by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
It seems that there have been some people, even back in the 1860s, that felt that Edwin Stanton was involved with the Lincoln assassination. Only problem is that getting a line on some of them is almost next to impossible in our day.
Otto Eisenschiml, in his book O. E. Historian Without an Armchair has noted one particular case I felt was worth commenting on. A lot of what I write here will be Mr. Eisenschiml’s as he has had more to say about this particular situation than anyone else I have been able to come up with, and I have done some other looking.
In commenting about Stanton’s involvement Eisenschiml observed, starting on page 172, and following, that: “My earlier belief that the reporters of 1865 harbored no suspicion about Stanton proved unfounded…three years later convincing proof that not all contemporary journalists agreed with the official version of the assassination came to light and in a most fantastic manner. Early in 1948, Jesse E. Wilson, a resident of Baltimore, made a queer find. While he was walking through the living room of an old building on West St. Paul Street, a mirror fell apart, and behind it, hidden in a hollow space, he spied a pocket gun. Under it lay a magazine, brittle with age and partly torn, but still uncut. Its presence puzzled him. Had it been placed there to protect the pistol, or had the pistol been used to weight down the paper? Since the magazine had not been cut, the owner apparently had valued the pistol more highly; but to one historically inclined, the paper was much more exciting. It proved to be the May 2, 1868, issue of a periodical called The People’s Weekly. Mr. Wilson, fortunately, is historically inclined, and turned the paper over to Carroll Dulaney, conductor of a column in the Baltimore American; later he sent it to me as a present. Mr. Dulaney’s eyebrows must have gone up in astonishment when he looked over the pages. Titled That Wicked Old Man, the leading editorial stated bluntly that ‘the real instigators of the assassination of Lincoln’ were Edwin Stanton and two of his intimates, Joseph Holt, head of the Bureau of Military Justice, and Lafayette C. Baker, chief of the government’s Secret Service. Well, there it was.
Someone, a long time ago, had positively accused Stanton of having murdered Lincoln by proxy. That someone was a man named Ben Green, who had recently acquired The People’s Weekly. His belief in Stanton’s guilt had not come easily. He related that, in 1865, at the time of the assassination trial, he had been in Washington, but was too much occupied with getting his parole to give much attention to anything else.” Yes, he was getting a parole because he was an ex-Confederate. While the War had gone on he had operated a munitions plant for the Confederate government, so he had to be paroled when hostilities ceased.
However, as Eisenschiml noted: “His interest in the trial had been sparked by a stenographic reporter who had called on him shortly after the court session had been concluded and asserted that he had taken down the testimony in the case. In his opinion the evidence pointed to Stanton and his two cohorts as the real assassins.” Green had been incredulous at first and really didn’t buy it. But upon some reflection “the seed of suspicion had germinated in his mind. The more Green studied the evidence and what he called ‘subsequent developments’, the more certain he became that what at first he had thought a wild vagary had solid substance behind it, and he was ready to lay his findings before the American public.”
“What Green disclosed in his editorial can be condensed into two excerpts from it. ‘We are now thoroughly convinced that THE REAL INSTIGATORS OF THE ASSASSINATION OF LINCOLN were Edwin M. Stanton, Joseph Holt and Lafayette C. Baker; and Thad Stevens wicked vindictiveness warmed into life the brutal instincts of Stanton, Holt, and Baker, to have Lincoln assassinated; that they might have freer scope in hanging rebels and appropriating to themselves their property; to which they feared Lincoln’s good nature and desire for conciliation would be an obstacle. We have not time or space in this number to continue this subject; but our belief is, that Stanton, after forcing the well-meaning, but too yielding, Lincoln to recall an order which would have recognized the Virginia Legislature, determined to get rid of him, as an obstacle to his game of rebel hanging and plundering; and that he accomplished his purpose through that infamous adjunct of the War Department, the Bureau of Military Injustice. We will explain the process in our next.”
Eisenschiml wondered exactly how much dependence could be placed on what Green had written. Ben Green was the son of Duff Green, who I have been able to find a limited amount of material about on the internet–and it has been a limited amount, which I will go into later in this article.
It was observed by Eisenschiml that Green, as an ex-Confederate would not exactly have referred to Stanton with terms of endearment, yet Green would have had to exercise some caution as to what he wrote. Eisenschiml figured Green could not have said what he said without some sort of evidence. He said of Green that: “he must have known that to accuse without incontestable evidence a man of such prominence who, although practically on the way out of office, still had strong links with the party in power, was a risky affair..”
According to Eisenschiml, “Green probably came much nearer to the truth when he wrote that Stanton ‘feared Lincoln’s good nature and desire for conciliation.’ To Stanton and Holt it was important to block the reconciliation policy which Lincoln had advocated so earnestly, but which would have broken the hold of the Radicals on the government. This, however, is secondary to ‘the process’ for ‘getting rid’ of Lincoln, which Green had promised to explain in the next issue. What had Green unearthed that made him so certain of being able to prove his charge? And what were the ‘subsequent developments’ which he mentioned? It does need to be said here, that, whatever motives Lincoln may have had for what he did, it was not because of his good nature. It was more probably a case of who was going to control political patronage, Lincoln or the Radicals.
This will all be continued in the next article, along with a few questions of my own.