Edwin McMasters Stanton (1814-1869)
Lincoln's DeathOn the fateful morning of April 14, 1865, at the Paterson House on Tenth Street opposite the Ford's Theater while Lincoln lay dying of an assassin's bullet, Stanton plotted his revenge against the man who committed the crime. The city was put on full military alert. Secretary of State William Seward had been assaulted in his home, someone had attempted to assassinate Seward by stabbing him. Guards were placed at the homes of high government officials. 'It was a night of horrors', Salmon P. Chase wrote in his diary.
Stanton was credited with the quote 'he now belongs to the ages' upon the death of Lincoln.
Stanton was convinced the murder of Lincoln was part of a conspiracy , planned and set on foot by rebels under pretense of a avenging the rebel cause'. Abandoning his plans to retire, Stanton was in control of the government. The Army was under his control, the new President Andrew Johnson was unsure of himself and Congress was not in session.
Carrying on the business of still securing a peace, Lincoln's death was not far from Stanton's mind. He helped arranged the funeral details.
While Sherman and Stanton were feuding over what the attitude of the
government should be towards the conquered South and the rights that the
government should accord the Negro, government agents swept down upon the
boardinghouse and arrest everyone in the place. Arrested for knocking
on the door of the boardinghouse while the Government troops were there was
Lewis Payne. Arrested on suspicion he proved to be the man who had
Also arrested later in other places were co-conspirators Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlin. George Atzerodt had failed to carry out his assignment to assassinate Andrew Johnson, he was arrest as was Edmund Spangler a scene changer at Ford Theater. Dr. Samuel Madd who treated John Wilkes Booth broken leg.
Stanton ordered Payne, O'Laughlin Spangler and Atzerodt to be held below desk on the monitor Montauk. The other men were held in the hold of the monitor Saugus. Mrs. Surratt was held at the Carroll Annex of the Old Capital Prison. The men prisoners all had an iron ball attached to his leg by a heavy chair and wore handcuffs joined by an iron bar. Canvas bag hoods with a hole cut in it for the men to eat and breathe, tied around his neck. They were not allowed to see. Stanton promised to have the bags removed when physicians attending the men complained the hoods might drive them insane. Stanton also promised to allow the prisoners might have daily exercise and reading material, but none of the Secretary of War's promises were ever kept.
On April 20, Stanton offered a $50,000 reward for the capture of John Wilkes Booth and an additional reward of $25,000 for the capture of Herold and John Surratt.
Six days later on April 26, Stanton was awakened with the news that Booth had been killed. Shot, contrary to orders, in a burning barn by a cavalry officer Sergeant Boston Corbett. Herold was also captured at the Port Conway Virginia barn. He accompanied Booth's body back to Washington.
The body of the assassin was buried in a secret unmarked grave beneath the floor of the Washington arsenal which at one time served as a federal penitentiary.
President Andrew Johnson still convinced that high-placed Confederate officials had been involved in the plot offered a reward of $100,000 for the capture of Jefferson Davis.
On June 30 1865, a military commission found all the prisoners guilty of conspiring with the Confederates to murder Lincoln, Johnson, Seward and Grant. Payne, Herold Atzerodt, and Mrs. Surrett were sentenced to hang They were sentenced to be executed on July 7, 1865.. O'Laughlin, and Dr. Mudd were sentenced to hard labor for life and Spangler received six years. Stanton evaluated the new president as a man of vigorous physique and moral courage. The man from Tennessee had dared defy the secessionist of his state and spoke out for the Union. In 1868 things changed Stanton's opinion of Johnson. Stanton's removal from the cabinet by Lincoln's successor Andrew Johnson provided an opportunity for Stanton's Radical Republican Congressional colleagues to impeach the President, whose Reconstruction policies they had long opposed. Returning to private life he resumed his private law practice and in the following elections he campaigned for Ulysses S. Grant. Stanton pleaded with President Grant to pass over this sick spoilist and asthmatic patriot", for a position on the Supreme Court bench. On December 19 Stanton was confir.med as a Justice -President Ulysses Grant appointed Stanton to the U.S. Supreme Court. Four days later before he could assume his duties on the bench he died presumably from complications caused by his lifelong asthmatic condition on Dec. 24, 1869. Hopefully he rests in peace at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, just outside of Washington, D.C.