You won’t find mention of Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade of Ohio in many Lincoln assassination books, an obvious oversight since he’s implicated in that plot through a letter discovered in Sanford Conover’s hotel room. (Sanford’s real name was Charles Dunham and he was a double-agent super-spook working for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.) Conover ran the scandalous school for scoundrels that groomed the paid perjurers helping convict the designated patsies, a list that included Jefferson Davis and Mary Surratt.
Wade and Thaddeus Stevens were the real power in Washington, and Lincoln was just a useful tool. Wade engineered his buddy from Ohio (Edwin Stanton) as head of the War Department. Stanton became the key person in the assassination plot and cover-up. Lincoln was killed because he was vetoing Wade’s harsh plans for Reconstruction and wanted to go soft and easy on the South after the conflict was over. After becoming President, Andrew Johnson decided Lincoln had the right approach, so Stevens and Wade made moves to get rid of him, while slamming their reconstruction plans through Congress. Johnson’s impeachment failed by one vote. It wasn’t so much Congress thought Johnson innocent, but may have feared a reign-of-terror if Wade ascended to the throne, as he was President Pro Tempore and since there was no Vice President, that meant Wade would have become 18th President if the impeachment had been successful. Never has a man plotted so deviously to take ultimate power in Washington, and he got close enough to taste it. The actual impeachment was sparked by an attempt by Johnson to fire Stanton. To keep the Lincoln assassination conspiracy under wraps, it was essential to maintain control of the War Department’s secret files on the subject.
Wade and Thaddeus Stevens were united on their great contempt for Lincoln, feelings not-so-secretly shared by Stanton, Salmon Chase and Charles Sumner. This is the cabal that ran Washington during the war. Lincoln was their compromise candidate and his elevation to the presidency was a great surprise for most of the country, as many had never heard of him before the election. Lincoln was a last-minute solution based on a powerful anti-slavery speech he’d delivered in the Illinois House of Representatives. But the Radical Republican cabal soon decided Lincoln was a hick, an ape, a gorilla and grew tired of his profanity-laced stories, however entertaining others may have found them.
I think you can tell from the portrait above that Wade was a serious man and not to be trifled with. On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Smith Brooks became infuriated by a hostile speech given by Senator Sumner of Massachusetts, Wade’s close associate. Sumner had been very proud of his inflammatory anti-slave speech, however, so proud he was preoccupied affixing stamps to copies of the transcript so it could be circulated amongst his home state, when Brooks suddenly crept onto the Senate floor and stood directly behind Sumner.
“Mister Sumner, I have read your speech with care and as much impartiality as possible, and I feel it is my duty to tell you that you have libeled my State and slandered a relative who is aged and absent, and I am come to punish you.”
With that statement, Brooks began viciously bashing Sumner on the head with his cane, immediately drawing blood. The dazed Sumner sought refuge under his desk, but Brooks pressed his advantage, and kept raining blows. Eventually Sumner broke free into the aisle, but Brooks was unrelenting and kept on until his victim was rendered unconscious. Brooks stopped at that point, but only because his cane had shattered into splinters, leaving only a golden nub in his hand. During this episode, the Senate seemed divided equally between those who wished Sumner spared, and those who would brook no interference with his punishment.
After the assault, Senator Robert Tombs made a speech in support of Brooks, at which point Wade vehemently responded by challenging any and all Southern Senators and Representatives to a duel. Tombs and the others wisely did not pick up this challenge, however, and Wade subsequently made a secret pact with Simon Cameron and Zachariah Chandler that any further aggression by Southerners in Congress would be countered with an instantaneous gauntlet toss.
Wade had the most radical views of all the Radical Republicans and supported voting rights for women and blacks. In a letter to Chandler regarding Lincoln, Wade wrote: “[his views] could only come of one born of poor white trash and educated in a slave State.”
When bloody war finally broke out, Wade was happy. He and six friends rented a carriage to watch the Battle of Bull Run near Washington, but when the Union line was overrun, Wade pulled out his pistol and joined in the fray. He was almost captured by Confederate soldiers.
Is it worth noting Wade was the Senator who convinced Lincoln to replace Simon Cameron with Stanton, even though Stanton was a Democrat and never supported Lincoln? I’m sure Wade’s assistance in this matter was not lost on Stanton, and they undoubtedly became very close during the war, and shared many agendas and plots, some no doubt involving the best strategies for neutralizing Lincoln and looting the South six-ways-to-Sunday.