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Mary Surratt And The Death Penalty

3346 words - 13 pages

“She kept the nest that hatched the rotten egg.” President Johnson was referring to Mary Surratt when he declared this. Who is Mary Surratt? Not many people would be able to answer this question however, many people would be able to explain who John Wilkes Booth was if they were asked. He was the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Well, Mary Surratt was a middle-aged woman during the civil war, and was wrongly accused of assisting in the plot to kill President Lincoln. During the trial, her rights were ignored, and she was eventually hanged with little proof to support her guilt. Her punishment sparked additional controversy that still influences arguments surrounding the death penalty today.
The Civil War was when the United States split because of the injustice of slavery. The North insisted to free the slaves, but the South refused (Wulf et al). After four years of fighting, the south surrendered at the Appomattox court house on April 9, 1865. By that time, over 680,000 americans had died. Even though the war was over, there was still tension between the North and the South, and their anger was directed at Abraham Lincoln, which eventually lead to a story that changed the United States forever (O’Reilly and Zimmerman 33-37).
Mary Surratt wasn’t a typical woman during the Civil War. Many must have perceived her as a very strong Catholic who had been widowed since 1862. She moved to her boarding house in Washington D.C. two years later (O’Reilly and Zimmerman204), (smithsonian.com). She lived with one of her two sons, John Surratt, and daughter Anna (Taylor). All this was true, but there was a lot more going on in the Surratt home that went unnoticed. Mary may have been living in the North’s capital, but she was a confederate sympathiser who spied and smuggled for the south (O’Reilly and Zimmerman70). Her son John worked as a confederate courier or messenger, and her other son Isaac was away serving in the confederate army. More importantly, her boarding house became a meeting place for those plotting against Abraham Lincoln after the war (Taylor), (Cohen).
There were many plots that went on in that boarding house, not just the assassination attempt. Their original plan was to kidnap the president and take him to Richmond, Virginia where they would exchange him for confederate prisoners of war. Mary did admit knowing about this plan, but insisted to not being involved in the assassination. After the kidnapping plan failed twice, there were a few who refused to partake in the assassination, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’ Laughlen, Mary Surratt could have potentially been on of those few also (Cohen), (Biography of). John Wilkes Booth, the “master” of the operation, decided that he was going to change the plan from kidnapping the president to killing him, as well as those in line for presidency. He assigned specific people to cross the victims off his list; He would assassinate the president, George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Johnson,...

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