tv Edwin Stanton Lincolns Assassination Aftermath CSPAN March 30, 2018 1:00pm-1:54pm EDT
"american history tv" at fords theater in washington, d.c. for the 21st annual symposium hosted by the abraham lincoln institute and ford's theater society. next, walter stahr, author of "stanton: lincoln's war secretary." he talked about the role edward stanton played after lincoln's assassination, overseeing the conspirators. this is about 50 minutes. welcome back to our final speaker of the afternoon. and first of all for those who celebrate, happy sait. patrick' day today. i'm michelle acro wl and i'm hee with the abraham lincoln
institution. he has been described by enemies and admirers alike as irritable, that's why i said this is not actually about walter. [ laughter ] >> irritable, capricious, good hearted, devoted, patriotic, vindictive, aggressive, strong willed, hateful, cruel, honest, unselfish, fearless, sometimes -- incorruptible. to abraham lincoln, this man was above all indispensable. these adjectives was not applied to the next speaker, walter stahr. i already ruined the punchline but to the subject of his later biography, the fascinating edward m stanton. he shares the sterling qualities like diligence, persistence, and
the ability to obtain and organize mountains of data. like stanton, walter stahr's background is in the law. after graduating from harvard, he joined a law firm that focused on international law. becoming his specialty with an emphasis with work related to asia. went in a new direction when he turned his attention to writing biographies of other notable lawyers of american history. chief justice john jay publish in 2005 and followed by biographies of william h. stewart and edward stanton in 2017. working on another in lincoln's cabinet, salmon chase. i learned from walter that the library of congress where i worked was an important factor in his path of becoming an
historian that we well tom today. as a young lawyer, he researched in the state law library and researched family history and geology, visits to the rain reading room, the manuscript division and rare book and special collective division to research john jay. walter compared the contact high of doing research to taking drugs. [ laughter ] >> he said main lining heroin. but didn't think that was appropriate. so say no to drugs. there was no hope for an addict at that point. taking a red eye flight from california and taking a taxi to the library of congress. there is no 12 step program or rehab to cure him of his
research addiction. please help me welcome, walter stahr. [ applause ] >> thank you for that kind introduction. i was going to start on april 14th here in fords theater, but listening to some earlier speakers, i thought i should go back a few days before. let's start on april 3rd, 1865, 10:00 in the morning a telegram arrives where the old executive office is today. a smaller building. a telegram from richmond. after four years, the union army entered richmond and the word flashes around and the clerks run out into the streets shouting and soon a large crowd gathers there in front of the war department demanding a speech from stanton, the secretary of war.
he steps out for once as a reported noted and says, friends and fellow citizens, in this great hour of triumph, my heard as well as yours is penetrated to gratitude to god for the deliverance of the nation. thanks to the president, army and navy and great commanders by sea and land and to the gallant officers and men who perilled their lived on the battlefield and drenched the soil with their blood. henceforth, or age should be give tonight wounded, the maimed and suffering. who bare the marks of the great sacrifices in the mighty struggle. let's humbly offer up thanks to divine providence and guide and govern us in our duties. as he has carried us forward to victory in the past. that he will teach us how to be humble in the midst of triumph,
just in the hour of victory and enable us to secure the foundations of this republic, soaked as they have been in blood so it will live forever and ever. if you hear echoes of lincoln's second inaugural, this is stanton's, if you will. this is a fairly sober speech but i assure you that night in washington, there was drinking and fireworks and celebration and it continued with the news that lee surrendered to grand and sherman was about to capture the second last large confederate army. a time of unrejoiced, unrestrained rejoicing here in washington. and then on april 14th, 1865,
news arrived at stanton's home a couple of blocks from here that someone had shot lincoln, here in ford's theeter and almost at the same time somebody slashed and stabbed secretary of state sue wert. stanton was ingrej louse. that can't be, i was with him an hour ago and indeed, he was with him an hour ago. he was injury in a carriage accident and confined to his bed. so over his wife's protest, stanton pulled on his clothe and got into his carriage and headed over there where he learned it was true. someone slashed the secretary of state about the face and neck. he survived, however and able to talk about stanton briefly and
then stanton went back down stairs and with gid i don't know wells and the two got into a car ra carriage and came to tenth street. they had to get out of the carriage and walked. i don't know how they learned that lincoln was no longer here in fords up in the box and carried across the street to the peterson street. they learned -- and they entered the house and my stanton book begins with a short man pushing his way through crowd up the curved staircase into the peterson house into the back bedroom where lincoln is lying diagonally on the bed, bleeding and dying. stanton learned that lincoln would never open his eyes and rather than go to the war
department, he decided to stay put. he went into the next room and sat down at a small table and went to work. his first message was to general grant who was on a train heading north to see his family in new jersey. he said come back to washington. he followed up with a message saying take care of your personal security. messages to close the bridges and question those leaving washington and arrest suspicious persons. he summoned folks from fords across the street to the peter street because he wanted to question witnesses while their memory was fresh. he was a lawyer and knew the value of questioning witnesses right away. when his aides couldn't keep up, he said find me someone who can take shorthand. a crippled clerk found himself sitting next to the secretary of
war taking shorthand notes of this interrogation. stanton sent out a series of press releases. telegrams, nominally addressed to general john in new york city that were disseminated immediately to the nation's newspapers. i will read the first few lines sent about 1:00 in the morning on april 15th, quote, this evening, at about 9:30 p.m. at fords theater sitting in the private box with mrs. lincoln, mrs. harris was shot by an assassin that approached the president. the assassin leaped upon the stage, a large dagger and knife and made the escape in the rear of the theater. entering the back of the president's head and penetrated
nearly through. the wound is mortal. the president has been insensible ever since it was ink flikted and is now dying. those who are lincoln assassination buffs, will note a couple of minor areas in what i read compared to what happened. i'm not going to reveal them all. it talks about the sue warts son. it's an amazingly detailed and accurate description of the events here at fords and the house written with a couple of hours of those events. in another of these press releases. sent a few hours later. stanton reported that a letter found in booth's trunk at the hotel showed that quote, the murder was planned before the fourth of march and fell through then because the accomplice backed out until richmond could
be heard from. until richmond could be heard from. so even before lincoln passed, away, stanton was focused on what would become his obsession, proving that booth was not just a madman acting on his own. proving that booth was paid and working for the confederate government. early the next morning, stanton was in the back bedroom as lincoln died. and stanton supposedly said right after lincoln's death, now he belongs to the ages. i said supposedly because i do not think stanton said that. they were detailed accounts written about lincoln's last hours and last minutes and death right after the assassination. some of them appeared in the newspapers and some in private letters including a long letter by james tanner and none of the
accounts mention stanton saying anything after he died. they describe lincoln's pastor lead everyone in a prayer and people dispersed. those words first appear in print in 1890 when lincoln's secretary, are publishing month by month, their biography of lincoln. and so, they might -- i'm not saying that i'm 100% sure he didn't say it. hey was there. it is possible. i think that if stanton said anything memorable, it would have somehow survived in print before 1890. so going back to april, 1865, stanton was busy in the days and weeks following the assassination. organizing the funeral here in washington, d.c., organizing the
route for the funeral train taking his remains back to the sacred ground of springfield. organizing the manhunt and investigation into the complicated plot to assassinate lincoln and johnson and perhaps stanton and grant. on april 20th, stanton -- spent part of the day drafting one of the most famous things from the lincoln assassination. the poster offering rewards for the capturing of booth and his colleagues. let the stain of innocent blood be removed from the land by the rest and punishment of the murders. a draft of the famous poster is in the archives of the new york historical society. here in washington and the files of the national archives, there's the record of the investigation such as the paper record exists and it shows that stanton directed the
investigation. an undated note directing his aides to koe late the evidence about the horses. the horses used by booth and his colleague powell. that's the man who slashed suwart. about two weeks after, he had no idea where booth was. rumors that booth is here. my favorite came from chicago where there was a reliable report that booth was in a brothel dressed as a woman amidst the prostitutes. can't disregard it. stanton sent a message to military authorities to go to the brothel and check it out. so yes, there were clues pointing to what we know as the escape route you can take if you take the tour.
but there were clues pointing in every other before the accident and namely, he had no idea where jefferson davis was and was hunting for him as well. the reportings were that davis intended to reunite with a rebel arm yes i and die fighting in mexico or texas. it was not until the 26th of april that the two detectives showed up to stanton's thousands report that they got booth. and they described for stanton how booth was located in a barn 100 miles south of here surrounded. the colleagues surrendered and there was a shot and then another shot as one of the federal soldiers shot booth. booth was shot and lingered for a while on the porch of the farmhouse and then died. they brought to stanton, the objects they had taken from booth's body including a diary.
looked at them all and handed them back to the detectives. gave orders that when the body arrives here in washington, it should be taken to a secure place and have medical and dental examinations. he wanted to be 100% sure it was him. booth was dead and colleagues in prison, on prison ships anchored out in the potomac river and stanton turned his attention to the military commission that would try the booth conspirators. it was controversial at the time and remains it today, it was an easy decision for stanton to use a military commission rather than a civil court to try the murders. after all, there were dozens of military commissions in progress at that very moment, trying men on charges of attempted arson in new york city or attempted
sabotage of railroad tracks. if military commissions can be tried to use those, military commission was the proper way to try those who attempted to, indeed have killed the military leader in the united states of the military capital in the united states. stanton prepared in his own hand, the procedures for that military commission. at the new york historical society. for example, he required that the defense lawyers take the so called ironclad oath that they neither supported or aided the rebellion in anyway. and assured that no southern lawyers would be defending booth's colleagues. he wrote, no reporters but the official reporter shall be admitted in the courtroom and as the trial started it started behind closed doors. this lead to a fire storm of protest in the newspapers. the new york world, for example, referred to mr. stanton's star
chamber and the new york tribune, sportive of the administration wrote that there was a quote, curious old document in existence known as the constitution of the united states. [ laughter ] >> and the transcribe bun continued, since it appeared that no copy of this document was in washington, and quote, certain questions including the sections that guarantee criminals trial by jury. stanton relented some what. he opened the doors of the military commission to selected newspaper reporters. and thus, the remainder of the trial, which went on for quite a while was reported daily and in detail newspapers. one of the hundreds of witnesses who testified, testified that one of the defendants, michael, was at stanton's house on the night before the murders asking questions about stanton and his
habits. and this, and other evidence suggested that stanton was not only conducting investigation but can you be thing an investigation into his own attempted murder and of lincoln and suart. eight defendants, ranging from louis powell to mary who ran the boardinghouse where booth stayed. >> stanton tried to prove not only the guilt of the eight defendants and to prove that they were working for richmond. in my view, this was a mistake. he should have waited to try to prove the richmond/booth connection until he had more evidence from richmond, canada and banks and other witnesses. stanton was never a man to wait the military commission reached
its decision at the end of june and convicted all of the defendants and sentenced four of them including mary to die. five minutes of the commission wrote a petition to president johnson recommending that mary, on account of her age and sex, not be executed. the sentences were not announced immediately in the newspapers because the judge advocate, the prosecutor, in effect, joseph hold had to present the proposed findings and sentences to president johnson. johnson was ill. so on the 5th of july, they had the meeting. in later years, the two men fought and their allies fought down to this day historians fight about whether hold showed johnson the petition regarding
mary. i'm going to take a pass on that one. [ laughter ] >> whether he did or didn't show the petition, we know that johnson confirmed the sentences. they were announced the next day and the 6 at the of july. to take affect the following day on the 7th of july before convicted defendants were executed on that day at about noon. and the chapter, this chapter of my bookends with the picture, the grim picture of the four bodies hanging from the gallows on that day. stanton himself only lived for about four more years. he died in december of 1869 just after being nominated and confirmed to the supreme court. a position that he was never able to fill. and within weeks after he was dead, some newspapers were
claiming that stanton had quote, died by his own hand rather than longer bid the torture which was his own to bear from the execution of mary. a longer version of this story appeared a few years later in which stanton's black servant was shaving stanton and stepped across the room and turned to see the razor and slid across his throat. dramatic stuff, yes. to counter such stories, stanton's doctor, surgeon general joseph barns wrote a long newspaper article listing all the people who were present as stanton died of congestive heart failure. he went out and found stanton's former servants and got affidavits from them about the circumstances of stanton's death and in particular that there were no slash marks about his
neck. in 1937, otto published a book titled" why was lincoln murdered?" the answer was simple. because stanton wanted him dead. [ laughter ] >> yeah. stanton -- wanted lincoln out of the way because the two disagreed about reconstruction and with him gone stanton can impose his own ideas about reconstruction. he argued mainly through questions. so for example, why did the first message not mention john wilksboothe by name. why did stanton deny lincoln a stronger guard in the ford's theater? why did stanton not give strict orders that he was to be captured and not killed?
is it possible he wanted him dead so he couldn't tell his tale. i think you get the general drift. serious historians were not especially impressed. i would not mention him who is long gone but for the fact in a sense that this argument that stanton had a role in the assassination that occurred here in for the record's theater is arrive and well. in a 2011 book by bill o'rielly and martin daugaard, they res recollect on isaac's argument. for example, they suggest at one point that stanton hoped that both lincoln and johnson were killed that stanton himself could become prosecute. that is nonsense. the act of succession which was
in place at the time provided that the order was president, vice president, the president -- secretary of war is not on the list. and if there had been an election, everyone, i mean would have said, well, there's no chance stanton, given all the things that he did during the war would be a candidate for president. that book as you may recall, i'm sure the ford's people know. there's a controversy on whether that book should be stocked in the bookstore here in the ford's theater and the parks decided in the to, viewed as not sufficiently serious. [ applause ] >> that is an appropriate part to applaud. whatever questions you would
like to ask about. [ applause ] >> yes. >> of course in your book about stanton you go over the times he had disagreements with various generals and had an opinion about everybody, from porter to ulysses s grant and had problems with will jam -- yam sherman. how many times did stanton have an issue and had to have a meeting or basically, you had stanton going back to president lincoln. how many times was that occurring over the war and how did that complicate things? otherwise, it became clear that sherman was not following what
the law was. >> you know, as secretary of war he has relations with major generals and that range from warm and friendly and supportive in the case of stanton and grant to atrocious in the case of stanton and mclel lan and sherman is in the middle. how should we say, practical, tactical things, stanton and sherman see eye-to-eye and sherman is grateful for the rapid and full support that the war department provides to him for the march from atlanta to the sea and then the restocking in savannah and the march north into the carolinas. the issue upon which stanton and sherman disagree is black soldiers. stanton from the time of the emancipation of the proclamation, and before, is
keen to recruit blacks into the army and sherman will have none of it. he believes that blacks are not ready to be soldiers in his army and he succeeds all the way through in ensuring that blacks are not part of his army. and this is the issue, the main issue. there are some others that leads stanton in early 1865 to get onto a boat and go down to savannah and see sherman face-to-face to talk about this. and amazingly, the two of them agree on what becomes sherman's most famous wartime document. special orders number 15 resefrg the sea island for blacks and saying that no whites can enter other than those in the army and
with army passes. sherman liked it because it was going to keep the black refugees who were clogging the roads, near savannah. and stanton liked it as did his sort of, philanthropic friends here in the north because it created a temporary experiment. so it is the most complicated. it is a mixture of they get along well on some and not well on this issue. >> thank you. >> yes. >> a simpler question, i noticed in the museum that there was a single guard in the box. >> yes. >> and when the president was shot, that guard was out getting a drink. was he ever identified? and punished? and was he tied in with a
possible conspiracy with booth? >> i do not know is the answer to that. i think he was identified for sure. i think they had by the end of the information they had the names of almost everyone here in the theater. whether he was punished or -- duty, i mean, you know, by our standards, the security around lincoln was ridiculous lax and stanton talked with lincoln about this from time to time and the president sort of said, if someone wants me dead, they will kill me. so you know, it wasn't just that night that the security around the president was laxed. the security around the president was laxed all the time. you could walk into the white house. over here. >> you have written two really interesting books which i've
read. first about suard and i haven't read the john jay book. but the book about stanton. [ laughter ] >> the heart of your stanton book you didn't get into today but that's a service during the lincoln administration and all that he did on recruitment, direction of the army, organization of the democracy. i think it is a great insight, or many great insights in your book about what he did. your book about suard referring to him as the indispensable man or lincoln's indidspensable man. who could have replaced stanton, the way he leads lincoln department of war?
>> midway through stanton book, as i was thinking about the title. i felt like the late jim fix who p published the complete book of running, and when it was time to publish the sequel, if it was not finished what are you going to call it. if it wasn't complete. stanton himself in '64 or early '65. he said no no, his health was bad. if i were to die, there are other man that could do what i do. joseph halt comes to mind. he was considered by lincoln in early '62 as a potential secretary of war. i don't think he would have been as efficient or effective as stanton. in organizing the war department and army and organizing the
whole north to kind of bring the north's manpower and industrial advantages to steadily in fighting and reducing the south. i'm not sure that there were as stanton claimed in that conversation 100 man who can do the job as well as him. there's a small number that could accomplish what he did in the war department. >> as stanton came in, he was a war democrat, did he ever change his political affiliation to that as a republican as he supported lincoln and his bid for re-election? >> no. i mean -- he lived in the district of columbia and couldn't vote for president and political lines so he was not a registered democrat because that concept didn't exist. if you had asked him say, in 1864, when he spends a great
deal of his time on the lincoln re-election campaign, are you still a democrat? >> he would say yes. i'm a union loving democrat like our candidate andrew johnson and thousands of other union loving democrat and i would support the union party. we tend to forget that lincoln's second campaign was not run as a republican but a union party candidate. i think that would have been stanton's answer in the election of -- when campaigning for grant. asking if you are still a democrat. i believe those things as a democrat but it is far more important to preserve the union and elect grant and continue the policies of lincoln but ejecting grant. yes. >> i have not read your new book but i believe stanton and
lincoln were together in some piece of commercial litigation before the war and had some kind of interreaction there. could you refresh my memory? >> yes. so stanton and lincoln are both lawyers and both hired on the same side of a patent case. the patent case was originally set for trial in i willinois. the case was transferred, try in cincinnati, ohio and nobody bothered to tell lincoln that hefhe wasn't needed. so he showed up. we know hifs there t. his name is reported in the newspapers. stanton was there. so they had some interaction.
it is usually said, you can find it in dozens of books that stanton insulted lincoln at that time. i don't -- stanton insulted a lot of people a lot of the time. so it is possible that he did. when you look at the sources for that proposition. there's no letter from lincoln to his wife saying, i have never been so insulted in my life as i was by that edwin stanton. and there are letters from edwin stanton to his fiance, describing what is going on. and they don't mention lincoln. you know, all of the sources are after both lincoln and stanton are long dead and they are of the nature, well my uncle told me that dot dot. i'm not sure. but that they met in cincinnati and had that one brief period of
a couple of days on the patten case. >> over here. >> stanton was in cabinets of two other presidents. buchanan and johnson. we tend to focus on johnson and his impeachment. what about his service in the buchanan cabinet? >> after the election of lincoln and the southern states saturday to succeed, bu can niece cabinet starts to fall apart. stanton's close friend, jeremiah black who was the attorney general was promoted to become secretary of state and black says here is a reliable candidate. stanton, make him attorney
general. so he did. it didn't take months and months for confirmation in those days. it is instant. there's going to be interesting legal opinions and issue that is he wrestled with, no. none. he wrestles with the interesting and important issue of fort sumter. buchanan was debating whether to hand the keys to fort sumter. it is reported in great detail in the newspapers and stanton along with black form what you might call, the don't give in block of the buchanan cabinet and indeed stanton told him to his face, if he gave up, he would go down this american history with benedict arnold. another man who gave up another
fort. he was not a man to minutes words. so his service in the buchanan cabinet is basically, arguing buchanan art of things that buchanan is thinking of doing and pushing buchanan. we tend to forget that before the incidents that lead to the firing on the fort. there was the star of the west where buchanan tried to get arms into the fort and stanton was in favor of that. so stiffening buchanan's spine is a short version of stanton's service of the roughly three months as he severs as attorney general for buchanan. over here. >> you talked about stanton use of military tribunal to try and convict and execute the conspirators that happened in less than a span of three months. >> yeah. >> was there a public out cry
for a use of a civil court and/or any involvement in the supreme court, perhaps? >> yes. that was something, how to put it? when you do a book like this. you don't make huge contributions to history. i thought that was a small contribution. i found a number of newspaper criticizing that was trial was going to be behind closed doors but rather it was going to be a standard criminal trial in a civilian court. that criticism died down once the doors were open and the newspapers had something to report. there was krit sieccriticism at. for stanton, it was not particularly a hard issue. from the day he became secretary of war, he and his colleagues were using military commissions
to try offenses against the law of war. some of which are clearly offenses against the law of war. sabotaging railroad bridges, some of them when you look you say, that seems more political than a military crime. there were thousands of military commissions. not just you know, sort of how to put it -- on and near the battlefield. in ohio, indiana, new york, massachusetts. so by the time that -- that the trial of the booth con spir tars came up, it was dead easy for stanton. i don't have document of him krring pros and cons. a jury here in the district of columbia he does not want to -- have his case in to the
residence of the district of couple. >> caller: -- columbia. >> are you familiar with and how ridiculous are the conspiracy theories. the guy shot in the barn was not booth wi booth but somebody named -- >> i am slightly familiar because as i mentioned in my talk. in a sense stanton far saw -- foresaw this. he knew 100 years later that there would be theories. he did everything he could with the body in order to prove it was john. he had doctors and booth's dentist.
he had investigators to find booth's dentist to say it was booth. among other things, on the body. there was a tattoo, jwb. and you have to bear in mind that booth was a famous actor in america. if he were to walk in, everybody would say that is booth. i view it as impossible that it was someone other than booth whose body, who was shot at the barn and brought here and ultimately buried on stanton's instructions. michelle. >> i do think about the drug addiction about the research is very funny and appropriate. but to the point, since stanton and chase were such close friends intimate friends, what kind of trajectory of their
friendship do they have during the lincoln administration serving together? >> so as michelle days, if you had asked stanton on the day he became a member, which people sitting around the table including lincoln do you know, he would say salmon chase. they have not been as close in the immediate run up towards the war. the politics emerged dramatically. when they were friends, they were democrats, chase become as liberty party man and then free soil and then a republican. during the war, there's not a lot of sort of personal interactions. a few little details. there's a letter in which stanton writes that one of his children is going to be daptized and he would like chase to be the god father. there are, how to put it?
more numerous or testy letters in which chase is chastising stat ton and stap ton chastising him. and bureaucratic fights between the treasury department. so i think they are like two people who remember they were once close friends but grown apart and they wouldn't if you were to ask chase who is your best friends in washington, he would not have included during the lincoln years not included stanton on that list. >> great. thank you. >> okay. i'm told i have time for one last question, if there isn't. i'm sorry. the lights -- >> hi, how are you? >> it was interesting that you talked about the generals on the tribunal having to answer to stanton and one of the things i
found interesting in the book was how little the general's thought they had to answer to stanton or even to lincoln. if we tried to run wars today, the way they ran wars then, it's like insanity. >> yeah. >> stanton would say do this and the generals would sit there. can you talk about that a little bit? >> so the prime example of this would be general george in 1862. you know, lincoln issues a presidential order. the arm ji shall move on washington's byirthday and nothing happens. and lincoln and stanton press him to press on towards richmond to capture richmond. and he does. inch by inch. i love this morning, the original virginia creeper, creeping towards richmond.
[ laughter ] >> but -- you know, the general and again a prime example of this because they were in the newspapers everyday, they had a certain sort of political power themselves. they had political followers so they knew that they really didn't have to do everything that washington ordered them to do. and of course, the means of communication were much more rudimentary than we have today. they were telegrams and it often went down and i think some generals were not beyond saying the telegram -- the telegraph lines were done when they received an order that they didn't want to pay much attention to. so it's not just him, you know, agerman with respect to the black troops, disregarded it had and he was quite confident, sherman was confident with his relationship with grant and his brother senator john sherman and
the power base back home in ohio that he wasn't going to be -- and being sherman, and if they sack me, it is their loss. so, yes, the generals in those days felt much more sort of authority to take telegrams from washington as advisory rather than as orders. okay. i think i'm done and we will have the panel of all six of us momentarily. [ applause ] tonight, "american history tv" is in prime time. the abraham lincoln institute and ford's theater society hosted a symposium on abraham lincoln's life career and legacy. including a discussion about president lincoln and the relations with the cabinet and
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