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The attempt to Fasten the assassination of President Lincoln on President Davis and other innocent parties.

By Judge W. W. Cleary.
[The following paper was read before the Louisville Branch of the Southern Historical Society and well deserves a place in our records that the future historian may see what methods were employed to blacken the name and fame of Confederate leaders.]

On the 2d day of May, 1865, his Excellency, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, published to the world the following proclamation-viz:

By the President of the United States:
Whereas, it appears from evidence in the Bureau of Military Justice that the atrocious murder of the late President, and the attempted murder of the Hon. W. H. Seward, Secretary of State, was incited, concocted and procured by and between Jeff. Davis, late of Richmond, Virginia; and Jacob Thompson, Clement C. Clay, Beverley Tucker, George N. Sanders, W. W. Cleary, and other rebels and traitors against the government of the United States, harbored in Canada. Now, therefore, to the end that justice may be done, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do offer for the arrest of said persons or either of them within the limits of the United States, so that they can be brought to trial, the following rewards:

One hundred thousand dollars for the arrest of Jefferson Davis; twenty-five thousand dollars for the arrest of Clement C. Clay; twenty-five thousand dollars for the arrest of Jacob Thompson, late of Mississippi; twenty-five thousand dollars for the arrest of George N. Sanders; twenty-five thousand dollars for the arrest of Beverley Tucker; ten thousand dollars for the arrest of W. W. Cleary, late clerk of C. C. Clay.

The Provost-Marshall-General of the United States is directed to cause a description of said persons, with notice of the above rewards, to be published.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, the 2d day of May, in the year of our Lord 1865, and of the independence of the United States of America, the eighty-ninth.

Andrew Johnson. By the President: W. Hunter, Acting Secretary State.


The evidence in the “Bureau of Military Justice,” upon which this accusation was brought against persons, some of whom had occupied high positions under the Federal Government, and all of whom through. life had enjoyed the confidence of their fellow-citizens, and unblemished reputations as private gentlemen, was carefully withheld from the public by the Bureau of Military Justice, thereby depriving the accused of the opportunity of at once exposing the equally extraordinary and improbable perjuries by which the President was deceived into the issuance of the Proclamation; while, meantime, the exalted source from which this indictment issued, and the morbid excitement of the public mind, gave color enough to the accusation to subject the accused to an ignominy scarcely less than should have ensued upon full proof of guilt.

The fact subsequently transpired, in spite of official vigilance to conceal it, that the “evidence in the Bureau of Military Justice,” was obtained from three witnesses secretly examined before the Military Commission which condemned Mrs. Surratt to the gallows. Their names, real or assumed, are Sandford Conover, Richard Montgomery and James B. Merritt. Their testimony, withheld from the public by the Government, found its way into the newspapers, and was commonly known at the time as “the suppressed testimony.” The publication of it enabled some of the parties assailed to expose its falsehood and the characters of the witnesses. Filed with this paper and as a part, but too long to read here, is the “evidence” in full, as reported by the Bureau of Military Justice upon which the proclamation issued, together with the facts, testimony and documents whereby the “.evidence” is shown to be from first to last a congeries of miserable falsehoods. That President Johnson was betrayed by an undeserved confidence in the information furnished from the Bureau of Military Justice; that the charge of the proclamation was made upon manifestly false testimony, in an hour of public excitement, is now universally accepted truth; nevertheless, I have thought it not out of place to put in the archives of the Southern Historical Association a brief review of this evidence, the necessity for any detailed exposition of which arises chiefly from the very effrontery of falsehoods, which the accused, had they been present, could have exposed in the most summary manner on the spot, but which from the extraordinary and contra-legal method in which they were received, impose the necessity of tedious detail and repetition of rebutting testimony to overthrow so preposterous and stupidly contrived falsehoods.

Sandford Conover, examined by Judge Advocate Bingham, swore [315] (see page 5), repeating four different times, in a variety of forms of expression, that late in January and early in February, 1865, and every day in the month of February, he held conversations with Hon. Jacob Thompson at the St. Lawrence hotel, in Montreal, touching the assassination.

Let me quote in full his statement of the alleged conversation:

Q.--“State, if you please, what was said at that time by Mr. Thompson on that subject, in your presence?” A.--“I had called on Mr. Thompson to make some inquiry about a raid which had been contemplated on Ogdensburg, N. Y., which had failed because the United States Government had received some intimation of the rebels there, and were prepared for it, and I called to hear what was to be done next, and being supposed by Mr. Thompson to be a good rebel, he said: ‘We would have to drop it for a time, but we will catch them asleep yet,’ and then he observed: ‘ There is a better opportunity, a. better chance to immortalize yourself and save your country.’ I told him that I was ready to do anything to save the country, and asked him what was to be done. He said: ‘Some of our boys are going to play a grand joke on Abe and Andy.’ That was his expression. This led to explanations, when he informed me it was to kill them, or rather remove them from office. To use his own expression, he said: ‘It was only removing them from office; that the killing of a tyrant was no murder.’ ”

Q.--“State whether anything was said at that time on the subject of commissions from the rebel authorities in his hand, in blank?” A.--“He had commissions, and conferred one on Booth. I am not so positive whether he had conferred it on Booth then or not; but he told me, either then or subsequently, that Booth had been commissioned, and that everybody engaged in the enterprise would be commissioned; and if it succeeded or failed, and they escaped to Canada, they could. not be successfully claimed under the Extradition Treaty.”

The fact is fully shown in the testimony herewith: First, that Mr. Thompson was not in Montreal at any time from the 1st of January to the 14th of February, being in the city of Toronto, nearly 350 miles distant; and second, by referring to page 27, it will be seen from the letter of this man Conover, certified to be genuine by United States Counsel, General John F. Potter, that up to the 20th of March after, he did not even know Mr. Thompson, and was then seeking his acquaintance, as himself the originator of a proposition to destroy the Croton Water-works, etc. This letter was sent by Mr. John Cameron, of Montreal, who testifies that, after Mr. Thompson had read the letter, [316] he exclaimed: “Is the man mad? Is he a fool?” and declined any communication with him.

Again. See page 4, speaking of John H. Surratt.

Q.--“You say you saw him in Montreal in April, last?” A.--“Yes, sir.”

Q.--“About what time in April was it?” A.--“It was within a week before the President's assassination. I think about the 6th and 7th of April--somewhere in that vicinity.”

Q.--“You say you saw him in Thompson's room?” A.--“I saw him in Mr. Thompson's room.”

Q.--“State whether he gave any communication to Thompson in your presence in his room, and what that communication was.” A.--“There was a conversation there at that time, from which it appeared that Mr. Surratt had brought dispatches from Richmond to Mr. Thompson. These dispatches were the subject of the consultation.”

Q.--“From whom in Richmond were the dispatches brought?” A.--“From Mr. Benjamin, and I think there was also a letter in cipher from Mr. Davis. I am not so positive as to the cipher, but there was a letter from him, whether in cipher or not.”

Q.--“Do you mean Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State of the so-called Confederacy?” A.--“Yes, sir.”

Q.--“You say the dispatches were the subject of conversation. What did they say was the substance of the dispatches, or what did they purport to be?” A.--“I had some conversation with Mr. Thompson previously on the subject of a plot to assassinate Mr. Lincoln, * * * and I had been invited to participate in that enterprise.” (This is the alleged conversation fully described above and disproved.)

Q.--“By whom had you been so invited to participate in that enterprise?” A.--“By Mr. Thompson, and on this occasion he laid his hand on the papers or dispatches there, and said this makes this thing all right, referring to the assent of the rebel authorities.”

Q.--“Did they speak of the persons that the rebel authorities had consented might be the victims of this plot?” A.--“Yes, sir; Mr Lincoln, Mr. Johnson, the Secretary of War, the Secretary of State, and Judge Chase.”

Q.--“Did they say anything about any of the Generals?” A.--“And Grant.”

Q.--“I am not sure whether you have stated precisely. If you have not done it, I wish you would now, who were present at this conversation which you had with Jacob Thompson early in April, when he laid [317] his hand on the dispatches.” A.--“Mr. Surratt, General Carroll and myself.”

Q.--“Can you state whether any of these persons participated in the conversation?” A.--“General Carroll, of Tennessee, did. He was more anxious that Mr. Johnson should be killed than anybody else.”

General Carroll denounces this as false, and shows by the certificate of Dr. McDonnell, an eminent physician of Montreal, and Mr. A. S. Huntington, with whom he boarded, that he was confined to his bed from the 1st to the 15th of April in consequence of a very painful disease, and that he was all the time under the care of Dr. McDonnell, thus completely exploding the story of the dispatches, cipher letter and apochryphal Surratt conversations.

Says General Carroll: “The facile ease with which this infamous wretch, Conover, commits perjury, is only equalled by the fertility of his brain in conceiving diabolical plots and involving innocent people in them.” I have thus cited Conover's perjuries, having for their object the connecting of Mr. Davis and Mr. Thompson with the assassination. Each, all, and every one of his statements as to Mr. Clement C. Clay, Mr. Saunders, Mr. Beverley Tucker and myself, are shown to be equally false and mendacious.

Conover mentions, in his secret examination, the names of other gentlemen as his “intimate associates in Montreal,” viz: Captain Magruder and Dr. Fallen, both of whom made affidavits. Says Captain Magruder: “I, George A. Magruder, late Captain in the Navy of the United States, and Chief of the Bureau of Ordinances and Hydrography, now residing in the city of Montreal, having been duly sworn upon the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God, doth depose and say: That having read the evidence or testimony of one Sanford Conover, alias James Watson Wallace, as reported in the public papers to have been given by him, and taken before the Military Commission, now sitting at Washington, D. C., in which he declares that, with others named by said Conover, alias Wallace, he wasi ntimately acquainted with me. This I swear to be absolutely false and untrue. Further, I declare never to have seen this person to my knowledge, nor have I ever heard his name, or assumed name, before my attention was drawn to it by his testimony. I did not know that such a person as said Conover or Wallace existed.”

Dr. Pallen, a distinguished surgeon of St. Louis, swears that he never saw or spoke to Sandford Conover, alias James Watson Wallace.

Conover said, in his secret testimony, that he did not go by the name of Sandford Conover in Canada, but under the name of James [318] Watson Wallace. The first known of him in Canada was in the latter part of February, 1865, when he appeared as a volunteer witness in the extradition proceeding, then pending against the St. Albans' prisoners. It was necessary to the defense to prove the genuineness of the signature of Mr. Sedden, Secretary of War and as it was difficult to find any one in Montreal acquainted with the signature, inquiries were constantly being made at the hotels for Virginia people who could make such proof in this way. This man came, offered himself as a witness, went into court, and did the swearing.

Let me give you a few specimens from his testimony in Montreal and at Washington:

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