Here’s a photo of young Robert in 1865, when he was courting John Wilkes Booth’s secret fiance and serving as captain on Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, an appointment his mother had gone to enormous lengths to prevent but ultimately failed.
My feelings for Robert are very complex, as he came from a poor background yet rose to the heights of the oligarchy and could easily have become president many times, but rebuffed all attempts to recruit him for that position. In fact, he had a great fear of presidential meetings, having been associated with three presidential assassinations over his lifetime, starting with his father’s.
His mother was emotionally frail and quickly lost her mind after her husband’s assassination. Robert committed her. He’d already lost the bulk of his immediate family to death and disease, so it was just one more blow for the post-traumatic stress disorder.
Robert graduated from the elite Phillip Exeter Academy, and went on to Harvard, where he was quickly inducted into the Hasty Pudding Society, but like many Midwesterners, did not fit well amidst the young Brahmins of Boston, and finished his studies in Chicago.
The one major post he accepted in his lifetime was Secretary of War, an interesting choice, but keep in mind, Robert was a warrior first and foremost, and taking control of the military was a job that captured his full attention.
But it was a little like JFK, Jr. taking over the CIA a decade after his father’s assassination. Robert got full access to all the forbidden files on his father’s murder.
Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler told an interesting story in his memoirs, written after Robert’s death. He claimed that a friend had visited Robert’s estate in Vermont and witnessed the burning of much documentation. When asked what was going up in flames, Robert reportedly replied it was incriminating evidence involving a member of his father’s cabinet.
Apparently, Robert had culled all the most damaging information about Stanton, a man who doted on him as a young man, and whose son had played with his own little brother, and decided rather than share the truth with the American public, it was better in the interest of public order and respect for authority that this ugly reality be kept hidden away forever.
I can’t really blame poor Robert for what must have been an agonizing decision, but really wish he’d stood up for the truth. Maybe this shows that the conspiracy didn’t stretch past Stanton and his closest allies and deeper into the oligarchy. Or maybe that’s what Robert was protecting.
Michael W. Kauffman is widely recognized as THE authority on the Lincoln assassination, and he’s a regular consultant to the History Channel and other media giants. Ten years ago, Kauffman published American Brutus, the most in-depth analysis of the movements of John Wilkes Booth just prior to and after the assassination.
Kauffman did an exhaustive amount of research, and was careful to deal only with primary sources from the period. The biggest stumbling blocks to an investigation are the many conflicting and contradictory elements. Any historian can pick a thesis and collect a book’s worth of material to support it, provided contradictions from more reliable sources are ignored.
Kauffman makes it clear from the outset he trusts Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and quotes liberally from newspaper reports that could have been sculpted by Stanton. He also dismisses the “conspiracy theories.”
The first theory to emerge involved Vice President Johnson, and Stanton may have encouraged that suspicion before promoting Jefferson Davis as the true instigator. Little known today is that Davis was declared guilty before the military tribunal even took place. And that tribunal did find Davis guilty at a time Davis was being held incommunicado in a jail in Virginia.
Strange Stanton did not wish Davis to attend his own trial, despite so much of the testimony being directed against him and his operatives in Canada. Plots to burn down New York City and spread Yellow Fever to civilians were unveiled, although much of the testimony was proven false and had been paid for. This revelation was something of an accident and occurred because some trial testimony was leaked to the press. Had they been able to keep the tribunal testimony secret, as Stanton wanted, the innocence of Mary Surratt would not have come to light so quickly. Her death destroyed Stanton’s political career and made him the most unpopular man in the country after it was exposed he engineered the first female execution in American history. And wouldn’t you know it, she was innocent. That left a really sour taste all across America, so much so that President Grant denied Stanton a position in his cabinet and refused to sign his elevation to the Supreme Court, sitting on it for weeks.
I have some questions for Kauffman after speed-reading his book, which I admit contains a wealth of insight and never-before-published details. And the first question is: Where is Simon Wolf?
Wolf admits meeting Booth the morning of the assassination, and apparently Booth told him (and no one else) that his proposal of marriage to the daughter of a United States Senator had been rebuffed. Wolf speculated this rejection drove him to murder Lincoln.
Strange no mention of this unexpected rejection appears in his notebook, which Booth composed while on the run. Also, the fiance reported no such announcement, although their engagement was a secret.
Booth’s secret fiance was also being courted by Lincoln’s son, a detail strangely left out of many history books. If the deed were done over remorse of Lucy Lambert “Bessie” Hale’s rejection, it would seem a duel with Robert Todd Lincoln, Booth’s rival for Hale’s affections, might have been a more appropriate response. Breaking up an engagement was certainly a dueling matter for a Southern gentleman like Booth.
A more accurate version, however, is that Bessie was being moved with her family to Spain, where her father was being posted as ambassador, and she promised to return to marry Booth in one year, so there was not a breaking-off of the secret engagement, unless Booth did it on his own initiative. And keep in mind, Booth is a spook and Bessie’s dad inside the Radical Republican cabal running Washington, so his affections for her could have all been part of his spook activities. Perhaps her father sensed this, or, of course, he could have been told this very fact by his friend Stanton. When did Senator Hale discover the man courting his daughter was a notorious Southern spy? Because this information was known inside the War Department for weeks prior to the assassination. I suspect Hale’s sudden appointment to Spain might have been triggered by a desire to get his daughter out-of-town so she’d not be implicated in the nasty business to follow.
But why is the connection between Booth and Wolf ignored by almost every historian?
Edwin Stanton was a devoted Freemason of the elite Scottish Rite, which means on Tuesday nights he was likely found doing ceremonies with his fellow masters of the craft at the glorious temple in Washington. I suspect Stanton was not a very spiritual person, however, but someone who recognized Masonry as a means to advance his career.
I also suspect Simon Wolf may have been a Mason, although his identity as the head of B’nai B’rith in Washington DC is well-documented. Like the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Ku Klux Klan and The Church of Latter Day Saints, the International Order of B’nai B’rith has some masonic elements in its origins, and was likely founded by Jewish masons. Masonry is an incredibly complex world, with many subsets and splinter groups. But the fact that Christians, Jews and Muslims were all welcome and everything spoken inside the temple was confidential made masonry an ideal venue for conducting conspiracy, which is why lodges were so often penetrated by spooks from various secret societies. Also, keep in mind that most researchers today consider B’nai B’rith’s ADL little more than a spook-infested propaganda arm for the Mossad, so you can see how these intelligence connections were wired into the secret society systems from their origins.
Lafayette C. Baker may have been corrupt and ruthless, but he was also good at his job, and he arrested Wolf in Philadelphia, where he’d traveled to meet with a Southern refuge who’d hired his services as a lawyer. Wolf did many similar missions in the service of fellow Jews. But Baker charged him as an enemy agent because of his leadership in B’nai B’rith, which Baker considered, “a disloyal organization which has its ramifications in the South, and…helping traitors.” The fact remains many Jews during this period sympathized with the South and found employment as blockade runners and black-market profiteers, and Wolf was their primary attorney of choice. In fact, General Grant at one point declared his own pogrom against all Jews, an order quickly rescinded by Lincoln, no doubt after a visit from the young Simon Wolf, who seemed to have some powerful connections.
But before those connections were known, Baker had Wolf tossed in Carroll Street Prison, where he could have remained for the war’s duration, except Wolf convinced another official Stanton would exonerate him. Stanton went into a rage when told Wolf had been placed into prison, and lashed out at Baker. Even though Baker worked for Stanton, the two obviously never trusted each other, and Baker would soon be demoted for spying on Stanton and shipped out-of-town, only to be recalled immediately after Lincoln’s assassination to head the investigation. It appears he was moved out-of-town so as not to bump into the operation.
What Baker didn’t know was that when Wolf had arrived from Ohio, he’d gone straight to Stanton’s office, where he presented a letter of introduction written by Stanton’s former business partner, Colonel George W. McCook. According to Wolf, “After reading the letter, the Secretary, looking over his glasses with a look as determined as all of his acts were, said to me, ‘Young man, if what Colonel McCook says is true, you have no business in the Department; get outside; and if it isn’t true, I have no use for imbeciles.'” (Presidents I Have Known by Simon Wolf, 1918, http://archive.org/stream/presidentsihavek00wolfrich/presidentsihavek00wolfrich_djvu.txt).
After arriving in Washington, Wolf swiftly became president of the Literary and Dramatic Society, which held meetings in a rented hall at 481 Ninth Street. This society also staged a production of Hamlet at Carusi’s to celebrate Shakespeare’s 300th birthday and Lincoln, Lord Lyons and Sir Edward Malet were specifically invited. Back when Wolf lived in Cleveland, he’d been involved in theatrical productions with both B.F. Peixotto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Booth. Cleveland was a stronghold for the Knights of the Golden Circle, a terrorist militia devoted to supporting the Southern cause who were the real muscle behind the Copperhead movement that opposed Lincoln in the North. Their numbers, however, were undoubtedly greatly exaggerated.
“I knew Booth well,” writes Wolf. “We had played on the amateur stage together in Cleveland, Ohio, and I had met him that very morning in front of the Metropolitan Hotel. He asked me to take a drink. He seemed very excited, and rather than decline and incur his enmity I went with him. It was the last time I ever saw Booth.”
You cannot understand history without a study of the secret societies operating at any given time. Since every known detail of that day is examined in Kauffman’s book in intricate detail, I have to wonder why Wolf never makes an appearance.