Title

The Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

Document Type

Article

Abstract

For President Abraham Lincoln, things looked brighter on Friday, April 14, 1865 than they had for a long time. Five days earlier, General Robert E. Lee effectively ended the long nightmare of the Civil War by surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia, and just the previous day, the city of Washington celebrated the war's end by illuminating every one of its public building with candles. Candles also burned in most private homes, causing a city paper to describe the nation's capital as all ablaze with glory. The President decided he could finally afford an evening of relaxation: he would attend a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in downtown Washington.

On May 1, 1865, President Johnson issued an order that the alleged conspirators be tried before a nine-person military commission. Testimony began in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy trial on May 12, just three days after the prisoners were first asked if they would like to have legal counsel. The rules of the Commission made the position of the defendants even more grave: conviction could come on a simple majority vote and a majority of two-thirds could impose the death sentence. Over the course of the next seven weeks, the Commission would hear from 361 witnesses. As the witnesses paraded to the stand, spectators lucky enough to get admission passes from Major General Hunter would move in and out of the nonchalant atmosphere of the courtroom.

Publication Date

2007

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