The Trial of John H. Surratt
From the very moment the Swatara, the especially chartered warship, reached this country with John H. Surratt, bound hand and foot on board, all the wheels of the Roman Catholic political machine were set in motion for his certain release. The intense excitement which had enveloped the trials ofthe conspirators two years previous had naturally subsided perceptibly, this, of course, being an advantage to the prisoner, and the smallest details were looked after by the array of high-priced lawyers who fought the two legal battles for this penniless young traitor and assassin.
His attorneys, Messrs. Merrick, Bradley and Bradley were Romanized, the former a professed Catholic, and the other two, by strong sympathy, left no stone unturned in the building of his defense, although his alibi, so carefully planned and presented, was soon shattered by a number of reputable witnesses who could not be shaken by the unprofessional tactics which these lawyers resorted to.
The first step in the proceedings was a motion filed by the States' lawyers from which we quote in part:
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
UNITED STATES AGAINST JOHN H. SURRATT,
UNITED STATES AGAINST JOHN H. SURRATT,
"And now, at this day, to-wit, on the 10th day of June, A.D., 1867 come the United States and the said John H. Surratt, by their respective attorneys and the jurors of the jury, impaneled and summoned also come; and hereupon the said United States by their attorney challenge the array of the said panel, because he saith, that the said jurors comprising the said panel, were not drawn according to the law, and that the names from which said jurors were drawn, were not selected according to law, wherefore, he prays judgment, and that the said panel may be quashed.
This motion, if your Honor please, is sustained by an affidavit which I hold in my hand, and which, with the permission of your Honor I will now proceed to read. We think after this affidavit shall have been read it will not be found necessary to introduce any oral testimony."
The reader will note that the two charges made were that the names were not drawn according to law; and that they were not selected according to law.
The law required that the registrar of the City of Washington should make out a list of four hundred names on or before the first day of February; the City Clerk of Georgetown was to make out a list of eighty names to be selected; and the Clerk of the Levy Court of the County of Washington was to make out a list of forty names to be selected; and that such lists should be preserved, and any names that had not been drawn for the service during the year, might be transferred to the lists made up for the subsequent year. After this had been done the officers should meet and jointly select their respective lists of the number specified; the names being written by each officer on a separate paper, folded or rolled up, so that no one could see the name, and then deposited in a box provided for that purpose. The box was then to be thoroughly shaken and officially sealed, and then by these three officers, given into the custody of the clerk of the County Court of Washington City for safekeeping.
These same officers were to meet in the City Hall, Washington City at least ten days before the commencement of each term of the Circuit Court, or Criminal Court, and there the Clerk of the Circuit Court was to publicly, and in their presence, break the seal of the box and proceed to draw out the number of names required. If it were a Grand Jury Court, the first twentythree names drawn were to constitute the grand jury for the term. This having been done, the box was to be sealed and returned to the clerk for safekeeping.
The clerk of the Circuit Court at that time was a Samuel E. Douglas, registrar of the City of Washington. His examination showed that no such lists had been made out as required; that no joint action had been had by these three officials, but that each one had written his own required list and deposited it in the box independently of the others.
It was also brought to the attention of the Court that these officers had not sealed the box as required, but had delivered it to the clerk to be sealed by him. It was also shown that the names had been drawn, not by the clerk of Circuit Court, but by the clerk of the City of Georgetown.
There was nothing to prevent the Georgetown clerk from carrying any of the names of the jurors whom he might have seen fit, and who might have been "fixed," in his hand, and when he put his hand into the box, which was a perfectly illegal act, to have withdrawn the very names he held in his hand.
The whole procedure was so infamously bold and irregular that the Court said: "My order is that the marshal summon twenty-six talesmen. This occupied several days. After the jury had been selected, Surratt's attorneys filed the following to be made the basis of carrying the case up on a writ of error:
"IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
THE UNITED STATES VS. JOHN H. SURRATT,
IN THE CRIMINAL COURT MARCH TERM, 1867.
THE UNITED STATES VS. JOHN H. SURRATT,
IN THE CRIMINAL COURT MARCH TERM, 1867.
And the said Marshal of the District of Columbia, in obedience to the order of the Court, made in this case on the 12th of June, this day makes return that he hath summoned, and now hath in court here, twenty-six jurors, talesmen, as a panel, from which to form a jury to try the said cause, and the names of the twenty-six jurors, so returned being called by the clerk of said E court, and they having answered to their names as they were called, the said John H. Surratt, by his attorneys, doth challenge the array of the said panel, because he saith, it doth plainly appear by the records and the proceedings of the court in this cause, that no jurors have ever been summoned according to law, to serve during the present term of this court, and no names of jurors, duly and lawfully summoned, have been placed in the box, provided for in the fourth section of the Act of Congress, entitled: 'An act providing for the selection of jurors to serve in the several courts of the District' approved, sixteenth day of June, 1862, on or before the first day of February, 1867, to serve for the ensuing year; wherefore, he prays judgment, that the panel now returned by the said Marshall, and now in the court here, be quashed. Merrick, Bradley & Bradley, Attorneys for Surratt."
It is a notable fact that there were sixteen Romanists out of the twenty-six in the first panel drawn in that irregular manner.
The answer filed in the motion of Surratt's attorneys was the first step in this bitterly contested case and while the prisoner was, according to his own statement, absolutely penniless, he was represented by an expensive array of legal talent and where the money came from reimbursing them remains a mystery today.
Georgetown—Jesuitized Georgetown—was constantly in evidence at the trial. The priests from the Jesuit college were there, and the students who were just dismissed for their vacations, were on hand and would always make it a particular point to greet Surratt who had been a student of that institution for two years, most cordially, and he was scarcely ever without a priest at his side. It is small wonder that the priests of Rome gave every assistance to the prisoner at the bar. Their interests were inseparable. The interest of the Roman church in this country was deeply involved and no one appreciated this more than Surratt. He was confident and defiant all through the weeks, of what would have been to most young men an unendurable ordeal, stimulated by the knowledge that all of the powerful machinery of his church was being used in his defense and that his liberty was guaranteed.
John Surratt was a bold, cold-blooded, unscrupulous, unrepentant criminal, who had been steeped in the immoral teachings of the Doctrines of the Jesuits from his earliest childhood when his misguided mother had placed him under the guidance of priest Wiget at the Boys' Preparatory School at Gonzaga College, a fact which was testified to by that gentleman at Surratt's trial.
Surratt's lawyers presented the following petition at the beginning of the trial:
"To the Honorable, the Justices of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, holding the Criminal Court in March Term, 1867.
The petition of John H. Surratt shows that he has been put upon his trial in a capital case in this court; that he has exhausted all his means, and such further means as have been furnished him by the liberality of his friends, in preparing for his defense, and he is now unable to procure the attendance of his witnesses. He therefore prays your Honor for an order that process may issue to summon his witnesses, and to compel their attendance at the cost of the government of the United States according to the statute in such cases made and provided."
This petition was granted by the court.
From the very beginning, duplicity and innuendoes were used, and unprofessional conduct of the most flagrant character was resorted to. The States' witnesses were badgered, abused and bulldozed, so much so that the Judge had to interfere more than once. Especially was this the fact in the case of Dr. McMillen, the ship surgeon of the Peruvian, to whom priest La Pierre introduced Surratt under the name of "McCarthy." The physician made a splendid witness and refused to be confused, but the attorney for the defendant was so abusive that the witness gave an angry response in pure self-defense.
The papal venom showed itself all through the trials of Surratt in the never-ceasing effort of his attorneys to stab the memory of Lincoln and through their contention that the Military Court which had convicted Surratt's mother, had been an usurpation of power by President Johnson, and the act of a tyrant. When one reads the records of those trials, one marvels that in so short a time after the passing out of that great man, these tools of the ecclesiastical murderers would dare to venture so far out in the open, with their treasonable utterances.
When court was called to order in the John H. Surratt trial, Judge Fisher, presiding, said: "Gentlemen, this is the day assigned for the trial of John H. Surratt, indicted for the murder of Abraham Lincoln, late president of the United States, Are you ready to proceed?" Surratt's lawyer, Mr. Bradley, answered: "The prisoner is ready, sir, and has been from the first." This unnecessary falsehood was a beginning quite in keeping with the life and action of the prisoner, and his Jesuit attorney brazenly tried to implant in the minds of the jury the innocence of his client who had fled to Canada, then put the Atlantic ocean between him and his pursuers and when arrested at Velletri, Italy, dashed himself down an unscalable precipice to evade being returned to his native land! Nothing less than Roman effrontery could have proffered such an answer to that question, "Are you ready?" DESPERATE FLIGHT HAS NEVER BEEN USED AS AN ARGUMENT FOR READINESS BEFORE, I will wager, and it gives the keynote of the conduct of the defense. This is just a sample of one of those little Jesuit jokes. No doubt his attorney had a mental reservation when he assured the court that his client had "been ready from the first"—to skip again, if the slightest opportunity offered itself. Mental reservation is one of the ethics of the Jesuit theology.
The Roman Catholic religion was first dragged in by Surratt's own lawyer, R.T. Merrick, when they called attention to a telegraph dispatch to the New York Herald, in which the fact that the State had demanded a new jury impaneled because there were sixteen Romanists out of the twenty-six jurors called in the first panel.
The district attorney interrupted by showing that the news came from Washington and as afterwards proved that it was but one of many press dispatches, which were instigated by the defense to prejudice the public in Surratt's favor. If there were no other signs to indicate that the hand of Rome was the guiding one in the trials of Surratt, this alone would be sufficient to the esoteric.
A most convincing presentation of the charges against the prisoner was made by Assistant District Attorney Nathaniel Wilson who made the opening address on June 18th. It ran in part as follows:
"May it please your Honor, and gentlemen of the jury, you are doubtless aware that it is customary in criminal cases, for the prosecution at the beginning of the trial, to inform the jury of the nature of the offense to be inquired into, and of the proof that will be offered in support of the charge of the indictment . . . .
"The Grand Jury of the District of Columbia has indicted the prisoner at the bar, John H. Surratt, as one of the murderers of Abraham Lincoln. It has become your duty to judge whether he is guilty or innocent of that charge—a duty, than which more solemn or momentous, was never committed to human intelligence. You are to turn back the leaves of history, to that red page, on which is recorded in letters of blood the awful incidents of that April night on which the assassins' work was done on the body of the chief Magistrate of the American Republic—a night, on which for the first time in our existence as a nation. a blow was struck with the fell purpose, not only to destroy a human life, but the life of the nation, the life of LIBERTY itself.
"Though more than two years have passed by since then, you scarcely need witnesses to describe to you the scene in Ford's Theatre, as it was visible in the last hour of the President's conscious life . . . . Persons who were present will tell you that about twenty minutes past ten o'clock, the 14th of April, 1865, on that night, John Wilkes Booth, armed with pistol and knife, passed rapidly from the front door of the theatre, ascended to the dress circle, and entered the President's box. By the discharge of a pistol he inflicted a death wound, then leaped upon the stage, and passing rapidly across it, disappeared into the darkness of the night.
"We shall prove to your entire satisfaction, by competent and credible witnesses, that at that time, the prisoner at the bar was then present, aiding and abetting that murder; and that at ten minutes past ten o'clock that night, he was in front of that theatre in the company of Booth. You shall hear what he then said and did. You shall know that his cool and calculating malice was the director of the bullet that pierced the brain of the President, and the knife that fell upon the venerable Secretary of State. You shall know that the prisoner at the bar was the contriver of that villainy, and that from the presence of the prisoner, Booth, drunk with theatric passion and traitorous hate, rushed directly to the execution of their mutual will. We shall further prove to you, that their companionship upon that occasion was not an accidental or unexpected one, but that the butchery that ensued was the ripe result of a long premeditated plot, in which the prisoner was the chief conspirator.
"It will be proved to you that he is a traitor to the government that protected him; a spy in the employ of the enemies of his country in the years 1864-65; he passed repeatedly from Richmond to Washington, from Washington to Canada, weaving the web of his nefarious scheme, plotting the overthrow of this government, the defeat of its armies, and the slaughter of his countrymen; and as showing the venom of his intent, as showing a mind insensible to every moral obligation and fatally bent on mischief—we shall prove his gleeful boasts, that during these journeys he had shot down in cold blood, weak, unarmed soldiers, fleeing from rebel prisons.
"It will be proved to you that he made his home in this city, the rendezvous for the tools and agents in what he called his 'bloody work' and that his hand deposited at Surrattville, in a convenient place, the very weapons obtained by Booth while escaping, one of which fell, or was wrenched from Booth's death grip, at the moment of his capture.
"While in Montreal, Canada, where he had gone from Richmond on the 10th day of April, on the Monday before the assassination, Surratt received a summons from his coconspirator, Booth, requiring his immediate presence in this city. In obedience to that pre-concerted signal, he at once left Canada and arrived here on the 14th. By numerous, I had almost said a multitude of witnesses, we shall make the proof to be clear as the noonday sun that he was here during the day of that fatal Friday, as well as present at the threatre that night. We shall show him to you on Pennsylvania Avenue, booted and spurred, awaiting the arrival of the fatal moment.
"We shall show him in conference with Herold in the evening; we shall show him purchasing a contrivance for disguise an hour or two before the murder. When the last blow had been struck, when he had done his utmost to bring anarchy and desolation upon his native land, he turned his back upon the abomination he had wrought, he turned his back upon his home and kindred and commenced a shuddering flight. We shall trace that flight, because in law, flight is the criminal's inarticulate confession, and because it happened in this case, as it always happens that in some moment of fear or elation, or of fancied security, he too, to others confessed his guilty deeds. He fled to Canada. We will prove to you the hour of his arrival there and the route he took . . . He found there safe concealment and remained there several months. In the following September, he took his flight . . . Still in the disguise and with painted face, painted hair, painted hand, he took ship to cross the Atlantic. In mid-ocean he revealed himself and related his exploits, and spoke freely of his connection with Booth in the conspiracy relating to the President. He rejoiced in the death of the President, he lifted his impious hands to heaven, and expressed a wish that he might live to return to America and serve Andrew Johnson as Abraham Lincoln had been served. He was hidden for a time in England, and found there sympathy and hospitality. From England he went to Rome and hid himself in the ranks of the papal army in the guise of a private soldier. Having placed almost the diameter of the globe between himself and the dead body of his victim, he might well fancy that pursuit was baffled, but he was discovered by an acquaintance of his boyhood. When denial would not avail, he admitted his identity and avowed his guilt in these memorable words: 'I have done the Yankees as much harm as I could. We have killed Lincoln, the niggers' friend!'
"The man to whom Surratt made this statement did as was his high duty to do—he made known his discovery to the American Minister. Having him arrested, he escaped from his guards by a leap down a precipice . . . He made his way to Naples and then took passage on a steamer that carried him across the Mediterranean Sea to Alexandria. Egypt. The inexorable lightning thrilled along the wires that stretch through the wasted waters which roll between the shores of Italy and Egypt and spake in his ear its word of terrible command; from Alexandria, manacled, he was made to turn his face towards the land he had polluted by the curse of murder. He is here at last to be tried for his crime."
In his closing argument attorney Carrington for the Prosecution referring to Surratt's mother in connection with him said:
"Now, gentlemen of the jury, let us view the connection of Mrs. Surratt with this assassination. I feel the delicacy of the ground upon which I stand. I know the situation. I know that you dislike to consider this question which has been forced upon you. I do not want to do it. My duty is to prosecute the prisoner, but one of the counsel has said she was murdered, and another that she was butchered, and it becomes my duty to trace her connection with this crime, and then leave it to you, to say whether she was guilty of the crime for which she suffered.
"First, I call your attention to the fact to which we have already adverted; that her house, 541 H street, was the rendezvous for these conspirators. Now, gentlemen, will you pause for a moment and let me ask you how you can reconcile that with innocence? You remember the law, that it is not how much a party did, but whether she had anything to do with it. Can you, I say, reconcile it with innocence that this woman's house should have been the rendezvous of Booth, Lewis, Payne, Atzerodt, Herold and John Surratt? Would you not know by intuition? Would you not know by their conversation? Would not your judgment and your hearts tell you who they were and what they contemplated?
"Secondly, who furnished the arms with which this bloody deed was done? According to the testimony of John M. Lloyd, this is shown. Do you believe him, or disbelieve him? My friend, Mr. Bradley, said he was a common drunkard; but, mark you, he was an attendant and friend of Mrs. Surratt."
(Mr. Bradley) "Who says so?"
(District Attorney) "I will prove it. When I was examining that witness and proposed to ask him certain questions in reference to Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, he said, 'Mr. Carrington,' for he knew me personally, 'I do not wish to talk about Mrs. Surratt, for she is not on trial.' I said, 'Go on, Mr. Lloyd.' I applied to the court and the court said it was his duty to answer. He saw her continually. He lived in her house; he drank her liquor. Why, this evidence shows that John H. Surratt, Herold and John M. Lloyd played cards and drank together. But, says the friend and companion (Lloyd) of the prisoner at the bar, (Surratt) unwilling to testify against her, when put on solemn oath . . . he says certain arms were furnished him by the prisoner at the bar who showed him where they could be safely concealed . . . he (Lloyd) protesting that it might get him into personal difficulty. The mother knew about the transaction, for on the 11th of April we have Lloyd's own testimony that she asked him where those shooting arms were, and said that they might be needed soon. I say, first her house is the rendezvous; secondly, she furnished arms or knows of their being furnished.
"On the night of the 14th of April, Booth and Herold are leaving Washington in flight for their lives. At Surrattville they call for whiskey from the agent (Lloyd) and friend of the prisoner and his mother. She gives them a home, gives them arms, gives them whiskey, not to nerve them, but to refresh them after the commission of their horrid crime.
"Both Booth, in making his escape, needs something more than whiskey and arms . . . He needs a field glass, and has it delivered for him by his friend and agent, Mrs. Surratt. With the defense, no witness told the truth whose testimony went to convict their client, whilst the stories of the most infamous men, self-confessed scoundrels and accomplices, after the fact, if not before the fact, such as Fathers Boucher and Cameron, must be taken as Gospel truth! (See testimony of Father Boucher, Trial of Surratt, page 859. Also Rev. Stephen Cameron, page 793.)"
There were some eight or nine reputable witnesses who testified to having seen John Surratt in Washington on the day of the murder. Sergt. Dye positively identified him as the young man who called the time before Ford's Theatre on the evening of the murder. A colored cook who had been engaged by Mrs. Surratt during John's absence testified that Mrs. Surratt had ordered her on the day of the assassination to bring a pot of tea and some toast into the dining room for John. While serving it to him, Mrs. Surratt said, "This is my son John; don't you think he looks like his sister Anna?"
I am herewith giving the testimony of David C. Reed, a tailor, who had known John Surratt since he was fourteen years old, whose evidence could not be questioned. His professional critical eye was naturally more attracted to the up-to-date cut of Surratt's clothing.
Testimony of David C. Reed, June 3rd, 1867:
"The last time I saw John H. Surratt was about half past two o'clock on the day of the assassination, April 14th last. I was standing on the stoop of Hunt and Goodwin's military store. Mr. Surratt was going past the National Hotel. I noticed his hair was cut very singularly, rounding away down on his coat collar. I did not notice whether he had whiskers or a mustache as I was more attracted by the clothing he had on. His appearance was very genteel, remarkably so. He did not look like a person from a long journey. I cannot say I ever had any connection with Mr. Surratt since he was quite a child; I knew him by sight and we had just bowing acquaintance." (Surratt Trial.)
TESTIMONY OF SHIP SURGEON
DR. L. J. McMILLEN,
DR. L. J. McMILLEN,
Washington, D.C., Tuesday, June, 1867.
Question: Did you know John H. Surratt? If so, state where and under what circumstances.
Answer: "I became acquainted with John H. Surratt in the month of September, 1865. I did not know him under the name of Surratt. He was introduced to me under the name of "McCarthy" by a gentleman in Montreal who kept him in secrecy after the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. I was then ship surgeon of the Steamship Peruvian plying between Quebec and Liverpool. He came on board on September 11, 1865. I never suspected who he was until after we left. One day he inquired of me, 'Who is that gentleman?' pointing to a passenger. He said he believed he was an American detective and that he was after himself 'But,' said he, 'if he is (he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a revolver) that will settle him.' Then I began to suspect—not that he was Surratt but that he had been connected with the Rebellion here in some way. After that he would be continually with me every day, because I was the only person on board he knew, having been introduced to him by my friend. and he seemed not to care for being in the company of any one else. He used to come to me when I was alone and ask me to walk with him on deck; and he would always talk about what happened here during the war. He told me that he had been from the beginning in the Confederate States' service, carrying dispatches between here and Richmond, and also as far as Montreal; that he and Booth had planned at first the abduction of President Lincoln; that, however, they could not succeed in that way and they thought it necessary to change their plan. After this, before the assassination, Surratt was in Montreal when he received a letter from Booth ordering him immediately to Washington; that it was necessary to act and act promptly and he was to leave Montreal immediately for Washington. He did not tell me he came here, but he told me he came as far as Elmira, N.Y., and from that place telegraphed to New York to find out whether Booth had already left for Washington and was answered that he had. He did not tell me that he had gone any farther than Elmira. The next place he spoke to me was St. Albans, Vermont, where he said he arrived early one morning about breakfast time and went to a hotel there for breakfast. When he was sitting at the table he heard several talking about the assassination and he inquired, 'What was up?' They asked if he did not know President Lincoln had been assassinated. He said, 'I do not believe it, because the story is too good to be true.' On that a gentleman pulled out a newspaper and handed it to him. He opened it and saw his own name as one of the assassins. He said this unnerved him so much that the paper fell out of his hands and he immediately left the room. As he was going out through the house he heard another party say that Surratt must have been or was at the time in St. Albans, because such a person (mentioning that person's name) had found a handkerchief on the street with Surratt's name on it. He told me he actually looked in his pocket and found that he had lost his handkerchief. From that place he went to Canada and was concealed there from April to September.
"There were a great many things he told me that I had forgotten, or at least are not fresh in my memory. At the time I paid particular attention to what he said, and when I first made a deposition in Liverpool, everything was fresh in my memory.
"The first time I was sure he was Surratt was on the day he was talking about his mother having been hung. He did not call her Mrs. Surratt or by any other name, but just spoke about his mother having been hung; of course I knew well enough that there was only one woman that had been hung in connection with the assassination so I was pretty certain he was her son. He also asked me who did I believe he was. I was not sure who were the parties that escaped . . . so I answered that I believed he was either Surratt or Payne. He gave me no reply but only laughed.
"But the last day he was on board he called me aside and began to talk of the assassination. It was in the evening and we were alone together and he took out his revolver which was always kept in his pocket, pointed it at the heavens and said, 'I hope and wish to live just a few years more—two will do me—and then I shall go back to the United States and I shall serve Andy Johnson as Abraham Lincoln has been served.' I asked him why? 'Because he has been the cause of my mother being hung.' I then said, 'Now who are you?' I was pretty sure then who he was but still he had not given me his name himself. He looked around to see whether any one was near us and said: 'I am Surratt.'
"I made this affidavit September 25th in Liverpool. Next day would be Wednesday the 26th. I told Mr. Wilding, United States Consul, he would be in Liverpool in a day or two. On Wednesday the 26th, Surratt came to my boarding house but I was absent.
"He returned in the evening and wanted me to go with him to a place he had been recommended to go, but he could not find the place, so I went with him. Mr. Wilding, I think had sent a detective to watch us for I saw a man follow us from the time we left my house until I left Surratt and he went to that house to which he had been recommended. (Oratory of the Holy Cross Church.) He promised to see me next day but didn't. I got a short note stating he intended to go to London but when he got to the station there were several Americans there and he was afraid of being recognized, and did not go any farther. In a few days again I saw him and he gave me a letter to bring back to the party who had taken care of him in Montreal. He expected some money because when he got to Liverpool he had very little money . . . . He told me he expected a remittance from Washington but it would come through his friend in Montreal, and that I would very likely be charged with it when I returned."
Testimony of F.L. Smoot, June 2nd.
(Conversation with Mr. Jos. T. Nott occurred in the barroom of the Surratt Tavern, at Surrattsville on April 15th.)
"Mr. Nott said: 'He reckoned John was in New York by this time.' I asked him why he thought so and he said, 'My God! John knows all about this murder. Do you suppose he is going to stay in Washington and let them catch him?' I pretended to be much surprised and said, 'is that so?' He replied, 'It is, by God! I could have told you that this thing was coming to pass six months ago.' Then, putting his hand on my shoulder, 'Keep that in your own skin, my boy. Don't mention it; if you do, it will ruin me forever.'"
(See Surratt trial)
Joseph T. Nott was Lloyd's bartender at the Surratt Tavern.
General Harris in his Assassination of Lincoln on page 280 says:
"Mr. Merrick then went on to meet the argument that Surratt had confessed his guilt by flight, by declaring that the mad passions of the hour and tyrannical usurpations of the government in its methods of dealing with those charged with this crime, by sending them before a military commission instead of a civil court for trial, justified him in his flight. He (Merrick) then went on to vindicate the Catholic church which he claimed had been assailed in this matter. The only reference to the Catholic church in connection with this trial had been made in the public press. The prosecution had carefully abstained from any assault on that church, and had tried to exclude religious prejudices from the minds of the jurors. Mr. Merrick, however, seized the occasion to pass an eulogium on that church, in which he showed as much disregard for facts of history, as he did for the proven facts in this case. Perhaps, he felt this vindication to be called for from the fact, that most of the conspirators were Catholics in religion, and the further fact that the friends who waited and watched for the return of his client, to Montreal, after the assassination, and who on his return, spirited him away (priests La Pierre and Boucher) and kept him secreted five months, and then helped him off to Italy, where he was found in the ranks of the Pope's army, and who voluntarily came before the court on his trial to testify, and to procure testimony in his behalf, were priests of that church."
Continuing, General Harris comments:
"In his eulogies on that church he forgot to mention the fact that the pope, during the progress of the war, acknowledged the Southern Confederacy, and wrote a sympathizing letter to Jefferson Davis, in which he called him his dear son, and by implication denounced President Lincoln as a tyrant.
"He could have scarcely forgotten that the pope of Rome had sought to take advantage of the arduous struggle in which our government was engaged for the preservation of its life, to established a Catholic empire in Mexico, and had sent Maximilian, a Catholic prince, to reign over, at the time, unhappy people, under the protection of the arms of France, lent to the furtherance of his un-holy purpose, by the last loyal son of the church, that ever occupied a throne in Europe.
"Perhaps, he did not realize that it was God who frustrated the last grasp of the drowning man at a straw that eluded his grasp, by preparing for his holiness, the pope, and for Louis Napoleon, just at that moment, the Franco-Prussian War, which resulted in the final loss of the temporal power to the pope, and with it, his grip on the world and his empire and crown, to the last servile supporter of his temporal pretensions—Napoleon IIIrd!
"To claim for that church, as Mr. Merrick did, friendship to civil liberty, respect for the rights of conscience and of private judgment, and love for our republican institutions, is to ignore or set at naught, all the dogmas of that church on the above questions and all the claims of the papacy. Mr. Merrick manifestly thought that the attitude of the Catholic clergy toward the assassination of the President could be hidden from public view, by his fulsome eulogy.
"The appeals made by the eminent counsel for the prisoner, to the political and religion prejudices of jurors, was ably seconded, all through the trial by the Jesuit priesthood of Washington City and the vicinity. It will be recalled by scores of people who attended the trial, that not a day passed, but that some of these were in the court room as the most interested spectators. That they were not idle spectators, may be inferred from the fact, that whenever it seemed necessary to the prisoner's counsel to find witnesses to contradict any testimony, that was particularly damaging to their cause, they were always promptly found, and were almost always uniformly Catholics in religion, as shown by their own testimony upon cross-examination.
"It was a remarkable fact also, that these witnesses were scarcely ever able to come from under the fire of Judge Pierrepont's searching cross-examination, uncrippled, and also, that when they took the risk of bringing two witnesses in rebuttal of the same testimony, their witnesses uniformly killed each other off, before they got through the ordeal. That tests the truthfulness of witnesses—cross-examination.
"Other outside influences were brought to bear on the jurors, such as these: Father J.B. Menu, from St. Charles College, (Sulpician Monastery) spent the day in the courtroom, sitting beside the prisoner all day, thus saying to the jury: You see which side I am on. A great many of the students from the same college also visited the trial, it being vacation, and they uniformly took great pains to show their sympathy with the prisoner by shaking hands with him.
"The press also was prostituted almost daily by publishing cunningly devised paragraphs impugning the motives of the government in the prosecution and management of the case. Thus were the prejudices of the jurors appealed to and efforts also made to pervert public opinion."
The above from General Harris who was present at the trials of Surratt, and who was also one of the Military Commission which tried and convicted Mrs. Surratt and the other three conspirators, recommending the death penalty, and sentences to the Dry Tortugas to four others, gives the reader a concise picture which correctly photographs the fine Italian hand which directed Surratt's attorneys in their line of action. Nothing could be clearer.
And now, permit us to quote from the closing address of Judge Pierrepont, which is a masterpiece from a legal standpoint and a classic in pure English, superb in its logic, impregnable in its TRUTH:
"May it please your honor, and gentlemen of the jury, I have not in the progress of this long and tedious case, had the opportunity as yet of addressing to you one word. My time has now arrived. Yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life! When the book of Job was written, this was true, and it is just as true today. A man, in order to save his life, will give his property, will give his liberty, will sacrifice his good name, and will desert his father, his mother, his sister. He will lift up his hand before Almighty God, and swear that he is innocent of the crime with which he is charged.
"He will bring perjury upon his soul, giving all that he hath in the world, and be ready to take the chances and jump the life to come and so far as counsel place themselves in the situation of their client, and just to the degree that they absorb his feelings, his terror and his purposes, just so far will counsel do the same.
"I am well aware, gentlemen, of the difficulties under which I labor in addressing you. The other counsel have all told you, that they know you, and that you know them. They know you in social life, and they know you in political affairs. They know your sympathies, your habits, your modes of thought, your prejudices, even. They know how to address you, and how to awaken your sympathies, whilst I come before you a total stranger. There is not a face in those seats that I have ever beheld until this trial commenced, and yet, I have a kind feeling pervading me, that we are not strangers.
"I feel as though we had a common origin, a common country, and a common religion, and that on many grounds we must have a common sympathy. I feel as though, if hereafter, I should meet you in my native city, or a foreign land, I should meet you not as strangers, but as friends. It was not a pleasant thing for me to come into this case. They had, perhaps, the right to ask, and so asking, I give you the answer. I was called into it, at a time ill-suited in every respect. I had just taken my seat in the convention called for the purpose of forming a new constitution for my State, and I was a member of the judiciary committee. The convention is now sitting, and I am absent, where I ought to be present. I feel, however, that I had no right to shirk this duty.
"The counsel asked whether I represented the Attomey General in this case . . . and so asking, I will give my answer. There is no mystery about the matter. The District Attorney feeling the magnitude of this case, felt that he ought to apply to the Attorney General for assistance in the prosecution of it, and he according made the application. I have known the Attorney General for more than twenty years. Our relations have been most friendly; both in social and professional point of view. The Attorney General conferred with the Secretary of State, who is, as you know, from my own State, and they determined to ask me to assist in the prosecution of this cause . . . . This is the way I happened to be engaged in this case . . . .
"When the President of the United States was assassinated, I was one of the committee sent on by the citizens of New York, to attend his funeral. When standing, as I did stand, in the East room by the side of that coffin, if some citizen sympathizing with the enemies of my country had, because my tears were falling in sorrow over the murder of the President, there insulted me, and I had at that time repelled the insult with insult, I think my fellow citizens would have said to me, that my act was deserving of condemnation; that I had no right in that solemn, holy hour, to let my petty passions or my personal resentments disturb the sanctity of the scene. To my mind, the sanctity of this trial is far above that funeral occasion, solemn and holy as it was, and I should forever deem myself disgraced, if I should ever allow any passion of mine, or personal resentment of any kind, to bring me here into any petty quarrel over the murder of the President of the United States. I have tried to refrain from anything like that, and God helping me, I shall so endeavor to the end.
"To me, gentlemen, this prisoner at the bar is a pure abstraction. I have no feeling toward him whatever. I never saw him until I saw him in this room, and then it was under circumstances calculated to awaken only my sympathy . . . . To me he is a stranger. Toward him I have no hostility, and I shall not utter one word of vituperation against him. I came to try one of the assassins of the President of the United States, indicted before you . . . so far as I am concerned, gentlemen, I believe that what you wish to know in this case is the truth . . . . My duty is to aid you in coming to a just conclusion. I believe that it is your honest desire to find out whether the accused was engaged in this plot to overthrow this government, and assassinate the President of the United States. When this evidence is reviewed, and when it is honestly and fairly presented, when passions are laid aside, and when other people who have nothing whatever to do with the trial are kept out of this case, you will discover that in the whole history of jurisprudence, no murder was ever proved with the demonstration with which this has been proven before you. The facts, the proofs, the circumstances, all tend to one point, and all prove the case, not only beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond any doubt.
"This has been, as I have already stated, a very protracted case. The evidence is scattered. It has come in, link by link, and as we could not have witnesses here in their order when you might have seen it in its logical bearings, we were obliged to take it as it came. I shall not attempt, gentlemen, to convince you by bold assertions of my own. I fancy I could make them as loudly and as confidently as the counsel for the other side, but I am not here for that purpose. The counsel are not witnesses in the case. We have come here for the purpose of ascertaining whether, under the law, and on the evidence presented, this man arraigned before you, is guilty as charged . . . . My business is to prove to you from the evidence that this prisoner is guilty. If I do that, I shall ask your verdict. If I do not do that, I shall neither expect nor hope for it.
"I listened to the two counsels who have addressed you for several days without one word of interruption. I listened to them respectfully and attentively. I know their earnestness, and I know the poetry that was brought into the case, and the feeling and the passion, that was attempted to be excited in your breasts, by bringing before you the ghost trailing her calico dress and making it rustle against these chairs. I have none of these powers which the gentlemen seem to possess, nor shall I attempt to invoke them. I have come to you for the purpose of proving that this party accused here, was engaged in this conspiracy to overthrow this government, which conspiracy result in the death of Abraham Lincoln, by a shot from a pistol in the hand of John Wilkes Booth. That is all there is to be proven in this case.
"I have not come here for the purpose of proving that Mrs. Surratt was guilty, or that she was innocent, and I do not understand why that subject was lugged into this case in the mode that it has been; nor do I understand why the counsel denounced the Military Commission which tried her, and thus indirectly censured in the severest manner, the President of the United States. The counsel certainly knew, when they were talking about that tribunal, and when they were thus denouncing it, that President Johnson, President of the United States, signed the warrant that directed the execution; that President Johnson, President of the United States, when that record was presented to him, laid it before his Cabinet, and that every single member voted to confirm the sentence, and that the President with his own hand, wrote his confirmation of it, and with his own hand signed the warrant. I hold in my hand the original record, and no other man, as it appears from that paper, ordered it. No other one has touched this paper; and when it was suggested by some of the members of the Commission, that in consequence of the age, and the sex, of Mrs. Surratt, it might possibly be well to change her sentence to imprisonment for life, he signed the warrant for her death with the paper right before his eyes—and there it is (handing it to Mr. Merrick). My friend can read it for himself.
"My friends on the other side have undertaken to arraign the government of the United States against the prisoner. They have talked very loudly and eloquently, about this great government of twenty-five or thirty millions of people, being engaged in trying to bring to conviction, one poor young man, and have treated it as though it was a hostile act, as though two parties were litigants before you, the one trying to beat the other.
"Is it possible that is has come to this, that, in the City of Washington, where the President has been murdered, that when under the form of law, and before a court and jury of twelve men, an investigation is made, to ascertain whether the prisoner is guilty of this great crime, that the government is to be charged as seeking his blood, and its officers as lapping their tongues in the blood of the innocent? I quote the language exactly. It is a shocking thing to hear. What is the purpose of a government? What is the business of a government?
"According to the gentlemen's notion, when a murder is committed the government should not do anything towards ascertaining who perpetrated the murder, and if the government did undertake to investigate the matter and endeavor to find out whether the man charged with the crime if guilty, or not . . . the government and all connected with it, must be expected to be assailed as 'bloodhounds of the law,' and as seeking to 'lap their tongues in the blood of the innocent.' Is that the business of the government, and is it the business of the counsel, under any circumstances, thus to charge the government? What is government for? It is instituted for your protection and my protection, for the protection of us all. What could we do without it? Tell me, my learned and eloquent counsel on the other side, what would you do without government? What would you do in this city?"
Have you ever heard, my dear reader, a more direct, explicit analysis of Roman Catholic anarchy portrayed than the above presentation of Judge Pierrepont?
There were eighty-five witnesses and ninety-six in rebuttal, called by the government and Surratt called ninety-eight witnesses in chief and twenty-three in rebuttal.
The hearing began June 17th, 1867, and closed July 26th 1867. The arguments of the attorneys covered twelve days. The case went to the jury August 7th. The jury brought in a report that they stood about even for conviction and acquittal, with no prospect of reaching an agreement. Surratt was remanded to jail.
His attorneys asked that he be released on bail which was refused by the court. The following September the case was nolle prosequi. He was then indicted on the charge of engaging in rebellion. He was admitted to bail on this charge in the amount of $20,000, which still stands.
A second indictment was found against him, but the district attorney entered a nolle prosequi on this. The prisoner was finally released and permitted to go free on a technicality—an omission of the three words in the indictment, viz.: "Was a fugitive."
All of the above proceedings in the face of the burning facts brought out by his two trials, and that every charge of his guilt of the murder of Abraham Lincoln was proven beyond the peradventure of a doubt.