John Armor Bingham.

Trial of the conspirators, for the assassination of President Lincoln, &c. : argument of John A. Bingham, special judge advocate, in reply to the arguments of the several counsel for Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel A. Mudd, Edward Spangle online

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Online LibraryJohn Armor BinghamTrial of the conspirators, for the assassination of President Lincoln, &c. : argument of John A. Bingham, special judge advocate, in reply to the arguments of the several counsel for Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel A. Mudd, Edward Spangle → online text (page 8 of 14)
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but by the ex parte statements of these rebel agents in Canada and
their hired advocates in the United States. There is a statement
upon the record, verified by an official communication from the War
Department, which shows the truthfulness of this witness, and that
is, that before the assassination, learning that Harper and his asso-
ciates had started for the States, informed as he was of their purpose
to assassinate the President, cabinet, and leading generals, Merritt
deemed it his duty to call, and did call, on the 10th of April, upon a
justice of the peace in Canada, named Davidson, and gave him the
information, that he might take steps to stop these proceedings. The
correspondence on this subject with Davidson has been brought into
court. Dr. Merritt testifies, further, that after this meeting in Mon-
treal he had a conversation with Clement C. Clay, in Toronto, about
the letter from Jefferson Davis which Sanders had exhibited, in which
conversation Clay gave the witness to understand that he knew the


nature of the letter perfectly, and remarked that he thought "the end
would justify the means." The witness also testifies to the presence
of Booth with Sanders in Montreal last fall, and of Surratt in Toronto
in February last.

The court must be satisfied, by the manner of this and other wit-
nesses to the transactions in Canada, as well as by the fact that they
are wholly uncontradicted in any material matter that they state, that
they speak the truth, and that the several parties named on your
record, Davis, Thompson, Cleary, Tucker, Clay, Young, Harper,
Booth, and John H. Surratt did combine and conspire together in
Canada to kill and murder Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Wil-
liam H. Seward, and Ulysses S. Grant. That this agreement was
substantially -entered into by Booth and the agents of Davis in Canada
as early as October there cannot be any doubt. The language of
Thompson at that time and before was, that he was in favor of the
assassination. His further language was, that he knew the men who
were ready to do it ; and Booth, it is shown, was there at that time,
and, as Thompson's secretary says, was one of the men referred to
by Thompson.

The fact that others, besides the parties named on the re-cord, were,
by the terms of the conspiracy, to be assassinated, in nowise affects
the case now on trial. If it is true%that these parties did conspire to
murder other parties, as. well as those named upon the record, the
substance of the charge is proved.

It is also true that if, in pursuance of that conspiracy, Booth,
confederated with Surratt and the accused, killed and murdered
Abraham Lincoln, the charge and specification is proved literally as
stated on your record, although their conspiracy embraced other
persons. In law the case stands, though it may appear that the con-
spiracy was to kill and murder the parties named in the record and
others not named in the record. If the proof is that the accused,
with Booth, Surratt, Davis,. <fcc., conspired to kill and murder one or
more of the persons named, the charge of conspiracy is proved .

The declaration of Sanders, as proved, that there was plenty of
money to carry out this assassination, is very strongly corroborated
by the testimony of Mr. Campbell, cashier of the Ontario Bank, who
states that Thompson, during the current year preceding the assassi-
nation, had upon deposit in the Montreal branch of the Ontario Bank
six hundred and forty-nine thousand dollars, besides large sums to
his credit in other banks in the province.

There is a further corroboration of the testimony of Couover as to


the meeting of Thompson and Surratt in Montreal, and the delivery
of the despatches from Richmond, on the 6th or 7th of April, first,
in the fact which is shown by the testimony of Cheste*, that in the
winter or spring Booth said he himself or some other party must go
to Richmond, and, second, by the letter of Arnold dated 27th of March
last, that he preferred Booth's first query, that he would first go to
Richmond and see how they would take it, manifestly alluding to the
proposed assassination of the President. It does not follow because
Davis had written a letter in February which, in substance, approved
the general object, that the parties Were fully satisfied with it; be-
cause it is clear there was to be some arrangement made about the
funds ; and it is also clear that Davis had not before as distinctly ap-
proved and sanctioned this act as his agents either in Canada or here
desired. Booth said to Chester, "We must have money ; there is
money in this business, and if you will enter into it I will place three
thousand dollars at the disposal of your family; but I have no money
myself, and must go to Richmond," or one of the parties must go, "to
get money to carry out the enterprise." This was one of the arrange-
ments that was to be " made right in Canada." The funds at Thomp-
son's disposal, as the banker testifies, were exclusively raised by drafts
of the secretary of the treasury of the Confederate States upon Lon-
don, deposited in their bank to the. credit of Thompson.

Accordingly, about the 27th of March, Surratt did go to Richmond.
On the 3d of April he returned to Washington, and the same day
left for Canada. Before leaving, he stated to Weichmarm that when
in Richmond he had had a conversation with Davis and with Benjamin.
The fact in this connexion is not to be overlooked, that on or about
the day Surratt arrived in Montreal, April 6, Jacob Thompson, as the
cashier of the Ontario Bank states, drew of these confederate funds the
sum of one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in the form of cer-
tificates, which, as the bank officer testifies, "might be used any-

What more is wanting? Surely no word further need be spoken
to show that John Wilkes Booth was in this conspiracy ; that John
H. Surratt was in this conspiracy ; and that Jefferson Davis and his
several agents named, in Canada, were in this conspiracy. If any
additional evidence is wanting to show the complicity of Davis in it,
let the paper found in the possession of his hired assassin Booth
come to bear witness against him. That paper contained the secret
cipher which Davis used in his state department at Richmond,
which he employed in communicating with his agents in Canada,


and which they employed in the letter of October 13, notifying
him that "their friends would be set to work as lie had directed."
The letter in cipher found in Booth's possession is translated here by
the use of the cipher machine now in court, which, as the testimony
of Mr. Dana shows, he brought from the rooms of Da vis' s' state de-
partment in Richmond. "Who gave Booth this secret cipher ? Of
what use was it to him if he was not in confederation with Davis ?

But there is one other item of testimony that ought, among honest
and intelligent people at all conversant with this evidence, to end all
further inquiry as to whether Jefferson Davis was one of the parties,
with Booth, as charged upon this record, in the conspiracy to assassi-
nate the President and others. That is, that on the fifth day after the
assassination, in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, a telegraphic
despatch was received by him, at the house of Mr. Bates, from John
C. Breckinridge, his rebel secretary of war, which despatch is pro-
duced here, identified by the telegraph agent, and placed upon your
record in the words following :

"GREENSBORO', April 19, 1865.
' ' His Excellency President Davis :

"President Lincoln was assassinated in the theatre in "Washington
on the night of the 14th inst. Seward's house was entered on the
same night and he was repeatedly stabbed, and is probably mortally


At the time this despatch was handed to him, Davis was addressing
a meeting from the steps of Mr. Bates' s house, and after reading the
despatch to the people he said: " If it were to be done, it were better
it were well done." Shortly afterwards, in the house of the witness,
in the same city, Breckinridge, having come to see Davis, stated his
regret that the occurrence had happened, because he deemed it un-
fortunate for the people of the south at that time. Davis replied, re-
ferring to the assassination, "Well, general, I don't know ; if it were
to be done at all, it were better that it were well done ; and if the
same had been done to Andy Johnson, the beast, and to Secretary
Stanton, the job would then be complete."

Accomplished as this man was in all the arts of a conspirator, he
was not equal to the task as happily, in the good providence of God,
no mortal man is of concealing, by any form of words, any great
crime which he may have meditated or perpetrated either against
his government or his fellow-men. It was doubtless furthest from


Jefferson Davis' s purpose to make confession, and yet he did make a
confession. His guilt demanded utterance; that demand he could not
resist ; therefore his words proclaimed his guilt, in spite of his pur-
pose to conceal it. He said, ' if it were to be done, it were Letter it
were icell done." Would any man ignorant of the conspiracy be
able to devise and fashion such a form of speech as that ? Had not
the President been murdered ? Had he not reason to believe that
the Secretary of State had been mortally wounded ? Yet he was not
satisfied, but was compelled to say, "it were better it were well
djne" that is to say, all that had been agreed to be done had not
been done. Two days afterwards, in his conversation with Breckin-
ridge, he not only repeats the same form of expression, " if it were to
be done it were better it were loell done," but adds these words : ' 'And if
the same had been done to Andy Johnson, the beast, and to Secretary
Stantou, the job would then be complete. ' ' He would accept the assassina-
tion of the President, the Vice President, of the Secretary of State and
the Secretary of War, as a complete execution of the "job," which
he had given out upon contract, and which he had " made all right,''
so far as the pay was concerned, by the despatches he had sent to
Thompson by Surratt, one of his hired assassins. Whatever may
be the conviction of others, my own conviction is that Jefferson
Davis is as clearly proven guilty of this conspiracy as is John Wilkes
Booth, by whose hand Jefferson Davis inflicted the mortal wound
upon Abraham Lincoln. His words of intense hate, and rage, and
disappointment are not to be overlooked that the assassins had not
done their work well ; that they had not succeeded in robbing the
people altogether of their constitutional Executive and his advisers ;
and hence he exclaims, "If they had killed Andy Johnson, the beast!"
Neither can he conceal his chagrin and disappointment that the War
Minister of the republic, whose energy, incorruptible integrity, sleep-
less vigilance, arid executive ability had organized day by day, month
by month, and year by year, victory for our arms, had escaped the
knife of the hired assassins. The job, says this procurer of assassina-
tion, was not well done ; it had been better if it had been well done !
Because Abraham Lincoln had been clear in his great office, and had
saved the nation's life by enforcing the nation's laws, this traitor de-
clares he must be murdered; because Mr. Seward, as the foreign sec-
retary of the country, had thwarted the purposes of treason to plunge
his country into a war with England, he must be murdered; because,
upon the murder of Mr. Lincoln, Andrew Johnson would succeed to
the presidency, and because he had been true to the Constitution and


government, faithful found among the faithless of his own State,
clinging to the falling pillars of the republic when others had fled,
he must be murdered; and because the Secretary of War had taken
care, by the faithful discharge of his duties, that the republic
should live and not die, he must be murdered. Inasmuch as these
two faithful officers were not also assassinated, assuming that the
Secretary of State was mortally wounded, Davis could not conceal his
disappointment and chagrin that the work was not'" well done," that
"the job was not complete ! "

Thus it appears by the testimony that the proposition made to
Davis was to kill and murder the deadliest enemies of the confederacy
not to kidnap them, as is now pretended here ; that by the declaration
of Sanders, Tucker, Thompson, Clay, Cleary, Harper and Young, the
conspirators in Canada, the agreement and combination among them
was to kill and murder Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, .Andrew
Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Edwin M. Stanton, and others of his ad-
visors, and not to kidnap them ; it appears from every utterance of
John Wilkes Booth, as well as from the Charles Selby letter, of which
mention will presently be made, that, as early as November, .the
proposition with him was to kill and murder, not to kidnap.

Since the first examination of Conover, who testified, as the court
will remember, to many important facts against these conspirators
and agents of Davis in Canada among others, the terrible and fiend-
ish plot disclosed by Thompson, Fallen, and others, that they had as-
certained the volume of water in the reservoir supplying New York
city, estimated the quantity of poison required to render it deadly,
and intended thus to poison a whole city Conover returned to Can-
ada, by direction of this court, for the purpose of obtaining certain
documentary evidence. There, about the 9th of June, he met Bev-
erley Tucker, Sanders, and other conspirators, and conversed with
them. Tucker declared that Secretary Stanton, whom he denounced
as "a scoundrel," and Judge Holt, whom he called "a bloodthirsty
villain," "could protect themselves as long as they remained in
office by a guard, but that would not always be the case, and, by the
Eternal, he had a large account to settle with them." After this,
the evidence of Conover here having been published, these parties
called upon him and asked him whether he had been to Washington,
and had testified before this court. Conover denied it ; they insisted,
and took him to a room, where, with drawn pistols, they compelled
him to consent to make an affidavit that he had been falsely person-
ated here by another, and that he would make that affidavit before a

Mr. Kerr, who would witness it. They then called in Mr. Kerr to
certify to the public that Conover had made such a denial. They
also compelled this witness to furnish for publication an advertise-
ment offering a reward of five hundred dollars for the arrest of the
"infamous and perjured scoundrel" who had recently personated
James W. Wallace under the name of Sanford Conover, and testified
to a tissue of falsehoods before the military commission at Washing-
ton, which advertisement was published in the papers.

To these facts Mr. Conover now testifies, and also discloses the
fact that these same men published, in the report of the proceedings
before Judge Smith, an affidavit purporting to be his, but which he
never made. The affidavit which he in fact made, and which was
published in a newspaper at that time, produced here, is set out sub-
stantially upon your record, and agrees with the testimony upon the
same point given by him in this court.

To suppose that Conover ever made such an affidavit voluntarily
as the one wrung from him as stated is impossible. Would he ad-
vertise for 'his own arrest and charge himself with falsely personating
himself? But the fact cannot evade observation, that when these
guilty conspirators saw Conover' s testimony before this court in the
public prints, revealing to the world the atrocious plots of these
felon conspirators, conscious of the truthfulness of his statements,
they cast about at once for some defence before the public, and de-
vised the foolish and stupid invention of compelling him to make an
affidavit that he was not Sanford Conover, was not in this court,
never gave this testimony, but was a practicing lawyer in Montreal!
This infamous proceeding, coupled with the evidence before detailed,
stamps these ruffian plotters with tbe guilt of this conspiracy.

John Wilkes Booth having entered into this conspiracy in Canada,
as has been shown, as early as October, he is next found in the city
of New York on the llth day, as I claim, of November, in disguise,
in conversation with another, the conversation disclosing to the wit-
ness, Mis. Hudspeth, that they had some matter of personal interest
between them ; that upon one of them the lot had fallen to go
to Washington- upon the other to go to Newbern. This Avitnese,
upon being shown the photograph .of Booth, swears "that the face
is the same" as that of one of those men, who she says was a
young man of education and culture, as appeared by his conversation,
and who had a scar like a bite near the jaw-bone. It is a fact proved
here by the Surgeon General that Booth had such a scar on the side
of his neck. Mrs. Hudspeth heard him say he would leave for Wash-


ington the day after to-morrow. His companion appeared angry be-
cause it had not fallen on him to go to Washington. This took place
after the presidential election in November. She cannot fix the
precise date, but says she was told that General Butler left New York
on that day. The testimony discloses that General Butler r s army
was on the llth of November leaving New York. The register of
the National Hotel shows that Booth left Washington on the early
morning train, November 11, and that he returned to this city on the
14th. Chester testifies positively to Booth's presence in New York
early in November. This testimony shows most conclusively that
Booth was in New York on the llth of November. The early morn-
ing train on which he left Washington would reach New York early
in the afternoon of that day. Chester saw him there early in No-
vember, and Mrs- Hudspeth not only identifies his picture, but de-
scribes his person. The scar upon his neck near his jaw was peculiar
and is well described by the witness as like a bite. On that day
Booth had a letter in his possession which he accidentally dropped
in the street car in the presence of Mrs. Hudspeth, the witness, who
delivered it to Major General Dix the same day, and by whom, as
his letter on file before this court shows, the same was transmitted
to the War Department November 17, 1864. That letter contains
these words :

" DEAR Louis : The time has at last come that we have all so wished
for, and upon you everything depends. As it was decided, before
you left, we were to cast lots, we accordingly did so, and you are to
be the Charlotte Corday of the 19th century. When you remember
the fearful, solemn vow that was taken by us, you will feel there is no
drawback. Abe must die, and now. You can choose your weapons
the cup, the knife, the bullet. The cup failed us once, and might again.
Johnson, who will give this, has been like an enraged demon since the
meeting, because it has not fallen upon him. to rid the world of the
monster. * * * You know where to find your friends. Your
disguises are so perfect and complete that without one knew your
face, no police telegraphic despatch would catch you. The English
gentleman, Harcourt, must not act hastily. Remember he has ten
days. Strike for your home, strike for your country bide your time,
but strike sure. Get introduced ; congratulate him ; listen to his
stories ; (not many more will the brute tell to earthly friends;) do
anything but fail, and meet us at the appointed place within the
fortnight. You will probably hear from me in Washington. San-
ders is doing us no good in Canada.



The learned gentleman, (Mr. Cox,) in his very able and care-
fully considered argument in defence of O'Laughlin and Arnold, at-
tached importance to this letter, and doubtless very clearly saw its
bearing upon the case, and therefore undertook to show that the wit-
ness, Mrs. Hudspeth, must be mistaken as to the person of Booth.
The gentleman assumes that the letter of General Dix, of the 17th
of November last, transmitting this letter to the War Department,
reads that the party who dropped the letter was heard to say that he
would start to Washington on Friday night next, although the word
" next" is not in the letter, neither is it in the quotation which the
gentleman makes, for he quotes it fairly; yet he concludes that this
would be the 18th of November.

Now the fact is, the 1 1th of November last was Friday, and the
register of the National Hotel bears witness that Mrs. Hudspeth is not
mistaken-; because her language is, that Booth said he would leave for
Washington day after to-morrow, which would be Sunday, the 1 3th,
and if in the evening, would bring him to Washington on Monday, the
14th of November, the day on which, the register shows, he did re-
turn to the National Hotel. As to the improbability which the gen-
tleman raises, on the conversation happening in a street car, crowded
with people, there was nothing that transpired, although the conver-
sation was earnest, which enabled the witness, or could have enabled
any one, in the absence of this letter, or of the subsequent conduct
of Booth, to form the least idea of the subject-matter of their conver-
sation. The gentleman does not deal altogether fairly in his remarks
touching the letter of General Dix; because, upon a careful examina-
tion of the letter, it will be found that he did not form any such judg-
ment as that it was a hoax for the Sunday Mercury, but he took care
to forward it to the Department, and asked attention to it; when, as
appears by the testimony of the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr.
Dana, the letter was delivered to Mr. Lincoln, who considered it im-
portant enough to indorse it with the word "Assassination," and file
it in his office, where it was found after the commission of this crime,
and brought into this court to bear witness against his assassins.

Although this letter would imply that the assassination spoken of
was to take place speedily, yet the party was to bide Ms time. Though
he had entered into the preliminary arrangements in Canada, al-
though conspirators had doubtless agreed to co-operate with him in
the commission of the crime, and lots had been cast for the chief part in
the bloody drama, yet it remained for him, as the leader and principal
of the hired assassins, by whose hand their employers were to strike


the murderous blow, to collect about him and bring to Washington
such persons as would be willing to lend themselves for a price to
the horrid crime and likely to give the necessary aid and support in
its consummation. The letter declares that Abraham Lincoln must die,
and now, meaning as soon as the agents can be employed and the
work done. To that end you will bide your time. Bat, says the gen-
tleman, it could not have been the same conspiracy charged here to
which this letter refers. Why not? It is charged here that Booth
with the accused and others conspired to kill and murder Abraham
Lincoln that is precisely the conspiracy disclosed in the letter.
Granted that the parties on trial had not then entered into the com-
bination; if they at any time afterward entered into it they became
parties to it, and the conspiracy was still the same. But, says the gen-
tleman, the words of the letter imply that the conspiracy was to be
executed within the fortnight. Booth is directed, by the name of
Louis, to meet the writer within the fortnight. It by no means follows
that he was to strike within the fortnight, because he was to meet
his co-conspirator within that time, and any such conclusion is ex-
cluded by the words ' ' Bide your time. ' ' Even if the conspiracy was to
be executed within the fortnight, and was not so executed, and the
same party, Booth, afterwards by concert and agreement with the ac-
cused and others did execute it by "striking sure" and killing the
President, that act, whenever done, would be but the execution of the
same conspiracy. The letter is conclusive evidence of so much of this
conspiracy as relates to the murder of President Lincoln. As Booth
was to do anything but fail, he immediately thereafter sought out
the agents to enable him to strike sure, and execute all that he had
agreed with Davis and his co-confederates in Canada to do to mur-
der the President, the Secretary of State, the Vice President, Gen-
eral Grant, and Secretary Stanton.

Even Booth's co-conspirator, Payne, now on his trial, by his defence
admits all this, and says Booth had just been to Canada, ' ' was filled

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Online LibraryJohn Armor BinghamTrial of the conspirators, for the assassination of President Lincoln, &c. : argument of John A. Bingham, special judge advocate, in reply to the arguments of the several counsel for Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel A. Mudd, Edward Spangle → online text (page 8 of 14)