Michael O’Laughlin, Samuel Arnold, Edmund Spangler and Dr. Samuel Mudd, “languishing on the burning sands of the Tortugas, caught gleams of hope.” President Andrew Johnson was following the lenient plan of the murdered Abraham Lincoln.
But the “radical” abolitionist faction of the fledgling Republican Party wanted blood. President Andrew Johnson was an apostate from the “true faith.”
By April 1866, a criminal trial for Rebel President Jefferson Davis was contemplated. Jefferson Davis was “no ordinary assassin or pirate.” Nay, he “stands charged by the government with the murder of the President.” And even so late as April 1866 it was being urged that Davis must be tried by a military court! The “radicals” wanted more blood! Their thirst had not been quenched by the already judicial murder of Mary Surratt in July 1865.
“Let us build a gallows for Jefferson Davis and hang him in the name of the Most High!” self-righteously shouted the “radical” faction.
An “Assassination Committee” of the U.S. Congress began looking into things. A samizdat pamphlet appeared: “A Vindication of Judge [Joseph] Holt from the foul slanders of traitors, confessed perjurers and suborners, acting in the interest of Jefferson Davis.” One Sanford Conover was alluded to therein. Was he a secret agent of the Rebs? Tried for perjury, Conover was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment at the Albany, New York penitentiary in February 1867.
But Conover, sentenced to 10 years at Albany, instead languished in a Washington, DC jail. Some wanted to use Sanford Conover as a wedge to bring down the Andrew Johnson presidency. “Just get me out of the jail cell,” Conover informed certain congress critters who visited, “and I can lay hands on witnesses and documents. These will prove Johnson and John Wilkes Booth were in cahoots!” Johnson had seemed to be drunk at Lincoln’s second inauguration. But really it was that he knew Booth was supposed to be killing Lincoln right there, at the inauguration!
But Conover himself was not someone you could readily believe. Nevertheless, an impeachment investigation continued against President Andrew Johnson. The shifty Colonel Lafayette Baker, wartime head of the Union’s Secret Service, appeared before the Assassination Committee. Baker had let slip that Booth kept a diary, in his book, History of the Secret Service. What happened to Booth’s diary? the committee wanted to know. It had strangely disappeared from view after being given to Edwin Stanton, Union Secretary of War. Stanton had suppressed the diary, as he had also suppressed the remains of the supposed John Wilkes Booth via a secret burial. A subpoena duces tecum to Judge Joseph Holt, who had conducted the 1865 “trial of the conspirators,” brought forth from hiding the suppressed Booth diary.
The Booth diary tended to exonerate Mary Surratt, hung by the neck until dead as a “conspirator” in the Lincoln assassination. Her belated champion appeared in the person of Benjamin “Spoons” Butler. Mrs. Surratt had been an innocent woman, hung upon the scaffold. Why hadn’t the Booth diary been available to her defense, Butler demanded to know. And, added Butler, this Booth diary, now at last produced for the light of day, had 18 pages cut out! Those 18 missing pages covered a crucial time period coinciding with the Lincoln assassination itself. “Who spoliated that book?” Butler wanted to know. “Who caused an innocent woman [Mary Surratt] to be hung when he had in his pocket the diary which stated at least what was the idea and purpose of the main conspirator?”
(Source: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Its Expiation, by David Miller Dewitt. New York: MacMillan, 1909)