I just watched a film about the Lincoln assassination on Netflix. It’s a Robert Redford production that was released a couple of years ago, but it didn’t even hit my radar back then. But the film certainly strikes some timely chords today.
The Conspirator shows how Secretary of War Edwin Stanton completely controlled the investigation into Lincoln’s assassination, which concentrated only on finding minor characters on the fringe of the conspiracy, but did nothing to locate the actual figures in command of the situation. I’ve written earlier about the possible involvement of Albert Pike, a Confederate General, in Lincoln’s assassination. At some point, the possibility of a much larger conspiracy will have to be addressed. Pike, after all, was the most powerful Mason of his time. Lincoln was not a member of the Masons. But Edwin Stanton certainly was.
Today many people seem to think John Wilkes Booth acted alone because that’s the only way political assassinations in this country are spun—probably to protect the guilty—but, in fact, the plot also included an attack on Secretary of State William Seward. Some people think Seward was marked for death in order to engineer the line of succession, but at the time of the assassination, the Secretary of State was not even in that line, which, by the way, has been re-tooled several times over the years.
In the movie, the conspirators are tried by military tribunal and experience none of the rights of a civilian trial. The film adeptly shows how Stanton cared little for civil rights. His only concern was to get some people hanged and hanged quickly. After this sham trial, a law would be passed insuring the rights of every American citizen to due process and a fair trial—even in times of war. Unfortunately, those rights seem to have been rescinded by the Patriot Act.
Hopefully, someday our rights to a fair trial will be returned. I’m sure future generations will look upon the Patriot Act and everything that followed, including the current sham trial taking place in Guantanamo Bay, with horror. After railroading Mary Surratt onto the gallows, the government was unable to convict her son John in a civilian trial 16 months later after he was captured following an extensive manhunt. John had participated in a failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln with Booth and then fled the country after discovering the plan had switched to an assassination plot. If a civilian court could not find John Surratt guilty, it’s doubtful his mother would have ever been convicted in a legitimate trial.
There are many stories told that Booth escaped, though, and the others were just patsies, since some members of Booth’s famous family have always asserted Booth did not die in a fire in a barn outside Port Royal as the government asserts, but, instead, another’s charred body was substituted and Booth walked free. Booth’s dentist ID’d the teeth in those charred remains as being Booth’s and the corpse did have a broken ankle, which Booth may have suffered after jumping to the stage following the assassination, although his diary claimed that happened later, during the escape when his horse slipped and fell. The mysteries linger. But I believe it was Booth who died in the barn, and he was killed to prevent him from spilling the beans on who actually paid for the assassination. We just know it involved a New York element.