An “honest” man in Washington D.C. is one who stays bought after being bought once, but now and then an anomaly slips through, threatening to blow the lid off the systemic corruption. Such an anomaly was Andrew Jackson Rogers, self-taught lawyer and Democratic Party member who served Congress representing New Jersey’s 4th district during the Civil War.
On January 10, 1866, the House passed a resolution requesting “grounds, facts, or accusations upon which Jefferson Davis, Clement C. Clay, Jr.,…[and others] are held in confinement.”
Months had passed since a military tribunal run by Judge Advocate Joseph Holt had pronounced Davis and his top aides guilty of plotting President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Yet Davis and others were still being held incommunicado in Virginia, and not being forced to come to Washington to undergo the punishment meted out to their alleged operatives who’d been hanged for supposedly following their orders.
The files on the conspiracy trial had been immediately sealed and not available for review by anyone in the interest of national security. A glaring problem, however, was the star witness in the tribunal, Sanford Conover (real name Charles Dunham) had since been exposed as a serial perjurer whose testimony on just about anything was probably available for the right fee. Now the House of Representatives was demanding to see the evidence used to convict Davis and hang four people.
Rather than play along with the government’s cover story and rubber stamp a committee report, Representative Rogers, the sole Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, decided to subject the witnesses to serious cross examination. Rogers probably did not realize behind the scenes, at least one witness was already getting cold feet, as revealed in a letter sent to Conover by “M.”
“That villain Campbell has divulged the whole arrangement to Davis’ friends and will, if possible be pushed before the committee. I have spent on to assist you in getting him sweet again, so that he will stand by his story, or else keep out of the way. It must be done at any cost. I am prepared with the needful. Old 279 and nr 8 were at headquarters the day before yesterday and are furious. We shall be rewarded if we save their bacon. It must be done …”.
Since the Washington addresses of Senators Thaddeus Stevens and Ben Wade correspond to those number codes, they should have been implicated in the plot the day this letter was uncovered. It was undoubtedly written by Richard Montgomery, another of the tribunal’s key witnesses and an admitted Confederate spy/Union double agent. Along with Edwin Stanton and Salmon Chase, Stevens and Wade represented the controlling core of the Radical Republican cabal running Washington during the Civil War.
The “villain Campbell” was William A. Campbell (real name either Joseph A. Hoare or Hoome) and attempts were made by Holt to either “get him in the traces again” or at least to make sure he was not called before the committee. Apparently Holt possessed information that would land Campbell in prison for ten years if made public. Campbell was quickly taken into “protective custody” and held some private conferences with Holt, in which he promised to stick to the official story, which is why he ended up testifying on May 8, 1866.
The best summary of Campbell’s testimony I’ve discovered was written by James W. Thompson for the CHAB, a revisionist non-profit historical society located in Belgium of all places: [Campbell] proceeded to admit that the testimony in his deposition was false, that Conover had prepared his testimony, and that he had memorized it and had repeated it to Holt. He admitted that he was guilty of perjury, and told the committee that he had been paid $500 by Holt, $100 by Conover, and had been given another $300 for traveling expenses. Both the committee and Holt’s entire apparatus of perjurers were thrown into consternation.
Campbell was the first to fold, but not the last. A shady physician named Dr. Merritt admitted receiving the biggest bribe: $6,000 for his testimony. Mr. Snevel initially claimed he’d gotten a mere $375, although a newspaper reporter would discover Snevel had gotten an additional $1,000. Rogers established that five witnesses had used false names, including Conover, his wife and his sister-in-law.
Instead of arresting Conover as ringleader of this scam, however, he was mysteriously sent back to New York City accompanied by a sergeant-at-arms of the committee for the purpose of finding more witnesses. Immediately after arrival, he eluded the guard and disappeared.
Stanton’s good friend Representative George S. Boutwell wrote the majority report, ignoring the exposed perjuries and bribes of the witnesses who’d melted under Rogers’ cross-examination. Boutwell’s foregone conclusion was that Davis had been privy to the plot and Confederate documents would reveal this in time, although he admitted no hard evidence had yet emerged. Meanwhile, Rogers was given less than 48 hours to digest the court transcripts, depositions and documents in order to compose a blistering dissenting opinion.
Boutwell had done everything possible to conceal these incriminating documents and wanted them burned, and Rogers’ report carried no weight, but it did help catapult Judge Advocate Holt into a state of “intense personal excitement” such that Holt began demanding a court of inquiry to clear his name, a demand ignored by Stanton since it would have just opened up more wormholes in their flimsy and entirely imaginary case.
But too much damage had been done by the Rogers report because President Andrew Johnson finally was made aware that the majority of officers who’d sat on the tribunal remained unconvinced of Mary Surratt’s guilt and had all signed a petition requesting presidential clemency, a petition never shown to Johnson until long after Surratt swung from the gallows. Johnson was so infuriated he demanded Stanton’s resignation and Stanton responded by barricading himself in his office and launching an impeachment case against Johnson, a case built partially on the premise Johnson was the true instigator of the Lincoln assassination. It was an epic battle Stanton would lose by one vote, and that finally signaled the end of his once powerful and incredibly corrupt political career.
Only a handful of scholars have shown any interest in this Congressional investigation, which sheds so much light on the plot, and the Lincoln assassination is clouded by faithful allegiance to the official story, despite the fact military tribunals for civilians would soon be declared fraudulent and illegal by the U.S. courts. Unfortunately, that was 17 months after civilian Surratt was hanged by one.
“The cool turpitude of the whole crew sickened me with shame,” wrote Rogers in his dissenting statement, “and made me sorrow over the fact that such people could claim the name American.”
Coda: In closing his penetrating analysis of this incident, James W. Thompson wrote: “I might add that it still galls me to this day when I reflect that it was this vicious scoundrel Stanton who is the man responsible for the slogan which appears on all our American coins and paper money—In God We Trust. If there was ever a worse hypocrite, I don’t know his name!”
(Excerpted from Killing Lincoln: The Real Story)