Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Edwin Stanton and the Death of Lincoln

Edwin Stanton

       I've recently began re-reading a book called The Lincoln Conspiracy by David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr which was written in 1977. I've read reviews of this book and find that this book was put down by most historians at the time. True, the book is basically a conspiracy theory and we all know that historians despise conspiracy theories because that would make them appear they don't know the true history. The book may not be correct, but it opens up a lot of questions I've often had about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
       The book implicates Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in the plot to rid the government of Lincoln. Stanton had a lot to gain from Lincoln's death. The man didn't actually come across as being perfectly sane. In 1833, Stanton's landlady's daughter died of cholera, Stanton refused to believe the girl was dead and had her exhumed to be certain. He had a mania concerning death. He feared death, but couldn't put the thought out of his mind. In 1841, when his young daughter died, he became so grieved, he had her coffin dug up and placed in his bedroom where he kept it for two years. In 1844, his wife died and though depressed he was almost over the loss when his brother committed suicide. He had to be restrained at the funeral. 
       None of this means Stanton was in on a plot to have Lincoln assassinated. Yet, there are certain questions that should be answered before we totally dismiss this idea. The first thing that seems strange is John Wilkes Booth's diary which was complete when it came into the hands of Stanton. The diary now has 13 missing pages. According to Balsiger and Sellier, they have examined these pages that are now in the possession of Stanton's descendants and find numerous entry's that incriminate Stanton in the murder. 
       Stanton also rushed the trial of the conspirator's at the Washington Arsenal and just as quickly had them executed as if he were in fear they may know something that could be used to implicate them. Of course all this is mere conjecture. John Wilkes Booth did leave a message with Vice-President Andrew Johnson, the man who stood to replace Lincoln on the night of the assassination. It read, "Don't wish to disturb you are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth." Mary Lincoln later told a friend, "that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance of my husband's death - Why, was that card of Booth's, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed - I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man... As sure, as you & I live, Johnson, had some hand, in all this." Balsiger and Sellier both state that Booth owed Johnson a favor for helping him earlier in the war. 
       We know that Stanton was a hard man. He wanted the South punished for the rebellion and was troubled that Lincoln wanted to "let them up easy." The 1937 book Why Was Lincoln Murdered by Otto Eisenschiml puts Stanton as the ringleader of the plot to kill Lincoln. Lincoln had asked Stanton's personal secretary Thomas Eckert to accompany him to the play because of threats against his life. Stanton claimed to have important work for Eckert and couldn't spare him. As soon as Lincoln left his office, Stanton sent Eckert home. 
       There is more incriminating evidence against Stanton. The one bridge that he failed to notify to stop anyone from leaving just happened to be the one Booth and Herold used to escape. The telegraph system immediately went dead upon Lincoln being shot. 
       Most modern historians believe that Stanton is innocent and further efforts to involve him should be stopped. I haven't really got an opinion on Stanton either way, but do find some of his actions a bit strange. 

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