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 of the 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,
"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
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
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.
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
"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
"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.
(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
"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,
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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
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