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Why was Lincoln murdered?
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Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Was Kennedy a historical repeat?

April 10, 2009

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ONE day in the year 1896, a French chemist named Becquerel took a photographic plate, which had been wrapped in light- proof paper, from one of the drawers of his laboratory. When it was developed, it showed dark smudges for which he could find no immediate explanation. His curiosity was aroused, and he did not rest until it was satisfied. The result of his inquisitiveness was the discovery of radium.

Historians, in developing the story of Lincoln's assassination, have encountered smudges equally baffling. Why did General Grant suddenly alter his plans and decide not to go to Ford's Theater on the evening of Lincoln's assassination? Who, during that same night, tampered with the telegraph wires leading out of Washington? Why was the President's bodyguard at the play­ house, guilty of the grossest negligence, not punished nor even questioned?

Perhaps the most serious reproach against historical writers is not that they have left such questions unanswered, but that they have failed to ask the questions.

THE fourteenth of April 1865, dawning on the city of Washing­ ton, found the Capital gaudily bedecked with flags; for on the preceding night, Lee's surrender had been celebrated by a grand illumination. The end of the long war was at last in sight.

In the forenoon a regular meeting of the Cabinet was held, at which General Grant was present as a distinguished guest. The victor of Appomattox Court House was a medium-sized, stoop-shouldered, taciturn man, then at the zenith of his military glory. At the White House he met all the members of Lincoln's official family, except Secretary of State Seward, who had been the President's closest rival at the Chicago Republican convention of 1860. Seward had been thrown from his carriage a few days before and was lying at home under the care of physicians. The framework of steel which encased his face and neck, agonizing though it must have been, was destined that night to save his life.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was there; a kindly- looking man with a long white beard, who was gifted with a shrewd insight into the character of men. Thoroughly loyal to his Chief, and with a finely balanced judgment, he kept close watch on the events of his era and faithfully recorded them in his diary.

The President himself seemed in unusually good spirits. Be­ fore the opening of the formal meeting he spoke freely of his plans for reconciling the conquered South. So far as he was con­ cerned, he promised, there would be no persecution; he even hoped that the fallen leaders of the Confederacy would leave the country and thereby make it unnecessary for him to take direct action against them. He then told of a dream that had come to him during the night, the same that had so often in the past presaged a portentous happening. This time he hoped that it foretold the surrender to General Sherman of the last Confeder­ ate army. As Lincoln was describing his dream, Stanton entered. The President stopped abruptly. "Gentlemen," he said, "let us proceed to business."

Stanton did not often attend Cabinet meetings and, when he came, he usually came late. It was his way of indicating the superiority he felt over his colleagues, if not over Lincoln himself. Gideon Welles distrusted him intensely, considering him an unscrupulous intriguer. "He has cunning and skill," the head of the Navy Department once wrote in his diary, "dissembles his feelings . . . is a hypocrite. . . ." Small of stature, with a long beard which he kept perfumed, the Secretary of War had an air of sternness; but Welles always believed that this outward sem­ blance concealed the heart of a coward. The two Secretaries had crossed swords only once. On that occasion Welles had shown plainly that he would brook no interference in his department, and Stanton had since treated him with an obsequiousness in sharp contrast to his imperious manner toward the other Cabinet members.

With Stanton's entrance the pleasant flow of informal conversation ceased. The Secretary of War had brought with him an outline of the first step that he thought should be taken along the road to reconstruction. He contemplated the creation of a military territory combining Virginia and North Carolina, and the placing of this district under the supervision of his own depart­ ment. Welles immediately offered objections. He declared that state lines should be inviolate and that the plan submitted would aggravate, rather than harmonize, the feelings of the two hostile sections. Lincoln sided with Welles, but tactfully suggested that Stanton should furnish a copy of his scheme, for study and future discussion, to all the Cabinet officials. Soon afterward the meeting adjourned.

On the same day, early in the morning, a shambling little man, whose head seemed wedged between his shoulders, rented a room at the Kirkwood House on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Twelfth Street. With an unpracticed hand he wrote his name on the register: G. A. Atzerodt.

In the afternoon, a handsome young actor walked into the lobby of the same hotel and asked for Vice President Andrew Johnson. When informed that he was not in his apartment, the visitor left with the clerk a card on which he had scribbled these words:

Dont wish to disturb you Are you at home?

J Wilkes Booth

The young man then left and mingled with the crowds on the avenue.

Had anyone been able at that time to read the significance of these two incidents, he would have recognized in them the shadow which all great events are said to cast before them; for they were the only outward evidence of a conspiracy that was then afoot against the life of the President.

That evening John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln dur­ ing a performance at Ford's Theater.

WHEN William G. Shepherd, in 1924, investigated for Harper's Magazine the story of John Wilkes Booth's alleged escape, he stated that he was not going to name a very high official who, it was whispered to him, appeared implicated in this mystery. "It is part of the . . . legend," he protested, "that a certain gov­ ernment official of great power and position planned the killing of Lincoln and helped Booth to escape. Let his name be Blank."

There was really no necessity for Shepherd to be so secretive. Had he read nothing more sensational than the Congressional Globe for the year 1867, he would have known that Mr. Blank's name was then on many lips and that he was being publicly de­ nounced as Lincoln's murderer. Mr. Blank was none other than Andrew Johnson, seventeenth President of the United States.

When Johnson became the Chief Executive of the nation, the Radicals began to have pleasurable visions of wholesale massacres and executions that would depopulate the South; for the new President had expressed his hatred of traitors in terms that were immoderate and unmistakable. Yet, week after week passed and, except for the hanging of the so-called conspirators and of Captain Wirz, the former commandant at Andersonville, no deed of violence took place. On the contrary, pardon followed pardon; and worse than that, the President undertook to re-establish state governments along the lines Lincoln had advocated. At first the Radicals were bewildered; then astonishment gave way to unbridled fury. When it was discovered that John Surratt had been found in Europe and that the government had made only languid efforts to have him returned for trial, Johnson's enemies seized the opportunity to vent their wrath against him. They insinuated that the President did not dare have the fugitive return to justice because he dreaded a confession.

On January 24, 1867, Benjamin Loan, a representative of Missouri, declared in the House:

In the beginning . . . the assassination [of Lincoln] had been the deed "of a reckless young man . . . But subsequent development have shown it to have been the result of deliberate plans adopted in the interest of the Rebellion. . . ." An assassin's bullet wielded and directed by hands and paid for by Rebel gold made Andrew Johnson President. The -price that he was to -pay for his -promotion was treachery . . .

Congressman Ashley of Ohio — who, it will be noted witll surprise, was one of Stanton's intimates — spoke of "the man ' came into the Presidency through the door of assassination", of "the dark suspicion that crept over the minds of men N his complicity in the assassination plot." But, as usual, it was General Butler who came out most brazenly in his accusation. He was interested in discovering, he said, "who it was that could profit by assassination who could not profit by capture and abduction [of the President]; who it was expected [by the conspirators] would succeed to Lincoln, if the knife made a vacancy."

An unheard-of thing had come to pass; a President of the United States had been accused on the floor of Congress of having instigated the assassination of his predecessor.

It now rested with the accusers to prove their case. On Butler's motion, the House authorized a special committee to investigate "all the facts and circumstances connected with the assasination tending to show who were the persons engaged in the conspiracy. . . ." That there should be no doubt against whom this was aimed, the resolution stated gratuitously that many of those suspected were holding high positions of power and authority, but had probably acted through inferiors who were their tools. This seemed like prejudging the case, but the committee was not in a mood to shy at trifles. Offers of amnesty were made to everyone contributing evidence which would bring the true facts to light; but the only visible result was the reappearance of the convicted perjurer Conover. He could prove, he stated, that Booth and Johnson had corresponded with each other, that originally the assassination of Lincoln had been planned for the day of the second inauguration, and that Johnson had become intoxicated on that occasion in an endeavor to steel himself against the announcement of the murder he momentarily expected.

But all this backstairs tittle-tattle did not get the committee anywhere. It therefore decided to send an agent to Fort Jefferson to obtain statements from the three surviving prisoners, Dr. Mud, Arnold and Spangler. To each of them it was intimated that a successful implication of the proper persons would be rewarded by immediate release. The result of these interviews was disappointing. The condemned men did not wish to say anything at all and even appealed to the governor of the island for protection. In desperation, the committee finally summoned Congressman Ashley to force from him a complete disclosure of all he knew. His testimony, however, was vague, even though his belief appeared unshaken.

Q. You are the member of Congress who preferred the charges in the House of Representatives against the President for impeachment?

A. I am.

Q. Have you produced to this committee all the testimony of which you have any knowledge to sustain these charges?

A. All that I can present to the committee at this time.

After references to Conover and some irrelevant matters, the questioning continued:

Q. Have you not stated to members of the House of Representatives that you had evidence in your possession which would implicate Mr. Johnson in the assassination of Mr. Lincoln?

A. No; not evidence in my possession. I may have said that F had S|JI|P« ments made, in writing and otherwise, by this man and thai, which induced me to believe it. I may have said that.

Q. Have you ever brought that evidence on which you believe it before this committee?

A. No, sir.

Q. Why did you not?

A. I have spoken to members of this committee about it. I have had no evidence which I regarded as valid; it was only an isolated statement of parties here and there, and not sufficiently strong to warrant me presenting it.

Q. Then do you say before this committee that you had no evidence against Mr. Johnson which you considered as valid?

A. Yes. I had no evidence which I regarded as sufficient for the conviction of a criminal before a jury . . .

Q. Then you state now, as you did before, that you know of no other evidence . . .

A. I know of none at present . . . or I should bring it. I have given General Butler all the matters that I regarded as of sufficient importance . . .

Ashley's testimony was the last the committee took. As soon as he had left the stand, it adjourned, never to meet again. Butler evidently made herculean efforts to unearth damaging material against the President, but finally had to confess failure. "Johnson had been suspected by many people of being concerned in the plans of Booth against the life of Lincoln or at least cognizant of them," he wrote many years later. "A committee . . . of which I was the head, felt it their duty to make a secret investigation of that matter, and we did our duty in that regard most thoroughly. Speaking for myself I think I ought to say thai there was no reliable evidence at all to convince a prudent and responsible man that there was any ground for the suspicions entertained against Johnson."

Failing in their endeavors to bring forth tangible evidence of Johnson's complicity in Lincoln's death, the foes of the President concentrated their efforts on pointing to some peculiar circumstances that seemed to throw his behavior into an unfavorable light. For one thing, Johnson had not stayed long at Lincoln's bedside; in fact, it was questioned whether he had been there at all at any time during the night. This controversy has long continued among writers, but it appears from papers found recently that Johnson did go to the Petersen house when he heard of the tragedy, even if he did not go there of his own accord.

The Vice President, contrary to his usual custom, apparently went to bed very early that night. Former Governor Farwell of Wisconsin, who witnessed the assassination at Ford's Theater, bethought himself of the danger Lincoln's successor might be in and rushed to the Kirkwood House to advise Johnson of what had happened. It was not easy to arouse the sleeping man. According to Farwell's statement, Johnson was deeply shocked at the news and wept on his visitor's shoulder. Still, his sympathy with the dying President did not prove strong enough to make him take the obvious course of going to the Petersen house, where all the Cabinet members, and many other men of lesser station, were assembled. It was only when Stanton sent Major O'Beirne for Johnson that the latter accepted the summons; even so, he stayed only a short time, and was then escorted back to his hotel.

Half an hour later, about two o'clock, Johnson had a long and serious talk with his private secretary, Mussey, on the duties devolving upon the new Chief Executive. According to some reports the Vice President spent the next few hours indulging in heavy drinking; he kept walking up and down in his room, roaring blasphemous threats at the assassins and at Southerners in general. Just what happened after that no one seems to know with certainty.

Senator Stewart of Nevada claimed to have found Lincoln's successor in a drunken stupor at eight o'clock in the morning. According to this informant, Johnson's hair was matted with mud, and he was in such a disgraceful condition that a doctor and a barber were rushed to the Kirkwood House to make him presentable for the ceremony that was to install him as President a few hours later. Stanton was the only other person alleged to have known of this disgraceful episode. But when Salmon P. Chase, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, swore Johnson in as the new incumbent at the White House, not one of those present discerned anything unusual in his appearance, and all praised his solemn and dignified manner.

Out of this welter of conflicting testimony only two facts emerge that are uncontradicted; one, that Johnson did not go to Lincoln's bedside without solicitation, and the second, that he did not linger there for more than a few minutes, or at the most half an hour. Neither one of these actions is creditable. The first shows a lamentable lack of good breeding; the second is more serious. Lincoln could have recovered consciousness at any time before he expiredj some physicians were of the opinion that the dying President was partially aware of what was going on around him and they half expected that a flickering of the flame, before it wait out, would enable Lincoln to confer with his entourage for a few moments. Johnson must have known that he, especially, shouU have remained with his Chief until the end. He saw that no one else was leaving and, Stanton's orders to the contrary notwithstanding, he should have stayed on, if for no other reason than to avoid giving cause for the undesirable comments that were certain to follow.

Johnson's supporters must have appreciated the importance of this matter, for one of them tried afterwards to correct the bad impression that had been created. Farwell, who had spent some time with Johnson that night, presented him with an engrossed account of the events as he recalled them. Unfortunately, Furwell's memory was faulty. According to his story, it was Johnson who had ordered Major O'Beirne to take him to the Peterson house; this statement is erroneous. It was Stanton who had sent O'Beirne on his mission to act as escort for the Vice President,

Another assertion made by Farwell, that Johnson stayed at Lincoln's bedside until the end, is equally at variance with the facts as otherwise reported.

There is some question why the former governor of Wisconsin should have found it necessary to write any account at all in defense of the new President's action. That it was within Johnson's power to remove him from the Federal payroll clouds the issue still more. No other writer on this subject except DeWitt has accepted Farwell's statements as credible.

Senator Foote, in some Reminiscences published in 1873, wrote, "That late on the morning after the act of killing, when almost all Washington was astir, Mr. Johnson was keeping himself closely immured, as if fearing injury from some sudden ebullition of popular rage against those suspected to be concerned in the deed of blood . . ." As an astute politician, Johnson should have known that such criticism was to be expected.

Foote, in building up a case against Johnson, cited the following points:

First, Mr. Johnson's well-known and anxious desire for the highest official honors which the country could bestow upon him, for the space of at least twenty years before the "deep damnation" of Mr. Lincoln's "taking off" had blurred so unfortunately the historic record of our country.

Second, The utter extinction of his hopes of Presidential advancement along the accustomed pathway to promotion, by his shameless drunkenness on the day of his being sworn into office as Vice President.

Third, His falling out with Mr. Lincoln soon after, and delivering a speech on Pennsylvania avenue . . . in bitter denunciation of ... humanity and moderation . . .

Fourth, That Booth . . . called at Mr. Johnson's private room, only a few hours before the murder occurred, and on finding him absent wrote upon a card the deep disappointment which he felt at not having met with the only human being on earth who could possibly profit by Mr. Lincoln's death , and who was at the same time the only individual in the world who could give assurance to his murderer of his own pardon . . .

Foote also took this occasion to refer to Johnson's behavior after the adjournment of the military commission which condemned the conspirators; his suspected suppression of the petition for mercy relating to Mrs. Surratt; his refusal to admit to the White House all who wished to intercede in her behalf; and his suspension of the habeas corpus in regard to this unfortunate woman.

Shortly after the execution of the four conspirators, a curious incident took place. Had Johnson's enemies been aware of it, they would have taken advantage of it with relish.

The President had been reported ill ever since the end of June and, on July 9, two days after the hanging of Mrs. Surratt, Welles recorded in his diary that Johnson still looked pale and listless. The faithful Secretary urged an excursion down the Potomac. During the conversation, Attorney General Speed came in and not only joined Welles most earnestly in his suggestion, but begged that Stanton be taken along. The War Minister was not at all well either; it was thought that he was overworked. Spc-nl expressed the wish that the trip be made on the President's yaclii, the River Queen, on which Lincoln had been in the habit of traveling. Plans were made accordingly, and General Mussey, the President's secretary, ordered that the craft be prepared in sail the next day.

Welles was slightly disturbed, as the River Queen was m>i under his jurisdiction, and therefore went to the White House to change the arrangements. But this proved unnecessary; Im Mussey brought him the startling information that Johnson would not set foot on the yacht. The President came in shortly afterward and confirmed the message of his aide; he demanded a naval vessel for the excursion.

No one seems ever to have made further reference to this strange affair, which is made more significant by Johnson's almost superstitious avoidance of Lincoln's name in his speech when he was made President in a Kirkwood House parlor.

. . . an unpleasant impression was created," wrote Elaine, "by its evasive character respecting Mr. Lincoln. The entire absence of eulogy of the slain President was remarked. There was no mention of his name or of his character or of his office." Later, when Robert Lincoln sought to sell the various Lincoln carriages to the new President, the latter declined to buy them. The Johnson files fail to show any reason for this refusal on his part.

The attacks on Johnson, intended to arouse suspicion against him, date back to the days following his proclamation of May 2, 1865, in which Jacob Thompson, Beverly Tucker and other Confederate leaders in Canada were being openly accused by the President of having been a party to the conspiracy. These Southern gentlemen were not slow in responding and were savage in their own defense.

"I know," said Jacob Thompson in a public letter, "there is not half the ground to suspect me as there is to suspect President Johnson himself.

"First. There was an absence of all motive on my part. . . .

"Second. A paper is found in President Johnson's room . . . signed by the assassin himself . . . this note is from a private citizen to a high official, and it is certain that if it had been sent by any other man at any other time . . . it would have implied previous intimacy . . . and a wish to have an interview without witnesses . . .

"Third. President Johnson goes to bed on the night of the assassination at the unusual hour, for Washington, of 9 o'clock, and is asleep . . . when an anxious gentleman leaves . . . to inform the new incumbent of his great good fortune, which filled him with unutterable distress."

Mr. Thompson made it clear that he did not really suspect Johnson, but suggested that if such circumstantial evidence could have been secured against a citizen of the South, the bureau of military justice would have considered it "testimony as strong as proofs from Holy Writ."

Beverly Tucker struck at Johnson in the same vein, but with still more vigor: "He . . . must expect to be dealt with as a man, not as a potentate," he exclaimed. "He shall not escape me by a dastardly attempt to throw the responsibility on the . . . tools . . . in his employ. I intended to strike at the head, not at the tail, and if God spares my life, Andrew Johnson, and not I, shall go down to a dishonored grave."

Tucker also pointed to the established law of evidence that no man shall be adjudged guilty who cannot be shown to have benefited by the crime. Cul bono? None but Johnson. Whence did the intimacy between Booth and the Vice President arise? "Is it impossible" he asks, "that Booth may have met Mr. Johnson in that lower circle they were both known to frequent . . ." For twenty years "all the arts and appliances which the fruitful brain of the unscrupulous demagogue could invent and employ have been exhausted to ... reach the position of second civil officer of the Government. Then the prize, so long dazzling his vision, seemed within his grasp. . . . But the illusion was shortlived . . ."

The disgraceful scene of Johnson's drunkenness on his inauguration day destroyed his hopes and made him desperate, Tucker believed. "The crimsoned blush of indignation and shame mantled the cheeks of ambassadors, senators, justices . . . while- . . . Abraham Lincoln . . . on the evening of the same day, at the inauguration ball, declined to recognize him." Thus Johnson's future political hopes seemed blasted forever. He might become President by succession, but never by election.

. . . this, it is true [Tucker concluded], is but hypothesis, and y i , when you support it by the fact that . . . Booth was not captured alive, as he unquestionably could have been, we must induce some one more plausible ere we wholly reject this. Dead men tell no tales, and the wantonly hushed voice of this unhappy man leaves behind his bloody tragedy a fearful mystery.

At the time these events occurred, there lived in Washington the son of Senator Howard of Michigan. This young man, whose given name was Hamilton, acted as secretary to his father and in this capacity acquired knowledge of some facts which were not given to the public until he printed them in 1907 as Civil Wat Echoes — Character Sketches and State Secrets. One of the chief items related by Howard is Governor Salomon's account of his experiences. It appears that Johnson and Salomon, ex-governor of Wisconsin, were well acquainted and occupied adjoining rooms at the Kirkwood House. Salomon had witnessed the assassination at Ford's Theater and hastened to Johnson's room to apprise him of the murder. When he reached the door, he tried to open it without ceremony, as was his wont, but to his surprise found it fastened. Knocking loudly, he was at last answered by Johnson, who appeared in his night shirt, as if he had just arisen from his bed. Salomon was surprised because he knew Johnson's fixed habit of sitting up late. The Vice President gave his visitor no reasons for having gone to bed so early.

Salomon then described Johnson's blasphemous threats against all traitors, his weeping fit and his indulgence in whiskey.

Early the following morning Governor Salomon discovered in his mail the famous card — "Dont wish to disturb you Are you at home?" — and found that this message had been left for Vice President Johnson by a fine looking gentleman. Salomon now felt that he held in his possession a highly important state secret. After worrying for some time about the best course to pursue, he finally decided to hand Johnson this telltale card while the new President was in the midst of a meeting with the members of his Cabinet. But the expected sensation did not materialize. Johnson took the card and, after examining it with placid and unruffled countenance, remarked that he did not know Wilkes Booth, had never seen him, and that it was nothing but sheer presumption on the part of the actor to leave such a message.

"He spoke deliberately," said Salomon, "and with much dignity and unction."

Salomon finished his recital to Senator Howard with the remark that he had private suspicions which he did not wish to reveal. This left Howard far from satisfied, and, calling upon Secretary Stanton shortly afterward, the senator volunteered his personal opinion and belief that Johnson was an accessory before the crime. The only reply he received from his listener was a shrug of the shoulders, which Howard interpreted as: "I could disclose a great deal of very interesting information on that particular subject, but it will not do to tell even you . . ."

What struck Howard as particularly damnable was the fact, established by a senator who was anxious to impeach the President, that Johnson did know Booth and that his dignified denial at the Cabinet meeting apparently did not conform to the truth. While Johnson was military governor of Tennessee, he and John Wilkes Booth had kept two sisters as their mistresses in Nashville and had been frequently in each other's company. This information came to young Howard from his father, who subsequently became chairman of the Senate committee on President Johnson's impeachment. The story had been uncovered through the efforts of private detectives.

The value of Hamilton Howard's story is greatly impaired by his obvious prejudice against Johnson. Having associated largely with the most radical element in Congress, he naturally was hostile toward the Vice President. His bias makes him even relate as evidence the opinion of a doorkeeper's wife who exclaimed, when she heard of the assassination, "Yes, and Andy Johnson has had a hand in it." When asked on what she based her opinion, she replied that it was founded on her intimate knowledge of Johnson's character} that while a senator and boarding with her, he had always sat up drinking strong liquor until early in the morning and that his associates had been hard and tough-looking customers; that he had been generally very drunk by midnight, had been disloyal to the Union and had consorted with Rebels. The doorkeeper assured Howard that his wife was a "right smart woman", and believed she was "almost generally right."

This is a type of evidence that even the managers of a military commission might have hesitated to parade in open court.

What is perhaps more to the point is that Hamilton Howard is inaccurate in some of his statements which are subject to verification. He confuses General David Hunter with General Winfield Scott Hancock, and cites the latter as the president of the conspiracy trial commission. The story attributed to Governor Salomon more probably concerned former Governor Farwell of Wisconsin who swore on the witness stand that:

On the evening of the 14th of April last, on leaving Ford's Theater, 1 went immediately to the Kirkwood House, to the room of Vice-Presiden! Johnson. I should think it was between 10 and half-past 10 o'clock. I found the room door locked. I rapped, but receiving no answer, I rapped again, and said, in a loud voice, "Governor Johnson, if you are in the room, I must see you." I believe the door was locked, but am not certain. . . . I remained in Mr. Johnson's room about half an hour. I took charge of the door, and locked and bolted it . . .

Can it be possible that two former governors of Wisconsin should have had identical experiences on the same night? No; the chances are that the statement attributed by Howard to Salomon really emanated from Farwell.

Moreover, Salomon's elaborate account of Booth's calling card is flatly contradicted by the sworn statement of William A. Browning, private secretary to Johnson, who claimed that this singular piece of pasteboard was handed to him by the clerk of the Kirkwood House in the late afternoon of April 14. Robert Jones, the clerk mentioned by Browning, corroborated this testimony while on the witness stand.

It may also be worthy of note that Gideon Welles, who attended Johnson's first Cabinet meeting and accorded it a full description in his diary, made no mention of the dramatic incident which Governor Salomon described with such minute care.

In their attempt to connect Johnson with the untimely death of his predecessor, the Radicals tried to secure the aid of John Surratt, who had been brought back from Egypt and was about to be put on trial for his life. What Ashley, Stanton's close friend, promised him in return can only be imagined. But the prisoner knew nothing against the President and could not be induced to give the desired testimony. News of this reached Johnson through a physician whom Anna Surratt, John's sister, had summoned as a messenger. She also had been tempted by Butler and Ashley, but when she sent word that she would be interviewed only in the presence of her lawyer, their interest seemed to wane, and they declined to see her at all.

The last warrior to enter the lists against Johnson was none other than Judge Holt, the judge advocate general who had fought so fiercely to place the guilt on the shoulders of Jefferson Davis and other Southern leaders and to incriminate the eight shackled prisoners who, thanks to his efforts, had been duly sentenced.

Holt's accusation came in 1873 and was the outcome of a controversy with the former President regarding the petition of mercy for Mrs. Surratt. Holt insinuated that, in 1865, there might have been reasons that "would in all probability have operated against any development of the facts of this case." But he goes even further than that. "There must have been," he sneered, "something very fearful in his [Johnson's] contemplation to lead him to disregard an imperative public duty . . . rather than suffer the field of inquiry in relation to the conspiracy and assassination to be again opened. Was it apprehended that in the shadows of the field an accomplice or accomplices might be lurking who could not be safely dragged to light?" Holt's attack took place in 1873, four years after Stanton's death. Johnson did not deign to reply to it.

This is the evidence in the case against Andrew Johnson. To it there may be added the docility with which he obeyed Stanton's orders to come to Lincoln's bedside and leave it again, and his continued unwillingness to rid himself of his Secretary of War, long after the latter's treachery had become evident. "The failure of the President," wrote Secretary McCulloch, "to exercise his undoubted right to rid himself of a minister who differed with him upon very important questions, who had become personally obnoxious to him, and whom he regarded as an enemy and a spy, was a blunder for which there was no excuse."

No excuse — and no explanation. None of Johnson's contemporary friends could account for his strange patience with Stanton, and none of his biographers and apologists has put forth any plausible justification for it. It has remained to this day an unsolved mystery.


THERE was one man who profited greatly by Lincoln's death; this man was his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton.

Brusque, insolent, cruel, Stanton was without doubt the most unpopular member of Lincoln's administration; but the President, in spite of strong pressure, had been loath to let him go while the conflict was raging; he seemed to think that no one else could do the work as well.

"Find the man," he had said. "Show me that he can do it. He shall."

After the war was over, however, it seemed only a question of time when Lincoln would divest himself of a Secretary who was fast becoming both a personal and political liability to him.

No author has ever painted a picture of Stanton that was acceptable to all. "The character and career of Edwin M. Stanton," wrote De Witt, "are so enveloped in enigma that we are compelled to pause . . . to gain, if possible, some adequate conception of the man." But difficulties presented themselves even to this careful investigator.

. . . alternately appearing and disappearing before the eye of the in­ quirer . . . there are two Stantons -- one the direct contradictory of the other. Listening to the chorus of panegyrists, we see a war-minister greater than the elder Pitt; an organizer of victory more skilful than Carnot . . . Listening to the voice of his detractors, we see . . . a life-long dissembler . . . a Cabinet officer obsequious to his superiors or his equals . . . to the point of servility, and insolent . . . to his inferiors to the point of outrage; governed by no loftier motive than the lust for office and the power that office gives; an official parasite battening upon the life-blood of hos chief. . .

One of -his colleagues, Attorney General Bates, expressed this opinion after the Secretary of the Treasury had resigned in 1864: " I should not be a bit surprised," his diary recorded, "if Stanton soon followed Chase. In that I see no public misfortune, for I think it hardly possible that the War Office could be worse administered."

Stanton first became a figure in national life when, on December 20, 1860, Buchanan appointed him attorney general, apparently not without misgivings. In doing so he respected the wishes of Jeremiah S. Black, his new Secretary of State, a former law partner of Stanton.

"He was always on my side," Buchanan wrote his niece in 1862, "and flattered me ad nauseam." Black also was sometimes overwhelmed with excessive demonstrations of thankfulness and friendship. All of which did not hinder Stanton, immediately after joining the President's inner council, from starting an intrigue with Buchanan's political enemies in Congress; for, knowing that a Republican administration was to come into power within a few weeks, he deemed it wise to secure a foothold among its friends, while at the same time pretending limitless fidelity to his Democratic chief and colleagues. Verification of Stanton's duplicity comes to us from firsthand sources.

Senator Sumner, representing the Radical Abolitionists whom Stanton professed to abhor, wrote that in January 1861, he called on the new Secretary at the latter's office. ". . . he [Stanton] received me kindly, seeming glad to see me. . . . he whispered that we must be alone . . ." Passing from room to room without finding the desired privacy, they finally reached the corridor, and there Stanton proposed to call on Sumner at his residence at one o'clock that night to tell him of the "fearful condition of affairs."4 The clandestine meeting took place, and soon Stanton was in daily communication with the Republicans in Congress and, according to one of them, Henry Wilson, Inkept them well informed of what was going on in the Cabinet."

While Stanton was flattering Buchanan to his face, he did something behind his back that one reads about with bated breath. He outlined for the Republicans in Congress "a basis for articles of impeachment of President Buchanan if such a course should become necessary." With his associate Watson he spent hours in consultation about laws covering such a procedure. Flower cited some of Stanton's friends as witnesses for this and related the story with apparent pride.

This peculiar sort of apparent double-dealing has never been denied. Stanton's apologists have pronounced it a deed of superpatriotism. In fact, it was nothing but a bold attempt to curry favor with both of the contending factions.

In his avidity for immediate recognition by the incoming party, Stanton was doomed to disappointment. His name was not included among the War Democrats Lincoln selected for his Cabinet. Stanton's feeling of wrath was intense; the man who could flatter ad nauseam showed that he could be venomous as well. He designated the party that had snubbed him as Black Republicans; he blamed the "imbecility of this Administration" for the disaster at Bull Run. He referred to Lincoln as "the original gorilla", and he told McClellan that, with Lincoln in the White House, Paul du Chaillu had made a mistake in going all the way to Africa to look for an ape. Stanton's ire appeared to have overcome even his renowned patriotism, for he expressed the ill-concealed hope that Jeff Davis might "turn out the whole concern."

It was well for Stanton that his contempt and hatred did not become known until many years later; for gratitude on the part of the Black Republicans was not altogether wanting." Seward, Sumner and Chase had not forgotten the helpful espionage of President Buchanan's attorney general, and when Cameron's management of the War Department began to arouse antagonism, Stanton was remembered. It first was necessary to be be rid Cameron, however, and it was well known how eluctant Lincoln was to change his Cabinet officers. Finally, the appointment of Stanton came about through one of the neatest moves in ihe annals of Washington politics.

Secretary Cameron, in his annual report, had chosen to insert an explicit recommendation in favor of arming negroes, although this sentiment was then distasteful to Lincoln. Before transmitting the document to the President, Cameron asked the advice of Stanton, who was acting as his attorney. The latter wrote an additional paragraph which was adopted and printed in the final report. It read in part as follows:

Those who make war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of property . . . and, as the labor and service of their slaves constitute the chief property of the rebels, such property should share the common fate of war . . . It is as clearly the right of this Government to arm slaves when it may become necessary as it is to use gunpowder or guns taken from the enemy.

By writing this paragraph, Stanton succeeded in killing two birds with one stone. He widened the breach between Lincoln and his Secretary of War, and he showed to the Radical Republicans of Sumner's type that he was willing to be their representative in the Cabinet. To increase Lincoln's embarrassment, Cameron — possibly on Stanton's advice — sent advance copies of this report to the leading newspapers. When Lincoln discovered the paragraph about the freeing and arming of slaves, he objected and demanded its excision; but Cameron did not yield, and although Lincoln himself eliminated this part of the report before sending it to Congress, the papers published the unexpurgated document, thereby humiliating the President and making a reconciliation with Cameron impossible.

"There was reluctance on the part of the President to remove Mr. Cameron," wrote Welles, "and only a conviction of its absolute necessity and the unauthorized assumption of executive power in his Annual Report would have led the President to take the step."

Stanton had done his work well and soon had his reward. I I is selection as Cameron's successor was immediately proposed by Seward, and Lincoln sent his name to the Senate on January 13, 1862. It was then that Sumner moved its acceptance with the memorable words, "He is one of us."

Interesting, indeed [proudly wrote Stanton's biographer, Flower] is the fact that Lincoln was unaware that the iron-willed giant he was putting in was more stubbornly in favor of . . . arming the slaves . . . than the man he was putting out. Lincoln was also unaware that the recommendation which, with his own hand, he had expunged from Cameron's report and which was the means of forcing its supposed author out, was conceived and written by the very man now going in ... and so it may be said that Stanton wrote his own appointment!

Yes, Mr. Flower, this is interesting.
But should not Stanton, in all fairness to his new Chief, have made him acquainted with his views? And what would Lincoln have done had he known them?
With due disapproval of Stanton's tactics, one feels like doffing one's hat before such simple efficiency in the art of deceit.

The only man to object to Stanton's appointment was Postmaster General Montgomery Blair. Secretary of the Navy Welles merely recorded in his diary that he had reason to know that Stanton was engaged with discontented and mischievous persons in petty intrigues to impair confidence in the administration} but he said nothing. Blair, on the other hand, when Stanton had previously been considered for district-attorney at Washington, had stated reluctantly that he doubted his integrity, relating at the same time "an instance which had come to his knowledge and where he has proof of a bribe having been received . . ." There could be no mistake, he averred.12 The details of this alleged case have never been divulged, but Blair and Welles remained aloof from their colleague in the War Department ever after. "I am going to be Secretary of War to Old Abe," confided Stanton to his friend Judge Piatt afew days belore he entered upon his new duties.
"What will you do?" Piatt asked, curious about Stanton's plans to reconcile his own and Lincoln's widely separate points of view.
"Do?" was Stanton's reply; "I intend to . . . make Abe Lincoln President of the United States."

Just what Stanton meant by these words is something of a riddle; for he was certainly professing no love for the President at that time.

Piatt was not the only one to doubt the compatability of Lincoln and Stanton, for Chittenden also thought that men of Mr. Stanton's temperament could not be the favorites of President Lincoln. Nor was it merely divergence of temperament which erected a barrier between them, for, to quote Chittenden further:

There were also reasons of a personal character which would have barred his entrance into the Cabinet, if Mr. Lincoln had been an ordinary man. . . . Both had been counsel for the same party in an action in which . . . Mr. Lincoln was entitled to make the argument . . . It was an action in which he took a deep interest professionally . . . But Mr. Stanton . . . in a domineering manner not uncommon with him . . . coolly assumed control and crowded Mr. Lincoln out of his own case.

Lincoln was deeply hurt in this instance and for the first time seemed "to have claimed in his own favor any question of precedence."

Stanton undoubtedly remembered the success of his presumption in the above mentioned trial. Could it have been the ease with which he had dominated Lincoln in that case, which made him assert so confidently to Piatt that he was going to "make Abe Lincoln President of the United States"?

The new Cabinet officer had hardly started his duties before he manifested his genius for disseminating views that were favor able to himself. On February 9, 1862, Seward's friend, Thurlow Weed, published a story in the London Observer which quickly made its rounds through American newspapers. On December ' , 1860, according to this account, when President Buchanan :ip peared to be yielding to the demand of South Carolina dial Major Anderson and his garrison be removed from Fort Sumtcr, Stanton stepped forward in a Cabinet meeting, denounced two of his colleagues as financially dishonest, and delivered an ultimatum to the Chief of the nation either to stand firm or to accept Stanton's resignation. When Black, Holt and Dix seconded the motion, it "opened the bleary eyes of the President" and forced him to decide on the patriotic course so sternly demanded."

It is characteristic of Stanton's ability as a propagandist that this tale, although lacking any foundation, has persisted to this day and is given universal credence.

Morgan Dix, writing the biography of his father, stated that "this highly colored narrative was not only untrue, but may be taken as a specimen of the numerous inventions of a time of excitement." He had the written testimony of two of the men who were supposed to have taken part in this discussion that no such thing had occurred at any time while they were in the Cabinet. Even the date assigned to it by the inventors of this canard was wrong, as Dix at that time had not yet been appointed. Judge Black also denounced the account as false; and Stanton himself, when appealed to for verification, explained "how and by whom it had been fabricated, but said it was not worth a contradiction; for every man of common intelligence would know it to be a mere tissue of lies."

When Henry Wilson repeated the story in eulogies of Stanton after his death, Judge Black fiercely demanded proof. Wilson turned to Holt, who was supposed to have been present, but failed to enlist his support. Finally, t h e evidence simmered down to the testimony of the wife of Congressman Dawes, who "distinctly remembered hearing Stanton tell at her house the story of that terrible conflict in the Cabinet."

There can be no doubt, then, as to who invented this tale, or as to what methods were used to circulate it.

Jeremiah Sullivan Black, who had warmly recommended Stanton to President Buchanan, said of him at the time: "His condemnation of the abolitionists was unsparing for their hypocrisy, their corruption, their enmity to the Constitution, and their lawless disregard for the rights of States and individuals. Thus he won the confidence of the Democrats." But while, as Black guilelessly imagined, Stanton's political principles were thought to be as well known as his name and occupation, the wily attorney general of Buchanan's official family was holding nocturnal meetings with the most avowed Abolitionists in the country; he even advised them to kidnap one of his colleagues as soon as it was deemed expedient to do so.

Welles' diary has an interesting comment in this connection:

Mr. Black says that Stanton went into Buchanan's Cabinet under his auspices, and no one has ever questioned it. He further asserts that Mr. Stanton "said, many times, that he was there only that I [Black] might have tyro voices instead of one . . ." The same professions and the same expressions were made by the same individual to Mr. Seward when he entered the Lincoln Cabinet, and subsequently, as I heard Mr. Seward say; and I doubt not with equal sincerity to each, though Black and Seward were entirely antagonistic in their political views and principles.

It is also noteworthy that this indomitable foe of all Secessionists, who "never spoke or wrote of those at war against the government, but as rebels and traitors", was, while a member of Buchanan's Cabinet, distinctly of the opinion that the government had no right to make war on a state for the purpose of coercing it to remain in the Union. Black stated that Stan I on endorsed this point of view "with extravagant and undeserved laudation . . . and the special message of the eighth of January, 1861, which expressed the same principles with added emphasis, was carefully read over to him before it was sent to Congress, and it received his unqualified assent. . . . The evidence," so Judge Black contended, "is 'direct as well as circumstantial, oral as well as documentary, and some of it is in the handwriting of Mr. Stanton himself.'"

F. P. Blair's imputations surpassed even those made by BJack; according to Welles, Blair professed to have positive and unequivocal testimony that Stanton had acted with the Secessionists early in the war and had favored a division of the Union.

But after Stanton had joined hands with the Radicals and been assigned a seat in Lincoln's Cabinet, his memory suffered a strange lapse 5 for he once told Congressmen Dawes and Washburne that Buchanan, before writing his annual message, had sent for him to answer the question of whether a state could be coerced. For two hours, so Stanton claimed, he had battled against the President, and had finally conquered temporarily the heresies in the head of the "old broken-down man." Yet, it was with this ruin of a man that Stanton kept up a lively correspondence during 1861, praising his administration and jeering at Lincoln because he could do no better than follow the course of his predecessor. "So far ... as your administration is concerned," Stanton wrote to Buchanan on July 16, "its policy in reference to both Sumter and Pickens is fully vindicated by the course of the present administration." A policy (so Stanton's greatest apologist, Flower, admits in parenthesis) which was strenuously opposed by Stanton while in Buchanan's Cabinet.

In the same letter Stanton added: "I think that the public will be disposed to do full justice to your efforts to avert the calamity of civil war . . ."

No sooner was Stanton firmly established as Secretary of War, than his elaborate plans to to further his personal ambitions assumed definite shape. The first part of his program was to prolong the conflict, thereby aiding the Abolitionists in their scheme for final disfranchisement of the South and, incidentally, helping to create an army that would be a power for a long time to come and a formidable weapon in the hands of a military idol. That he would be the one to emerge in the end as the popular leader was undoubtedly his cherished dream. He could see no serious competition in the Cabinet. Lincoln he looked upon with more or less open contempt. He anticipated no trouble in dominating this uncouth country lawyer, as he had done once before; what he dreaded was the rise of a successful and popular general who might catch the public fancy and capture the prize he coveted for himself. That problem would not have to be dealt with till later, however. Of the ultimate end of the war there could be no doubt. Barring a miracle, the enormous preponderance of the North's numbers, its unlimited resources and the ever tightening blockade must eventually bring the Confederacy to its knees, no matter how badly the Union generals handled the campaigns.

In the meantime, several manoeuvers had to be executed. One of the first was to secure control of all intercourse with the press.

"From January, 1862, when Stanton entered the cabinet, until the war ended," said David Homer Bates, "the telegraphic reins of the Government were held by a firm and skilful hand. . . . Stanton 'centered the telegraph in the War Department, where the publication of military news . . . could be supervised, and, if necessary, delayed . . .' " On February 25, 1862, Stanton appointed a military supervisor of telegrams. "What his blue pencil erased . . ." proclaimed Bates haughtily, "had to be left out, and reporters frequently spent hours in procuring some choice bit of news which was never transmitted over the wires." Before long Stanton swept the management of all the telegraph lines in the United States into the War Department and, on March 2, he concentrated the telegraph machinery in a room next to his own. Even Lincoln was not allowed a special code and had to send and receive messages through the common channel. This arrangement, together with his censorship over the p i . gave the War Minister a power never before dreamed ol, and one which he was not loath to use to his own advantage. "The telegraph office is in the War Department Building," recorded Welles, "which has a censorship over all that passes or is received."

Stanton could be a man of Machiavellian finesse whenever it suited his purpose. While all his efforts were being directed In destroy McClellan, for example, he informed the press that the fall of Richmond could be expected momentarily. Naturally, these joyous tidings were immediately flashed all over the Northern states. There was nothing in the situation at that time which warranted such optimism, and McClellan certainly had not authorized any such statement. But when Richmond was not taken, and the normal reaction set in, it was not Stanton's reputation which suffered, but McClellan's.

The war went on. McClellan, a most dangerous opponent for future honors, was disposed of; for the moment there was nothing to fear from the other army leaders who followed in rapid succession. But within the Cabinet a new figure arose to challenge Stanton's superiority. This was Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, who was showing an ambition to run for the presidency in 1864. The relations between Chase and Stanton were neither cordial nor contrariwise j but the Secretary of War had to meet this new situation. He did so in his own inimitable way.

On October 11, 1862, Chase had asked General Hunter, "What of Stanton?" To which he had received the reply: "Know little of him. . . . Think, from facts that have come to my knowledge, that he is not sincere. He wears two faces . . ."

It was not long before Chase had an opportunity to form own opinion on this subject.

A man named Hurrt had been commissioned on October 13, 1861, as assistant quartermaster of volunteers. He had hardly reached his post in Cincinnati when he began to speculate in forage and supplies. According to revelations which appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette after the war (1874), he entered into correspondence with some of Chase's confidential financial agents, and soon the frauds for which he was responsible assumed gigantic proportions. In the midst of these doings General Burnside took command of the Department of the Ohio, and on July 28, 1863, directed one Major N. H. McLean to investigate some of Hurtt's transactions. McLean made his report in September 1863, and on November 23, Hurtt was put on trial before a court-martial. Then something unexpected happened. A telegram was received from the War Department; the court was declared dissolved, and all papers were ordered to be sealed and sent to Washington. Scarcely enough time had elapsed for an examination of these documents at the War Department when Major McLean was peremptorily removed from his post at Cincinnati and instructed to report for duty at Vancouver, in Washington territory. A second court was convened in the following year 5 Hurtt was convicted and dismissed from service. Just before the proceedings of the case were ready for publication, the general distribution of court-martial orders was stopped by direction of the War Department.

"Many readers will ask," wrote the Cincinnati Gazette, "why did a man of Mr. Stanton's iron nerve hesitate to put all these offenders, high and low, on trial at once? . . . men so high in the nation's counsels, and in the confidence of the people, were compromised, that to uncover their iniquity . . . would result, as he feared, in destroying the confidence of the people."

Stanton had reasoned, according to this paper, that it was unwise to let the nation know about a league organized for plunder only, which counted among its members. . . the financial agents of the government and some of its most prominent political supporters . . . And so the court was dissolved, and the officer who knew all the facts, and who had the full confidence of his commanding general, was obliged to leave with his family, in the dead of winter, for the most distant point on American soil, lest the facts in regard to a band of robbers, holding high position, should by any possibility come to light.

Probably it was only a coincidence that General Burnside him self was sent to Knoxville in August 1863, before Major McLean had made his report on the swindling operations. It may have been some such incident that Judge Piatt had in mind when, in writing a chapter on Stanton in his Memories., he said: "The true story of the late war has not been told. It probably never will be told. It is not flattering to our people, and . . . unpalatable truths seldom find their way into history."

The article in the Cincinnati Gazette was written by General Boynton, and he named the Cookes as the financial agents of the government. To what extent others were involved in this scandal is not relevant. The important thing is that the righteous Stanton had compromised with his conscience, and had done so to save Secretary Chase from serious embarrassment; for Chase's misplaced confidence in these rogues would have given him painful prominence had Stanton chosen not to intervene.

After this Stanton had no reason to fear Chase.

Mere love of subterfuge seems at times to have governed Stanton's actions, even when nothing could be gained by an evasion of the truth. In September 1862, General Butler, desiring reinforcements, addressed a letter to Senator Wilson, asking him to use his influence with the Secretary of War to have them sent to him promptly. Wilson did so and wrote that "he [Stanton] agreed with me and . . . expressed his confidence in you, and his approval

But twenty-one days previous to this, by a secret order, Stanton had appointed General Banks to succeed the unsuspecting Butler, and while he was handing those bland assurances to his caller, he knew all the time that Butler was no longer the commander. Is it any wonder the latter wrote: "Can lying, injustice, deceit, and tergiversation farther go?"

During the early months of his incumbency, Stanton tried hard to bend the President to his wishes. In the beginning he succeeded with surprising ease. Lincoln issued his rash war orders under Stanton's tutelage and followed the War Minister in his persecution and final dismissal of McClellan. Stanton found, however, that he could not influence his Chief beyond a certain point. Lincoln did not mind his Secretary's brutal manners, nor his almost open contempt, or if he did, he hid it well behind a mask of tolerant amusement. But behind that mask there lurked resentment.

Encouraged by Lincoln's apparent docility, Stanton crept forward craftily. By the summer of 1863, he had succeeded to such an extent that he occasionally ordered Lincoln around like a clerk. When the news of Hooker's resignation reached him, Stanton, according to his own account, "sent for the President to come to the War Office at once. It was in the evening, but the President soon appeared."

Who else in Washington, not excepting Seward, would have had the audacity to request the Chief Executive to come to his department to read a telegram, rather than take the message to the White House?

In 1864, the inevitable clash came. "I cannot do it," exclaimed Stanton on one occasion. "Mr. Secretary, it will have to be done" replied Lincoln.35 Stanton surrendered. He had challenged the President and had lost. It is possible that from then on Stanton's contempt was blended with hatred.

There are other incidents on record showing how quickly the imperious War Lord, when confronted with someone who was not awed by his blustering, could be cowed, in spite of his outward show of combativeness. Once an officer called on him to get a pass for an old man who desired to visit his dying son. Stanton refused the request, whereupon the officer, drawing himself up to his full height, said: "My name is ... Wallon Dwight, lieutenant-colonel of the One Hundred and Forty-Ninth Regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers. You can dismiss me from the service as soon as you like, but I am going to tell you what I think of you." He did — and got his pass.

A similar case is reported by Maunsell B. Field, assistant secretary of the treasury under Chase. It appears that Secretary Chase had just heard some disagreeable news and was in an ugly mood. "Mr. Stanton," related the narrator, "unfortunately for himself, happened to come into the Secretary's room shortly after . . . when he received such a verbal castigation at the hands of Mr. Chase as few men would have ventured to inflict upon the great War Secretary. What was more remarkable, however, he bore it with great meekness."

A third instance is reported by Colonel Burnett who in the conspiracy trial acted as assistant judge advocate.

Wiechmann and Holahan were wanted by Stanton; Burnett was instructed by the Secretary to take their statements and then let them go. He performed this task, but Stanton in the meantime had discovered his mistake in losing contact with the two men and upbraided Burnett in a most insulting manner. The next day the assistant prosecutor produced his witnesses again, and then said: "And now, Mr. Stanton, I am through with the service under you . . . You would have condemned and disgraced me ... for obeying your own order, and I am damned if I will serve further under any such man. . . . I am through with you. . . ." Thereupon the Secretary got up from his desk and humbly begged Colonel Burnett's pardon.

"He [Stanton] believes in mere force, so long as he wields it," wrote Edward Bates, "but cowers before it, when wielded by anyother hand." Bates was Stanton's colleague in Lincoln's Cabinet and should have known.

For three years Stanton had held his portfolio and things were working out well for his plan. The war had been prolonged; the slaves had been freed. A new Union would have to be built on the ruins of the old, and the party to which he had given his latest allegiance would be firmly in the saddle.

McClellan was out of public favor, and there was no one in the offing to take his place. If no new general who was widely popular arose to mar his designs, Stanton was likely to become the hero of the nation; for history showed convincingly that after every great victory the people elevated the man they considered responsible for it to the most exalted position within their power.

Of course, there was Grant. But to most observers in Washington at that time, the modest little man appeared dull. Richard Dana of Boston, who happened on the general in the Willard Hotel lobby, wrote of him in this manner: "A short, roundshouldered man, in a very tarnished . . . uniform . . . He had no gait, no station, no manner . . . and rather a scrubby look . . ." Grant might win battles — no one knew how he did it — but as a politician he would be like clay in the hands of the War Minister.

In 1864, Stanton had insisted on controlling the cipher operator at Grant's headquarters and later on had given instructions to have all of the general's wires copied for inspection. He left Grant's orders unapproved for days until it was "entirely convenient for him" to sanction them. Stanton probably did this mainly to test the temper of his subordinate; the latter, while slightly irritated, bore no grudge. At any rate, in November, Grant told Lincoln that no one was better fitted for the office than Stanton and that he desired no other superior. At that time strong pressure was being exerted on Lincoln to change his Secretary of War. The commendation from the head of the Western armies undoubtedly strengthened Stanton's hold on his position.

Stanton now saw how far he could go without arousing Grant and did everything within his means to belittle the deeds of the victorious commander. In his report on the final operations of the war there is not one word in praise of the general in chief. He roughly asserted his superiority over Grant, and sent for him as he would for a lieutenant. Apparently Grant could be bullied j there was nothing to fear from him.

Of the prominent military leaders only Sherman remained. Highly educated, grim-visaged and suspicious of all politicians, the leader of the march to the sea could not be easily pushed aside. But Stanton soon had an opportunity to sink his stiletto into him to the hilt. After this popular officer had proposed Lincoln's own peace terms to Johnston, Stanton, without the President's knowledge or consent, sent to the press such an account of the general's course of action — including nine reasons why the agreement had been disapproved — that in many an editorial column Sherman was openly accused of treason. By ordering other generals to proceed against the Confederate army at once, Stanton practically made sure of such an interpretation.

Stanton even dared to suggest to the papers that Sherman had been bribed to make his peace terms and to let Jefferson Davis escape to Mexico or Europe.

"The orders of General Sherman to General Stoneman," his message read, "to withdraw from Salisbury and join him will probably open the way for Davis to escape to Mexico or Europe with his plunder, which is reported to be very large, including not only the plunder of Richmond banks, but previous accumulations."

Lest this insinuation should be overlooked, the Secretary of War quoted a telegram from Richmond which was still more offensive. Referring to Davis and his partisans, it intimated that, "they hope, it is said, to make terms with General Sherman or some other Southern Union commander, by which they will be permitted with their effects, including this gold plunder, to go to Mexico or Europe."

Sherman saw through these machinations, but was pown Lea - He charged Stanton with "deadly malignity" and expressed the wish to "see deeper into the diabolical plot . . ." "When you advised me of the assassin Clark being on my track," he wrote, "I little dreamed he would turn up in the direction and gurr he did . . ." The distinguished general evidently recognized that in a political sense he had been thoroughly assassinated and disposed of.

Thus, with one blow, the idol of the western armies was vanquished by Stanton's artifices and was prevented from becoming a dangerous rival.

Meanwhile, four years of war had not only achieved the result for which Stanton had striven — the preparation of the North for a peace conforming to his own ideas — but it had dulled the nation's sense of right and wrong.

"Men who had lived so long under the nervous strain of killing other men while trying to be gentle and chivalrous at the same time finally gave it up as a bad job," writes Woodward in his book Meet General Grant. "Hard, animal-like streaks are beginning to appear in his [Grant's] nature," he continued. "He has visibly coarsened in fiber."

So had everyone else. Human lives had ceased to mean what they had meant in times of peace. Grant left thirty thousand Northern prisoners to die in the camp of Andersonville, although the Confederates were willing to release them unconditionally if steamers would be sent to Southern ports to remove them. Stanton did not disapprove of Grant's pitiless attitude. He and Seward had thrown thousands of prisoners of their own into cells, and it did not seem to hurt their consciences. The principle of malice toward none, charity for all afforded small consolation to the unfortunates, estimated at thirty-eight thousand, who languished in cells for political reasons only, and were kept there without charges and without recourse to court, habeas corpus having been suspended by executive proclamation. Stanton's biographer even boasts that "the number of arrests made under his [Stanton's] so-called 'arbitrary' authority during the war, including deserters and bountyjumpers, reached nearly two hundred and sixty thousand."

As the war drew to a close, Stanton seemed about to reach the zenith of his career; with Chase safely seated on the bench of the Supreme Court and with Grant cowed, the War Minister was second only to Lincoln in public acclaim. Aside from the Chief Executive, he recognized no authority higher than his own. According to a lifelong friend, he was "drunk with the lust of power" and "fairly rioted in its enjoyment."

The attorney general, aroused to impotent indignation by the War Lord's constant encroachments on his own field, expressed the opinion that Lincoln himself was being awed into passive submission. "I have never interfered," he declared, "with military seisures for mere military purposes; but I feel it to be my duty to denounce, if I cannot prevent, the frequent instances of needless, groundless and wanton interference of the military, in matters which, in no wise concern them, as if the object were to contemn and degrade the civil power. . . . The President's opinions (known and published) are against these arbitrary proceedings, and yet they are boldly practiced. . . . I fear he has to say, in his heart, like King David — 'These sons [of] Zeruiah be too hard for me!'"

Was Lincoln afraid of Stanton?
At least one man thought so — John A. Kasson, an Iowa congressman, who later became Minister to Austria. In a chapter contributed to Allen T. Rice's Reminiscenses of Abraham Lincoln, he used the subtitle, Lincoln Afraid of Stanton and justified it by narrating a singular experience.

Kasson had obtained from the President an order for the promotion of an officer; when he took it to Stanton, he was brutally insulted, and the execution of the order was refused.

"A few days later. . ." Kasson wrote, "I reported the affair to the President. A look of vexation came over his face, and he seemed unwilling then to talk of it . . ."

Shortly after this Lincoln gave Kasson another order and requested him to take it to the War Department. This the lowan declined to do. " 'Oh,' said the President, 'Stanton has gone to Fortress Monroe and Dana is acting. . . .' This he said with a manner of relief . . ."

Kasson soon found an opportunity for revenge. Walking into the House one day, he heard Thaddeus Stevens on the floor defending the Secretary of War, who was charged with having confined innocent men in the Old Capitol Prison.

"As soon as Mr. Stevens had finished," Kasson wrote, "... I let loose my denunciations of his [Stanton's] willful and arbitrary action . . . In three minutes every newspaper and every pen . . . was laid aside . . . The vote was soon taken, and . . . only six votes were given on the Secretary's side, to one hundred and twenty-five for the resolution. . . .

"The next time I saw Mr. Lincoln, I remember well his change of manner to me. He showed his gratification in his peculiar and familiar manner, by his twinkling eyes, and by his slapping me on the thigh, as I thought quite unnecessarily."

There was one fly in the ointment, however, from Stanton's point of view. He was not sure that Lincoln would keep him in the Cabinet when the combat was ended. The War Minister therefore decided on an adroit move to force the issue. As soon as the President returned from Richmond, Stanton offered his resignation. There was not the slightest chance that Lincoln would accept it at this moment of triumph, and Stanton knew it. But he put the President into a position where, in order to be consistent, he would have to put up with his Secretary of War for a while longer, even after sober thoughts had replaced his first overwhelming joy.

During August of the preceding year it had been rumored that Stanton was going to relinquish his position. These reports were contemptuously dismissed by the Secretary of the Navy. "If Stanton ever, at any time or under any circumstances, has spoken in whisper to the President of resigning, he did not mean it," he commented, "for he would be, I think, one of the very last to quit, and never except on compulsion." Later events were to prove how right Welles was and how much compulsion it took to make the War Minister vacate his place.

Temporarily, Stanton was safe; under his clever management the future could be trusted to take care of itself. The elections of 1868 were still far off — but who would then be more available than the outstanding chieftain of the war?

There is little doubt that Stanton would have brushed Lincoln aside if he had thought it possible to do so. He once told Welles that he was under no particular obligation to the President, who had called him to a difficult position and had imposed labors and responsibilities on him such as no man could carry. The obligation, he said, was the other way. It was not gratitude which kept Stanton the faithful servant of the President, but prudence. Chase, popular with many politicians, had tried to replace Lincoln; McClellan had done the same; both had failed. Lincoln evidently had the voters on his side. It was still safer to work with him than against him.

When Chase began to aspire to the presidency, Attorney General Bates thought that Stanton was preparing for the eventuality of Chase's election; for he saw fit to make a pungent entry in his diary on March 9, 1864.

"If the President had a little more vim, he would either control or discharge Mr. Stanton]. If I were in his place, I would never submit to have the whole influence of the two most powerful Departments, Treasury and War, brought to bear upon the election — against the Pres. and for the aspiring Secretary."

Later on in the summer when the outlook lor the Northern cause was more dismal than ever the opposition press did not hesitate to put into plain words that it suspected more t h a n mere incompetence in high places. "The people are demanding of the administration to recall McClellan," wrote the New York Herald on August 5, 1864, "that the country in its trying hour may have the benefit of his superior skill and genius. This demand is so strong that even the radical journals like the Post and the Commercial join in the cry. Mr. Lincoln must not think from this that the public will be satisfied in placing him in command while he retains Stanton in the War Department to interfere and upset all his plans and defeat his efforts to crush out the rebellion. The only hope for Old Abe is in the immediate removal of all such Marplots as Stanton and Halleck, and in giving McClellan a command commensurate with his ability and skill. Has Mr. Lincoln patriotism enough left to do this?"

It was then that Stanton did something that gave some observers the impression that he was beginning personal negotiations with the Southern leaders, somewhat along the lines he had followed when he had established contact with prominent Republicans while still a member of Buchanan's Cabinet. The New York Herald of August 19, 1864, reported sneeringly that Judge Black (Stanton's sponsor and former law partner), Jake Thompson (Jefferson Davis' chief agent in Canada) and General Hooker were all stopping at hotels in Niagara Falls and wondered whether Stanton had upset the peace negotiations of Horace Greeley with the Southern commissioners in order to initiate his own. "The alarm and fear that have taken possession of Old Abe have given rise to the rumor that Judge Black came with the permission of Secretary Stanton," wrote a Niagara Falls correspondent.

Stanton, in the opinion of some contemporary critics, would not have hesitated to go to considerable lengths in his secret parleys with the enemy. "The Blairs charge Stanton with infidelity to party and to country," wrote Welles in July 1863, "from mere selfish considerations, and with being by nature treacherous . . . Were any overwhelming adversity to befall the country, they look upon him as ready to betray it."

Unquestionably Judge Black did make the journey to Canada with Stanton's consent. The former had mentioned accidentally that he was going; whereupon the War Minister "instantly and very unequivocably" expressed his wish that the visit should be consummated. "You repeated it not less than three times," wrote Black.

Black's trip across the Canadian border did not remain unnoticed. It seemed to be the understanding among the exiled Confederates that Stanton was bargaining for his personal safety in case of defeat; the Reverend Robinson wrote as follows: "Why what will you think . . . when I tell you that I saw, myself, in intimate association, here [in Toronto], with Messrs. Thompson and Cleary, and elsewhere with Messrs. Clay and others, a distinguished jurist whom I understood to have come directly from Secretary Stanton himself, to consult, during the alarm about the prospective breakdown of the Republican party in August last, and his reported fears of personal violence to the Cabinet from the excited populace of the North?"

There is no definite proof of treachery on Stanton's part in this episode. Black and Thompson were discussing an armistice, but just what the scheming Secretary of War had in mind, there is no way of knowing. Lincoln's ticket was not given an even chance of winning at that time, and if the Peace party had come into power in the November elections, Stanton's downfall was inevitable. The bellicose little War Minister was reputed by Welles, and by others who knew him well, to be a physical coward, and it was rumored in Washington that he always carried a stiletto in his shirt bosom. The Reverend Robinson's fear of violence on the part of an outraged people was probably shared by Stanton.

The battle of Mobile and the fall of Atlanta changed the whole picture abruptly. The peace negotiations came to a sudden end, and Stanton felt insolently serene again.

Unexpectedly the blow fell. Lincoln was deserting his own party by taking steps to restore the Union on its old foundations. The South was to come in again and would vote the Republican party out of office — Lincoln, Stanton, Sumner and all. If Stanton were to survive politically, he would have to turn Democrat once more; but this was probably too big a task even for this skillful dissembler. The future which had looked so bright was suddenly shrouded with gloom.

It was then that Lincoln was shot.

Curious thoughts must have coursed through Stanton's mind as he watched the prostrate figure of his dying Chief stretched diagonally across a boardinghouse bed. This backwoods lawyer with the enormous muscular development that now was plainly visible on the naked body, had not proved so pliable after all. Without a college education, without natural refinement, he had undertaken to establish his authority over every one of his Cabinet members.

Mrs. Lincoln, frightened and distracted, had fallen to the floor in a faint. A sudden rage possessed Stanton. Brutally, he gave orders to take "that woman" out of the room and not to let her come back.57 The President was sinking; there was no purpose in still acting like a gentleman to his wife.

But there were other things to be done. Stanton summoned Vice President Johnson, and sent him home again after a few moments because, as he claimed, his presence annoyed Mrs. Lincoln.58 If Johnson were imprudent enough to leave, so much the worse for him. How pleasing it must have been to the War Minister to see everyone taking orders from him. Even the Vice President, on the verge of becoming Chief Executive, was acknowledging Stanton's superiority. Of course, Johnson, as war governor of Tennessee, had once been under the authority of the War Department. Perhaps Stanton's autocracy could be made to outlast this night, and, if properly nursed, to perpetuate itself. It was a dream worth dreaming.

"In the back bedroom of Peterson's lodging-house," writes Lloyd Lewis, "he [Stanton] took charge of the Republic Through the war this cmad incorruptible' had believed himself to be the real ruler of the nation, guiding with his superior brain the weaker, softer will of Lincoln, and now his hour had come. He was dictator."

When Lincoln's death was announced, Stanton did a queer thing; he slowly, and with apparent deliberation, straightened out his right arm, placed his hat for an instant on his head, and then as deliberately returned it to its original position. To some of those present it must have appeared as if Stanton were crowning himself King of America.

As Stanton surveyed the situation on the morning of Lincoln's death, his triumph seemed complete. The South was conquered and completely at the mercy of the President, as Congress was not in session. Seward was confined to his bed in what was thought to be a critical condition. Grant was under the thumb of the War Department. The President could be depended upon to be stern and uncompromising — and to take orders from his Secretary of War. Besides, as long as Johnson lived, he would walk under the shadow of his great blunder on the day of his inauguration. There was no apparent reason why Stanton could not remain what he had been during the night of April 14 — de facto President of the United States.

To demonstrate his affection for the dead President and incidentally his power, the War Minister ordered the closing of the playhouse in which the assassination had taken place. There was no legal justification whatsoever for this act. "Nothing could be more despotic," opined Browning, "and yet in this free Country Mr Ford is utterly helpless, and without the means of redress."

"I see by the papers," one reads in the diary of the former attorney general, "that the Sec of War has, by his simple fiat, presented the opening of Fords Theatre . . . After that, what may he not do? What is to hinder him from transferring estates I nun one man to another, annulling land titles and dissolving the tie of marriage?"

There is no denying that Lincoln's death held out a great promise for Stanton.

At the same time it must have occurred to the War Minister that here was an opportunity to link himself dramatically to the unforgettable moment of Lincoln's death. From out of nowhere emerged the pathetic words which the austere Secretary was reported to have uttered when it was announced that the end had come:

Now   he   belongs   to   the   Ages.
A beautiful epilogue. What a pity that it probably never was spoken.

As time passed, and the supposedly pliant Johnson followed more and more in Lincoln's footsteps, Stanton's hopes for a continued dictatorship slowly dwindled. Johnson actually grew more self-willed than Lincoln had ever been. He made every effort to restore the South to its place in the Union and, since Congress was adjourned, was making rapid headway toward peace and harmony.

The Radicals were furious, but impotent. Until the legislative bodies of Washington would convene, nothing could be done to stop the President. When at last the thirty-ninth session opened in December 1865, Thaddeus Stevens of the House, the bitterest of them all, organized a steering committee of fifteen which was created for only one purpose — to prevent representatives from the South from occupying their seats in the congressional halls. It was a revolutionary measure, desperate, unprecedented, but effective. Against the solid wall of iniquity presented by the Radicals in both Houses, all of Johnson's appeals and arguments were shattered into fragments. To the victors belonged the spoils, and the Radicals would not yield one jot or one tittle, the Constitution of the United States notwithstanding.

All of this Stanton watched with an ever scheming brain. "The Secretary of War," wrote Milton, "was reckless in his con duct toward the President. From the day of Johnson's accrsM.Mi, he kept him surrounded by detectives and spies and made the most of this espionage. Whatever the President said to a White House confidant, would probably be carried straightway to Stanton, who continually betrayed the measures and purposes of the President to the Radicals and concocted schemes against the Administration with them."

As yet, there was no telling whether the President or Congress would prove more powerful in the end. It was good policy, therefore, to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares, and thai is what Stanton set out to do. Again he sat in the inner councils of a President, and again he whispered all he heard and learned to the President's implacable enemies.

Stanton contrived [Welles remarked] to have the President surrounded most of the time by his detectives, or men connected with the military service who are creatures of the War Department. Of course, much that was said to the President in friendly confidence went directly to Stanton. In this way a constant espionage was maintained on all that transpired at the White House. Stanton, in all this time had his confidants among the Radicals — opponents of the President — in Congress, — a circle to whom be betrayed the measures and purposes of the President and with whom he concocted schemes to defeat the measures and policy of the Administration.

There is one thing that Stanton probably foresaw before others were cognizant of it. If the President and Congress should remain at loggerheads for any length of time, the country was bound to drift toward anarchy.

During all this confusion, when old standards were crumbling, the army remained the one bulwark of safety. Whoever controlled the army would control the country. Hence, Stanton determined to control the army.

The first move of the Radicals was to pass what was known is the Freedmen's Bureau bill. Originally the Freedmen's Bureau had been created in March 1865, for the purpose of supervising the hoardes of negroes who had been liberated through the advance of the Federal troops. It had been conceived merely as a temporary stopgap until these former slaves could find a place where they would be able to take care of themselves. The new bill, designed to meet political exigencies, contemplated an extension of rights to the negroes. Any offense against its provisions was subject to punishment not by the court but by army officers, for the agents of the Freedmen's Bureau were to work under the regulations of the War Department. Thus what Welles called a "terrific engine" was to be placed into the hands of Stanton. Johnson vetoed the bill, and the attempt of the Radicals to increase the power of the military arm of the government was defeated for the moment. In spite of the presidential opposition, a new and still more stringent bill was soon drawn up, however, and became a law over Johnson's veto. The power of the War Minister was beginning to grow.

Soon Stanton's strength was further augmented. How cleverly this was brought about has become known through the autobiography of Congressman Boutwell, who was the Secretary's dupe in this cabal. It is a queer story.

"When I arrived in Washington [he wrote] to attend the meeting of Congress at the December session, 1866,1 received a note from Mr. Stanton asking me to meet him at the War Office with as little delay as might be practicable. When I called at the War Office, he beckoned me to retire to his private room, where he soon met me. He then said that he had been more disturbed by the condition of affairs in the preceding weeks and months than he had been at any time during the war. He gave me to understand that orders had been issued to the army of which neither he nor General Grant had any knowledge."

Stanton never told his visitor what these orders were or who had issued them. This is deplorable, for the records fail to confirm the accusation, and Grant registered no such complaint, nor did he ever refer to the matter in any way.

He [Stanton] then said [so Boutwell continued] that he thought it necessary that some act should be passed by which the power of the President might be limited. Under his dictation, and after such consultation as seemed to be required, I drafted amendments to the Appropriation Bill for the Support of the Army, which contained the following provisions: The headquarters of the General of the Army were fixed at Washington, where he was to remain unless transferred to duty elsewhere by his own consent or by the consent of the Senate. Next, it was made a misdemeanor for the President to transmit orders to any officer of the army except through the General of the Army.

This outrageous proposal, it should be noted, was attached to the Army Appropriation bill, making it impossible for Johnson to veto it without arousing violent antagonism on the part of everyone connected in any way with the military service.

One might easily call this manoeuver the Perfect Intrigue of the Age. Unknown to his Chief, Stanton summoned an important legislator and, assuming his favorite air of anxiety and dread, literally dictated to him a bill which took from the President an important part of his constitutional power. Johnson was not to be permitted to transfer General Grant, whom Stanton controlled, nor could he evade Grant by giving orders to other generals directly. In plain words, Stanton withdrew the army from the authority of the President, its Commander in Chief and, using Grant as a pawn, made himself master oLthe military branch of the government.

All this time, Johnson's friends kept counseling him against retaining Stanton in his Cabinet. The Philadelphia Convention, meeting in August 1866, was "strong and emphatic" in its opinion that the Secretary of War should be dismissed. A meeting of ex-service men convened in Cleveland and, a month later, presented to Johnson a round-robin letter, signed by such men as Generals Wool, Granger, Rousseau, Thomas Ewing and McCook, reciting that "in discharge of a duty which we owe to you, to the country and to ourselves, we beg leave to say that the Honorable E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, does not possess the confidence politically or otherwise of any considerable number of your friends . . . and that his continuation in that position greatly tends to weaken your administration."

Gideon Welles had already warned the President in June of Stanton's duplicity, but had accomplished nothing. On the fourteenth of that month, the diary of the Secretary of the Navy was enriched by the following entry:

"He [the President] still leans on Seward and seems under his influence, though with doubts and occasional misgivings. Seward himself defers to Stanton, — is becoming afraid of him." Why was Seward afraid of Stanton? What was it, to use the vernacular, that Stanton "had" on Seward — if anything? "That Seward is cheated I cannot believe," proceeded Welles, "and if he is not cheated I am constrained to believe the President is. And who is to undeceive him? I have on more than one occasion suggested my doubts, but while he has received my suggestions attentively he has pondered in obvious distress . . ."

What was it that distressed Johnson? What prevented him from asking for Stanton's resignation?

The country could not understand why Johnson did not discharge the faithless Secretary [comments Milton in The Age of Hate\. Radicals were as amazed as Conservatives . . . Doolittle [senator from Wisconsin] wrote the venerable Francis Preston Blair of a rumor so damnable that Blair sat down immediately to present it to the President, to force the latter to act. "For six long months," Doolittle had written, "I have been urging the President to call on Grant temporarily to do the duties [of the] War Department . . ."

But Stanton remains, and so the report has spread all over the State, that there is something sinister. It started through the Milwaukee Sentinel printing the letter of a correspondent from Washington, which says that Stanton is not removed because it is rumored and believed that Stanton has testimony to show that Mr. Johnson was privy to Lincoln's assassination . . .

The case against Stanton and Johnson is compelling:

As Secretary of War, Stanton failed in his duty to protect the President's life after he was convinced that there was danger in the air. He bluntly denied Lincoln's request to be protected by Major Eckert and did not provide a proper substitute. It was probably due to the efforts of Stanton that all evidence of negligence on the part of John F. Parker was carefully suppressed. Stanton took especial pains to remove Grant from the scene of the crime.

He directed the pursuit of Booth and allowed it to be conducted in a manner that, but for the assassin's accidental injury, would have allowed his escape.

He kept Booth's name from the public for three critical hours, and hampered the newspapers in divers ways instead of enlisting their aid in the capture of the assassins.

He diverted public suspicion to Southern leaders from the very beginning.

The War Department recalled Major O'Beirne when he reported his proximity to the fugitive murderer.

The actual pursuit and subsequent capture of Booth was reserved for Stanton's own trusted lieutenants; the assassin was not brought back alive.

All suspects known to have been intimate with Booth were silenced by unusual methods and were subsequently removed from contact with the public, either by infliction of the death penalty or by banishment to a desolate fortress. Other prisoners, of at least equal guilt, escaped punishment. The return of John Surratt was delayed; in fact, efforts were apparently made to prevent it altogether.

Actual contact between the War Minister and Booth could have been established through President Johnson who, it was said, knew the actor, and whose private secretary admitted such acquaintance. Stanton had a singular hold over Johnson, who kept him in office for unknown reasons in spite of the War Minister's open treachery.

Next: Why was JFK murdered?


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