More About What Passed For The Trial Of The Century

by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America

In the last article I dealt somewhat with the “trial” of the Lincoln conspirators and observed that this “trial” was the sort that gives Kangaroo Courts a bad name. There was about as much impartiality in this trial as there would be for a Boston Red Sox player on trial for the murder of a New York Yankees player with the trial being held in Yankee Stadium.

One of the key political fixtures in this situation was the rabid Brigadier Genereal and Judge Advocate of the army, Joseph Holt. He was radical, through and through, like Stanton, Sumner, and Wade. Lloyd Lewis, in his book The Assassination of Lincoln–History and Myth  noted of Holt, on page 107 that “Red-hot burned Holt’s soul against ‘rebels’ and in particular against the fiery ladies of the South who had spoken so freely against Union invaders. ‘There have not been enough Southern women hanged in this war,’ he had been reported to say, a fact that argued badly for Mrs. Surratt now.”

Lewis also noted, on page 108 that “Except for two witnesses there was no case against Mrs. Surratt, but those two hanged her. One was John M. Lloyd, her bibulous tenant at the Surrattsville tavern, the other was a boarder in her own home, Louis J. Weichmann.” Weichmann had been a friend of John Surratt, who had invited him to come live at his mother’s boarding house in Washington.

Lewis noted that “On the stand in the hot, clanking court-room Weichmann was a puzzle. He talked readily and well, ‘too well,’ insinuated counsel for the defense repeatedly, as his testimony could be seen to settle the noose tighter and tighter about the woman’s neck. He was too glib, Mrs. Surratt’s lawyers said, too ready to hang his former friends. Could it be that he had been one of the conspirators in the kidnapping plot and was now turning state’s evidence to save his own neck?”

And so Mrs. Surratt was sentenced to hang, along with the other three alleged conspirators. Supposedly a clemency appeal was sent to Andrew Johnson, which he claimed he never received or saw. One wonders just how much Edwin Stanton had to do with that.

Strangely enough, even some of the Radical leaders did not want Mrs. Surratt hung. Lewis noted, on page 208 that: “Another of the Radical chieftans opposed it, too, Thaddeus Stevens, who did not swallow Stanton’s story that Jefferson Davis and his associates had inspired the conspiracy. ‘These men are no friends of mine,’ he said. ‘They are public enemies and I would treat the South as a conquered country and settle it politically upon the policy best suited to ourselves. But I know these men. They are gentlemen, and incapable of being assassins.” Surprise, surprise!

The trial of the century had lots of problems, though. Dave McGowan in his study Everything You Think You Know About The Lincoln Assassination Is Wrong  listed a whole batch of these and I am going to list some of them here:

“The defendants were informed of the charges against them just 72 hours before the trial began, depriving them of the ability to put together an effective defense.” (They knew they were going to find them guilty anyway. So who needed a defense?)

“The defendants, all civilians, were subjected to military justice.” (The feds can do whatever they want because they have the power.)

“The defendants were not allowed to speak in their own defense.” (If you already know you are going to hang them anyway, why not just cut to the chase and not waste the court’s time?)

“The state freely introduced inflammatory, prejudicial testimony.” (All the better to hang you with, my dears.)

“The state made extensive use of witnesses testifying under assumed identities.” (If you can’t trust your government, who can you trust?)

“The state made extensive use of paid witnesses.” (Perjured testimony doesn’t come cheap, but the taxpayers will foot the bill anyway.)

“The defendants were prohibited from privately consulting with their attorneys.” (Just another time-waster with the conclusion already decided on.)

“The state was not shy about suppressing exculpatory evidence.” (the defendants don’t really need to know all this stuff.)

“The state was also not shy about introducing manufactured evidence.” (Every little bit helps our case, true or not!)

And McGowan also noted: “And yet, through seven weeks of the most extreme prosecutorial misconduct imaginable, the entire defense team raised only twelve objections. They should have raised that many just during the first hour of the first day of the proceedings. If not sooner.

So you have to wonder–did the defense team realize that they were fighting against a stacked deck and so figured–why bother. It isn’t going to make any difference no matter what we do or say? Or is the other possibility even worse and all we have here is a show trial to satisfy those who will concoct fictional accounts of all this for the brainwashed masses down the road apiece? You know, kind of like Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s? I really begin to wonder.

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