Why the Lincoln assassination matters

President Lincoln’s death was the first successful presidential assassination in United States history and as such deserves attention because many of the details mirror those found in later assassinations. The biggest missing piece from the officially sanctioned history are the names of the secret societies that manipulated events behind the scenes and the political operatives they often employed. If you saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, you saw that passage of the 13th Amendment was left to some professional political fixers who traded patronage jobs for votes.

John Wilkes Booth was an intelligence operative and possible member of a devious Southern rights secret society called the Knights of the Golden Circle, which had thousands of members sprinkled throughout the north. The network was uncovered by a Union War Department investigation shortly after the Civil War broke out and could have been set-up in anticipation of the war.

Prior to the assassination, Booth had made frequent trips to New York City and Canada (Montreal), and the reasons for these trips remain unknown, but since Booth was a spy working for the Confederacy, it’s safe to assume these were not vacations or family visits to his brother’s brownstone.

I believe Booth could have been meeting with Charles Dunham, a master spook based in New York who wrote under various names for a variety of New York papers. All his stories were immense fabrications.

The most likely candidate as Grand Poobah of the Lincoln hit would be Jay Gould, who made more money on Wall Street during the war than anyone else.

A few years ago, a researcher suggested Booth may have been meeting with Congressman and former Mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, who wanted New York City to secede from the Union in support of the South. Wood was a shipping merchant who rose to Grand Sachem of the Society of St. Tammany, the group that gained control over the city by uniting its just arriving immigrant population. Wood also apparently controlled a vicious Five Points gang known as the Dead Rabbits, whose totem was an impaled rabbit on a spike that was carried into street battles against the Bowery Boys on the Lower East Side.

But when Republicans got control of the New York State legislature, they attempted to disarm the Democrat Wood by eliminating his corrupt Municipal Police force, replacing it with a “Metropolitan” police force under their command. On June 16, 1857, Captain George W. Walling of the newly formed Metropolitan Police arrived at City Hall with an arrest warrant for Wood for the crime of selling the position of Street Commissioner to Charles Devlin for $50,000. However, 300 members of the Municipal Police (which refused to disband) were guarding the mayor, and tossed Walling and his warrant into the street, inciting an ensuing melee that lasted for days known today as the “New York City police riot.”

Since Wood represented Wall Street interests invested in the cotton industry, which involved both the South and Great Britain, he became an open supporter of the Southern cause, and was probably an equally active supporter of the Southern secret service. Spies were everywhere during the Civil War, and this landscape was dotted with double agents.

But one of the most ruthless and most effective secret services was being run by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, through his dirty tricks specialist Lafayette Curry Baker, a man famous for fabricating evidence and strong-arming bribes. It appears Stanton had a double agent planted inside Booth’s conspiracy, a man who worked as a clerk at the War Department named Louis Weichmann. Another possibility, of course, is that Stanton was fomenting the murder plot, and not just observing it from a distance.

Both Wood and Stanton have major parts in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and many of their lines are real, like when Stanton erupts at Lincoln, “I am not going to listen to another one of your stories!” Wood is portrayed as a charming Southerner with a biting wit, and does not convey the ruthless gangster he actually was.

Strangely, Baker was demoted and shipped off to New York City just prior to the assassination. I believe this was to prevent him from stumbling across the plot, as he soon came to suspect Stanton’s complicity, but dared not shared these feelings with anyone.

The night of the assassination General Grant was scheduled to sit beside Lincoln during the play at Ford’s Theater, but apparently the Secretary of War ordered Grant elsewhere, which meant Grant’s entourage and body guards were not at the theater. Meanwhile, Stanton assigned a notorious drunk as the only guard for Lincoln, a man who left his post to have a drink at the tavern across the street as soon as the play started. Booth was having a drink in that same tavern and probably witnessed the guard arrive at the bar, signaling his coast was clear. Ask yourself why Booth carried only a one-shot derringer. Obviously, he was not expecting interference.

Once Lincoln was shot, Stanton should have become a suspect, but he was able to completely control the investigation by quickly rounding up all the suspects except Booth within 48 hours. Baker published a book titled The Secret Service in the Late War (John Potter & Co., 1874) and revealed the existence of Booth’s diary. This revelation prompted a Congressional investigation, and when Stanton was forced to produce the diary in Congress during President Johnson’s impeachment trial, Baker announced 18 leaves were missing.

Read Baker’s book here:
http://archive.org/stream/secretserviceinl00bakeiala/secretserviceinl00bakeiala_djvu.txt

Inside the Lincoln Conspiracy

Lafayette Curry Baker deserves a larger place in the history books because he played a key role in the Great Lincoln Conspiracy. Baker was considered one of the most corrupt and ruthless officials in Washington D.C., and owed all his power and prestige to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

Baker bounced around the country from New York to California before becoming a mercenary and bounty-hunting-hired-gun. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered to spy on the Richmond defenses for General Winfield Scott by posing as a photographer, and soon came to the attention of Stanton, an Ohio lawyer who’d suddenly been placed into the Cabinet position of Secretary of War at the war’s outbreak, an extremely fortuitous appointment since Stanton had no military experience and had just switched political parties because he sensed the winds of change were blowing and the Republicans were about to take control of the executive branch.

Quoting Nathaniel Weyl’s The Battle Against Disloyalty: “During the war years, General La Fayette Curry Baker was chief of the military Secret Service…Promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, Baker was clothed with almost limitless powers as special provost marshal of the War Department. In Washington, he used the methods that had proved so successful in his vigilante days, disregarding the process of law, habeas corpus, or any of the other constitutional frills…” Of Stanton, Weyl concluded: “The ultimate plans of Stanton cannot be fathomed, but the trend was totalitarian.”

Baker routinely made false arrests, planted fake evidence and solicited bribes. He was placed in charge of insuring the War Department got its full share of the war profiteering, and when he caught merchants cheating, demanded a slice of the action to allow them to stay in business. A Treasury Department official accused Baker of orchestrating “a reign of terror.”

Suddenly, however, Baker was accused of tapping Stanton’s military telegraph lines, was demoted and moved to New York City, and posted under an Assistant Secretary of War there. This all seems weird because Baker was accused of “spying” on Stanton, yet there was no hearing nor trial, just this sudden demotion.

Delivering the Gettysburgh address.

But then just as suddenly, immediately after Lincoln was assassinated, Stanton ordered Baker to return to Washington to take charge of the investigation. Stanton himself was a suspect since he was in charge of the President’s protection and had personally placed a drunk on guard duty that night. Almost instantly suspects were rounded up and thrown into solitary with canvas hoods placed permanently over their heads to prevent any communication. At least one of them lost his mind after a week of wearing the hood. This runs against normal investigative technique, which is to isolate suspects and place double agents near them to draw information while posing as confidants.
After 11 days of the biggest manhunt in history, Baker suddenly dispatched a unit of the 16th Calvary to Virginia. The War Department was flooded with hundreds of reports of sightings in every state on the Eastern Coast, yet Baker somehow selected one particular lead to follow.

Booth’s diary never appeared at the trial, but much later when Baker wrote his book to cash in on his fame after being dismissed by Stanton, he mentioned the diary and was called before a Congressional committee, at which point Stanton was ordered to bring the diary to Congress. Baker examined the diary and claimed 18 leaves had been removed (at least 36 pages, if not 72). The diary had been shredded. Stanton claims to have removed nothing. But then much of the essential evidence of this case disappeared over time.

All this goes to show how deep the coverup runs because you won’t find many of these facts on the History Channel. In the 1930s, a chemistry professor tried to expose Stanton, but was dismissed although the serious questions he raised have never been adequately answered. A book was recently published about the case, American Brutus by Michael Kauffman, and it’s considered the “definitive last word” but strangely glosses over the conspiracy and refuses to peer deeply into the climate of corruption running through the War Department.

There was one fact on the History channel’s recent expose I found particularly intriguing. Kauffman admits Booth made several mysterious trips to New York City prior to the assassination, and no one has discovered any evidence of what those trips were about. (Sort of like Oswald’s bus ride into Mexico.)

Mary Surratt was painted as the only living mastermind of the plot during the trial, even though she was only guilty of having a son who served as a Confederate courier. The only evidence against her was given by a clerk who worked for Stanton, and after the trial, this clerk was exposed as a Union double agent posing as a Confederate spy.

Other important facts never mentioned by the History Channel is that Booth was a Captain in the Confederate Secret Service, and that Edwin Stanton’s mentor, the man who funded his rise in politics, was the leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle.