questions to this day as to his involvement in that situation.
So if you want to grasp the degree to which radicals in government usurp power to promote their own leftist agendas today, take a good look at what Edwin Stanton did in his day. Outside of the names, there is very little difference in the actions of radical leftists in and out of government. 1865 and 2018 ain’t all that much different.