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“Mary Surratt - Guilty, Innocent, or does it matter?”

Apr 20, 2011 at 9:41pm | Filed Under “The Conspirator

Mary Surratt - Guilty, Innocent, or does it matter?
Less than three months after her arrest at her boarding house on H Street in Washington City, Mary Surratt would be hanged for her role in John Wilkes Booth's murderous plot.
from The Conspirator 54 comments


  • tom_turner
    04/16/2011 at 1:37pm



    I have little doubt that Mary Surratt was aware of the kidnapping plot. "The Conspirator" is accurate when it portrays her in this manner. Joan Chaconas discovered George Atzerodt's so-called confession in the papers of his lawyer where Atzeodt says that Booth sent Mary to tell Loyd to have the guns ready. As Ed Steers and others have written, the kidnapping was a joint venture with the possibility that things might go wrong and Lincoln could be injured or killed. If kidnapping turned to murder then all could be charged with that crime.

    However Arnold and O'Laughlen who were clearly in on the kidnapping avoided the death penalty and were released several years later. If you wan't to examine the view that Mary Surratt might even have been involved in the murder plans read Kate Larson's book "The Assassin's Accomplice.' Even Kate admits that you cannot prove her involvement in the president's death with 100% certainty and historians seemed destined to continue the debate about the degree of her involvement.

    I am hesitant to generate a debate about the death penalty but as a historian who has studied this case and others such as Sacco and Vanzetti I oppose the death penalty. There is no doubt that innocent people have been executed in American history and I believe life without parole would allow injustices to be corrected if new evidence casts doubt about the original verdicts. Otherwise controversial cases are left to the court of history.

    from Edwin Stanton: Hero, Villain, or Something Else?
  • tom_turner
    04/12/2011 at 11:14am



    Laurie answered your comment clearly and fully so I am not going to respond directly. (By the way Laurie it was great to see you at the premiere at Ford's Theatre on Sunday.)

    John Lloyd as portrayed by Stephen Root comes across as both a drunk and probable liar. In fact many viewers have commented that his performance captures their image of the real Lloyd. However Laurie's colleague Joan Chaconas discovered George Atzerodt's "confession" in the papers of his lawyer William Doster. Atzerodt confirms that Booth sent Mrs. Surratt to tell Lloyd to get the guns ready and also sent supplies to Dr. Mudd several weeks previously as part of the kidnapping plan. This demonstrates one can be a drunkard and a seedy character and possibly still be telling the truth.

    As Laurie points out however, Mary Surratt's action can still be open to interpretation. Simply carrying a field glass and mentioning weapons to Lloyd does not guarantee that Booth shared his murder plans. My colleague and friend Kate Larson is convinced that she was a key player, probably even in the murder, and got what she deserved but other historians still argue for different degrees of involvement. There is a pretty wide consensus that she was at a minmum an accessory but others involved in the kidnapping plan (Arnold, O'Laughlen and maybe Mudd) escaped execution.

    "The Conspirator" which portrays Surratt as knowledgeable of the kidnappingt not the murder and remaining silent to protect her son is bound to fuel the debate.

    from Historians View the Assassination

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