April 21

The Conspirator – E.C. Blog

The Conspirator came out this weekend (No. 9 in movie sales) and told a little known story about the trial of Mary Surratt and the three assassins accused of being involved in John Wilkes Booth’s plan to throw the country into chaos immediately after the Civil War had been won in mid April 1865.  Confederate general Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9, and the country was in the mood for celebrating that Easter weekend beginning with Friday, April 14.  But President Lincoln was killed so suddenly afterwards that there was little time for rejoicing.

One of the things that I wondered before I saw the film was, why was the film being made?  Sure, the film could capitalize on the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war this month.  The film was telling an unknown part of American history, as I mentioned earlier, so at least it wasn’t covering old ground.  As the film started examining the tensions still bubbling under the surface during the trial, it became clearer to me why Robert Redford made the film.

In the aftermath of a very traumatic event, while the country was still in a war mood (the last Confederate army under Joseph Johnston still hadn’t been captured or surrendered yet, nor had Confederate President Jefferson Davis been arrested yet either), Confederate prisoners like Mary Surratt and the assassins weren’t treated like regular prisoners.  They were tried by a military tribunal (with nine military men acting as judges and jury), the prisoners’ rights to due process, a fair trial by jury, a lawyer’s preparation for trial, disclosure of evidence, and other legal rights were violated in these procedures.

Pick two of the following questions to answer:

 – What did you think of the Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers / assassins?  Did it seem fair or unjust?  Why?

 – The government’s prosecutor, Judge Advocate Holt argued against any further delay of the trial of the assassins in order to help the nation “heal its wounds.”  Do you think the trial helped this process or prolong the healing of the country?

 – Since the North couldn’t execute the primary assassin, John Wilkes Booth, do you think the nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins?  Why or why not?

 – Explain the deeper subtext of the film in a post – 9/11/01 terrorist attack America and the wider treatment of Muslims as suspects (w/ little to no evidence). 

Due Monday May 9.  Max 10 points (200 words minimum). 

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Posted April 21, 2011 by geoffwickersham in category Uncategorized

20 thoughts on “The Conspirator – E.C. Blog

  1. Autumn Palmer

    1.I think the Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers/assassins was unjust. The treatment was extremely uncalled for. The people of the Union saw all Confederates or Confederate sympathizers as bad. To them, there was no other choice, they were bad, and that was all they could ever be. It was unjust because everyone should have the benefit of the doubt. Things should only be assumed when there is evidence behind it. Therefore, Mary Surratt’s trial was extremely unfair because she was prosecuted under assumptions, and unreliable witnesses. Another unjust part about her trail and the others accused of conspiring to kill the President, was that they were not tried by a jury of their peers. They were tried by a military tribunal, and a one-sided one at that.
    2.Since the North could not execute the primary assassin, John Wilkes Booth, I think the nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins. The people of the North loved Lincoln, and they wanted somebody to pay for the dirty deed. Since Booth was already killed, they turned to other Confederates that were supposedly involved with the conspiring to the killing of the President. They wanted someone to have to take the heat for the heinous deed, and since there was already a strong anti-Confederate feeling in the North, it only made sense to put Confederates to jail.

  2. david bellefleur

    1. I think that the treatment of the confederates was unjust if it was just treatment, but it was at a time of war and there was going to be a hatred between the two groups no matter what. I do think that the union people and soldiers should have kept to the law and not just given an unfiar trial to Mary due to the fact that they thought she was guilty. I think that war provides some room for different behavior because if you were involved in a war as much as people of that time were, right and wrong got mixed up a lot. But the union should have seen that confederate sympathizers were born into the south and were not expected to agree with things of the North.
    3. I think that the north needed a scape goat since Booth had already been shot. They needed somebody to blame for the president’s death and they anted someone to die publicly. I think that with remaining assassins, the country had a new focus. If all the assassins had been killed, they would have no one to have a hatred for that was alive. But since the prime leader of the pack was dead, they needed to switch their anger. The north loved lincoln like a father, so they wanted booth out of that burning barn alive.

  3. Brandon Herman

    1. To be completely honest i think the treatment of the confederates was completely unfair, unjust, and outright horrible. In my opinion its does not matter if our country just ended a huge war. The law should always be the same weather in war or out of war. The unfair treatment of Mary Surratt primarily shows throughout the jury of her court case. She did not have a jury of public people, but a jury of Northern War generals who had already decided the fate off the case. If u did not know my mom is a judge and i talked to her about what happened, and she was appalled. It does not matter if we wanted revenge she said, law should always be honest and just.
    3. I truly believe that the nations rage was directed at the other assisins due to the north blood lust. People seemed to be upset that the main killer John Booth had died not of the hands of the “fair” law. They wanted the north to kill him and make it known what will happen to the killer of Abraham Lincoln. Just like my answer for number one, because of the countries blood lust and need to hang somebody, the trial became unfair and somewhat pre-determined. The country craved or even needed someone to be killed by hanging or law, so they turned all the blame on the rest and gave them no chance.

  4. Allison Roche

    1. I don’t think that the Union’s treatment of the Confederate sympathizers/assassins was fair or just. They tried them as if they were the murders of Booth which they weren’t. Some of them may have been involved in the plot to kill Lincoln but that doesn’t make them murders, they didn’t actually take a pistol and shoot Lincoln. Booth did that. They weren’t fairly tried even if they were murders. They were tried as if they were tried in a military tribunal. They are citizens of the United States and deserve to be treated as such no matter what suspicion is about them. They weren’t treated humanly either. No one can expect to live very long or healthily if they are locked in a dirty cell with a mattress and a sack over head forever.
    3. I think that since Booth died before he could be executed the North’s anger and need for revenge was funneled towards the remaining suspects unfairly. Everyone in the North was pretty pissed off that someone (or some people) from the South shot Abe Lincoln. They weren’t thinking rationally. Booth shot Lincoln. Not the remaining suspects, and I empathize suspects because they were suspected of helping and the movie made it seem that there was reasonable doubt about the involvement of one of the suspects (Mary Surratt) in the assassination. Since they were the closest thing they had to Booth the North decided that they were responsible for Abe’s death and should be tried and punished as Booth would have been were he still alive.

  5. Mallory Moss

    1. The union’s treatment of the sympathizers/ assassins was unfair. It seemed very clear that the court had decided that the assassins were guilty even before hearing any evidence. The prosecutor presenting the government’s case could do or say anything he wanted and even got witnesses to lie. Right from the beginning, it was clear that Mary Surrat was not going to get a fair trial. Her attorney had no time to prepare and the judge would not provide any additional time. Even after all the evidence was heard and the judges felt Mary should be found guilty but allowed to live, the secretary of war made sure the judges changed their minds so that she would be hung. There cannot be a fair trial if the true decision maker is a government leader set on having the arrested found guilty and hung no matter what the evidence is.
    3. The nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins because the war was coming to an end, the union had won, the president had been shot, and they now needed to show that the union was in full control over the government and would catch the people who did this to the union with swift judgment and punishment. It was another way to show that the union had defeated the south and would not tolerate any southern hostility or uprising. The union wanted to “flex its muscles” to show it was in total control of the country. Many families had lost loved ones in the civil war and needed to see a public spectacle where southerners were hung as both a bit of revenge for what the south did in the war and some closure to all the hostility that engulfed the nation.

  6. Claire Fisher

    1. I think that the way the Union treated the Confederate sympathizers and assassins was unjust. I think that everyone deserves a fair trial. It was clear that everyone in the court had already decided that Mary Surratt and the assassins were guilty. The movie may have portrayed the evidence supplied by the witnesses at the trials to make them seem less credible and so I can’t complain about the reliability of the witnesses, but the fact alone that she was not given a fair trial by a jury of her peers makes the entire trial a moot point. Why should they have bothered with the time it took to hold a trial, when they had already decided she was guilty?
    4. Many parallels of today, in the movie, displayed the deeper subtext and I think the original purpose of the film. The main focus of the movie and the biggest political issue was the government’s attempts to convict the assassins and Surratt by whatever means necessary. This was a clear parallel between the attempts against the assassins in 1865 and the terrorists tried today in the U.S. I also thought that this film showed a lot of similarities to The Crucible by Arthur Miller and his comments on McCarthyism in the 1950s when the government was doing the same thing to communists.

  7. Dorian Ballard

    1. I don’t believe that delaying the trail would have made a difference. The government already keep secrets from the public and I am sure that this court case would have been kept a secret if the government really wanted it to be. I think that the process of prosecuting the confederates was unjust but I do believe help the union heel its wounds, it wasn’t right but he gov’t did what they thought was the best for the country. So killing all of the people that conspired against the union did help the country. I think that if the movie had focused on a different person, instead of the innocent lady I might feel differently but I don’t think it was fair that the killed an innocent woman and then they decided to pass the law that would set her guilty son free was messed up.

    2. I think that the unions treatment of the confederates was misplaced but I do believe that the confederates should have felt the might of the U.S government. What they did was wrong and I believe that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so what they did was very extreme nd what came back to them was extreme. I definitely don’t agree with how the prosecuted the. lady but I cant say much for the others. I know people would say that it’s a bit extreme but the confederates were backwards in all ways. They fought for the wrong side of right and they couldn’t except it when they lose. I see them as extremist who were racist and didn’t have enough sense to think about what they were doing. They fought and died for what they believed in, hope they died happy.

  8. Cierra McPherson

    I personally felt that the treatment of confederate sympathizers and assassins were horrible. No one should be treated that way at all. I personally felt that is was unjust because I don’t there were hard enough evidence to get them hanged. I personally felt bad for all the alleged assassins, but mainly however Mary Surratt. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain to for through mentally and physically, and basically having the who whole country turn its back on you and having to prove your innocence, to whole bunch of people being from the Union. And someone to defend who really doesn’t believe your innocence would be hard for me too, although this seems unfair I do have mixed opinions on this situation. I can understand the frustration someone would feel to know that the leader of your country (or a leader that you actually like) has been killed, and I as a citizen, would want that those people to found guilty to get the full blown punish they deserve, but I would like supportive clear evidence, instead of someone losing their life without even being part of it.
    I believe that since the North couldn’t execute the primary assassin, John Wilkes Booth, the nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins because the other assassins were kind like John Booth, they in a way took his spot for him, even though they weren’t the main killer. As long as they “had something to do with it”, they were worthy of their energy.

  9. Saul Levin

    1. The way that the Union treated confederate sympathizers was totally unjust. The point of the laws in the United States is obviously to consistently give every American a fair trial and the benefit of the doubt. Twelve Angry Men exemplifies the reason that all twelve jurors need to be one hundred percent certain about their opinions. From the beginning, everyone seemed certain that the defendants were guilty. The Conspirator showed that the Union was still caught up in the war and such an upsetting event led them to lose their senses. A one-sided military court does not fit under the umbrella of “fair trial” in any way. Every American citizen, conspirator or not, deserves a fair trial.
    2. Living in a post-9/11 society I am aware of the stereotypes toward Muslims in general in many different forms. I remember one time my dad was “randomly” stopped at an airport; he had a beard, longer hair and dark skin at the time. I just can’t believe how unfair it is to judge someone based on their background or if their appearance is similar to that of a “bad guy” on TV. People are looking to be Batman and win a battle over anyone who looks like the Joker in their rage. The Conspirator runs along a similar vein where people basically try to shut down anyone with a connection to their enemies. It’s about time we’ve learned from our mistakes.

  10. Cameron Crawford-Mook

    I saw The Conspirator this weekend, and I thought it was really good. It reminded me a lot of The Crucible because of the blatant injustice that was happening. I think the Union treated the conspirators, especially Mary Surrat, incredibly unjustly. They had no reason to suspect Mary of being a coconspirator except that she had housed some of the assassins in her house and she was clearly a civilian entitled to a civilian trial by a jury of her peers. What I found the most maddening was that the military men overruled all of the defense’s objections and were unable to get past their prejudices to see the truth. I think The Nations inability to try Booth definitely played a role in how biased they acted, because they wanted to see someone brought to “justice”. I found the prosecution’s apparent tactics of threatening their witnesses to make them tell an untrue version of events sickening. Like The Crucible, I think this movie has important messages for us today. Many of prisoners at Guantanamo are being tried with military tribunals, like Mary Surrat was. It was really interesting for me to see this movie so recently after Bin Laden was killed because it made me wonder if he had been captured alive if it would have really made any difference to his ultimate fate. I think it would be impossible to find a jury who would even pause to consider reasonable doubt and I think if a trial had been allowed to occur, it would have been merely for show—the verdict would have already been decided .

  11. Denny Walsh

    1. I think that the Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers was unjust. This is because regardless of their views as to whether or not the Confederacy was right they should have been given a fair trial. I feel that even if Mary Surratt had been a part of the conspiracy to assassinate the president she should have still been given a fair trial. Without a fair trial the trial may as well have never happened in which case anyone could be hanged for their political views even if they did nothing wrong.

    3. I think that the nation’s anger was directed at all of the remaining assassins because John Wilkes Booth couldn’t be executed. One of the arguments for use of a war trial against the alleged assassins was so that a quick hanging could be had so that people could get over the horrors of the war more quickly without having to constantly think about it. This means that the people were angry and something had to be done to someone in order for them to be able to feel avenged for the loss of their president and move on with their lives. I think that at that point in time the nation would be happy to have anyone they could get to hang and blame for the loss of their president and it no longer even mattered who it was. This is what may have led to the hanging of Mary Surratt despite evidence that was inconclusive to say the least.

  12. Michael Nona

    1. I think that the union’s treatment of the assassins was totally unfair. It was obvious that the judge and jury knew how this case would go before it even started. It seemed to me that the governments lawyer could do no wrong and the defendant was preserved guilty the moment the trial started. Mary Surrat was doomed the moment she stepped into court. Without any time to prepare she stood no chance, but in my opinion they should have let her live. It was a combination of many things that worked against her and because of them she was hung. It was an unfair trail and the judges were bias.
    3. The nation’s rage and anger was definitely directed at the remaining assassins because of a variety of reasons. Throughout the north Lincoln was debatably the most loved president in American history. People were upset and they needed to show the confederacy that the union was in charge. It was also a way to emphasize who won the war and that another attempt to tear apart the union was pointless and you wouldn’t survive if you tried. I think it was a good method from a hypothetical standpoint but in reality I think that people’s emotions got the best of people and this was just cruel.

  13. Emily Kakos

    I think that living in a post nine eleven society has shown how America continually repeats its mistakes. Just because you are Muslim doesn’t mean you agree or support the attacks and that you are a terrorist on US soil. I am Chaldean, which is a culture from the Middle East. We are Catholic Christians from Iraq and tend to have dark hair, and skin. A little bit after 9/11, i remember my dad telling us how my uncles would get stopped and questioned in airports and things like that. We aren’t even Muslim but just because we are Middle Eastern, people assume the worst. The US is basically the most ethnically diverse country in the world and after all these years, we should have an open mind about people and not jump to conclusions and start stereotyping them.
    The nations rage and anger was definitely directed towards the other assassins because they couldn’t execute John Wilkes Booth. I think people always need someone to take the blame. They see something horrible and since they can’t execute the primary person involved, they take all the frustration, hurt, and sadness out on the remaining assassins. It’s a form of Justice for them and it kind of puts their minds at peace. Just like the killing of Osama Bin Laden. 10 years after the attack, he dying was a way that all those people who had families that died have found a sort of justice/peace within themselves. Basically, people need to have a place to direct all the hurt they’re feeling, and if they can’t do it with the person responsible, they’ll take it out on everyone else.

  14. Evan Daykin

    I think the treatment of the suspects, although unjust, almost made sense given the circumstances. If you are at war with the south, and a southerner killed Lincoln, There is maybe going to be a bit of sentiment against anyone for whom there is reasonable cause to believe that they were either involved with or aiding the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. I’m not saying it was right to throw them in pens with no sunlight, but an event of that magnitude is going to leave people wanting someone to point fingers at. It was wrong, but expected given basic human nature.

    I think this movie had a major 9/11 subtext going. A devastated nation, struggling to find closure to an unspeakable crime (Lincoln/WTC), will stop at nothing to bring swift justice. In a very short amount of time, the US government opens the floor to wild accusations and goes on a witch hunt to find who is responsible. although the entire area is locked down by the army, the culprits are promptly sent to g̶u̶a̶n̶t̶a̶n̶a̶m̶o̶ Washington arsenal penitentiary to await further “trial”. meanwhile, O̶s̶a̶m̶a̶ ̶B̶i̶n̶ ̶L̶a̶d̶e̶n̶ John Wilkes Booth escapes the locked-down city into P̶a̶k̶i̶s̶t̶a̶n̶ The wilderness. The Innocent A̶m̶e̶r̶i̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶M̶u̶s̶l̶i̶m̶ ̶P̶o̶p̶u̶l̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ Mary Surratt becomes the scapegoat and is promptly “dealt with”. Sound familiar?

  15. Alex Cooper

    1. I think that the Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers/assassins seemed like it was unjust. Even after John Wilkes Booth wasn’t alive anymore, they still went on with the trial of the people who might have been involved with the conspiracy to kill the president. Even if they were involved with the killing of Lincoln, they weren’t the ones who actually did, so they can’t be called murderers. As I said, even if they were involved in the killing of Lincoln, they also didn’t get a fair trial. They didn’t get a public jury and even if there were good points showing their innocence, the court would overrule it. Marry Surrat wasn’t given a fair trial, and also wasn’t treated very well. She was tried by a military tribunal and it was leaning toward guilty on her part very much. She was locked up in a cold dark cell, which could have easily made her ill. Her trial, was not just at all.
    3. I think that because the North couldn’t execute the primary assassin, John Wilkes Booth that the nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins. I think that this was because the country wanted someone to put the blame on the death of Lincoln, because the man who did kill him, was dead. They wanted someone else involved in the killing of Lincoln because the North was such a big fan of Lincoln and they wanted anyone that had to do with his killing, to pay for what they had done, even if it wasn’t killing the president.


    – I don’t think the treatment was fair, but I understood where they were coming from. The Union was taking out their anger from the assassination on anyone who could have been involved. The “trial” they gave shouldn’t even be considered that, because everyone knows the judge and jury had their decision made before it even started. The Confederate sympathizers / assassins never had a chance to prove themselves innocent. The Union wanted people punished, and that was what they were going to do no matter what. It was unjust, and no one should have been hanged.

    – In the film, anyone the Union wanted, even if there was little to no evidence, was accused of being involved in the assassination. In regards to 9/11, the same is true. Many Americans have accused Muslims as being terrorists just because of how they look. A couple years after 9/11, one of my friends, who is Muslim, got stopped in airport security. His whole family, included 5 year old sister, were taken back and questioned. Since Confederates were involved in planning the assassination, any confederates the Union wanted were accused. Since Muslims were involved in the 9/11 attack, any Muslims the US wanted were accused. It’s the same, unjust pattern. While they may say they were stopping “random” families as a precaution, everyone knows they were only stopping Muslims. In situations where people are angered and looking for someone to punish, it’s easy to pick on any easy target. As sad as it is, that theme applies in many serious cases.

  17. Stephanie Dudek

    The Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers and assassins was not fair. Yes they had a right to be angry about what the assassination but they shouldn’t have let their emotion block out all sense of reason. The Union side just wanted to move on from the war and the assassination by putting to rest the public’s trying to be fair and rational in the trial but let emotion guide their actions. When the government was paying off witnesses to change their story, not letting the defense defend, and all the over ruling of objects was not fair. The generals already had the punishment picked out and nothing could be done about that. They didn’t want justice; they wanted revenge for what happen to their president and country.
    I think that the trial did help the country heal. I think that people were emotional and weren’t acting in the best interests of the country and that the trial being over helped settle their feelings so everything could go back to normal. The trials were not fair and they shouldn’t have been rushed and conducted in the way they were but when they were over it was like a sigh of relief for the most of the country. I don’t think that it helped heal the whole country but the majority of people I feel, felt like they had been redeemed at least a bit. And really no matter how the trials had been conducted or what the outcome had been somebody would have been hurt and some people would be angry. But the government was trying to do what was right for the country as a whole and it was a very emotional time and emotions are never rational or fair.

  18. Emily Novick

    1. I thought the treatment of the Confederate sympathizers was harsh and uncalled for. Sure, they were horrible to African Americans but treating them so cruelly won’t solve anything. Even though I am completely against racism, slavery, and the Confederacy as a whole, it’s hard to point all of the blame on confederate supporters. It must be difficult to find the way of life you were born into and raised up as wrong, especially if that’s the popular belief. Now it’s easy to see that they were a bunch of nincompoops but morals have drastically changed. Maybe someday a few futuristic aliens will find us and say that we are a bunch of dunderheads for being so mean to all the animals who have a secret society and have more intelligence than we do. We just look at it as our way of life. So it was unfair for the Union to go on saying how awful the south was and treating them like dirt because that’s just how they used to live.

    2. I think the trial’s lack of delay was like having a broken bone and letting your arm sit there while taking pain relievers. It may seem like a good idea now, but later your arm’s not going to heal right and the vast amount of pain relievers came at the expense of some poor little blood cells who deserved to get a proper cast. So even though the Union will feel all nice and good about themselves, they not only killed (possibly) innocent people, but also prolonged the ultimate step towards acceptance. They may have temporarily quenched their thirst for revenge, but they made it a longer road to travel towards healing America.

  19. Patrice bell

    2. I think the rushing of the trial both prolonged and sped up the country’s healing process. I think in the long run, it prolonged the process because with such a speedy trial, there is plenty of room for false conviction. I don’t think that the trial should’ve been sped up. I thick it should have been fair so that it took as long as it needed to. If I were alive during all this, I would’ve wanted it to be a fair trial, not a fast one. On the other hand, everyone was very shaken up by this. I can completely understand why everyone would want this to be dealt with quickly.
    3. I most definitely think that since they couldn’t execute John Wilkes Booth, they took out their rage and anger out on the rest of the assassins. Without the one person who actually shot him, I think they went after the next best thing. Everyone was so angry, and their anger had to be taken out somewhere, and since the other assassins were pretty much at their disposal, why wouldn’t they go after them? Even though they needed to take their anger out on someone, I still think they could’ve been fairer towards the assassins. I just don’t think anything about their trials, nor convictions was fair.

  20. Katia Lev

    1. I think that Judge Advocate Holt’s argument against further delay of the trial in order to help the nation “heal its wounds” is the shadiest excuse ever. The nation is already divided, but to openly display such hatred towards Southerners is a mistake when trying to bring the country back together. Southerners already felt disgruntled due to their loss, and this was only going to fan the flames of their anger. While what they did were wrong, fighting a wrong with a wrong only makes the government seem hypocritical and prove the Southerners right in saying that the North were uncouth and uncivilized. I in no way commemorate what the assassins did, but they have every right to a trial and while there was no doubt that the men should have been executed, there was reasonable doubt against the accusation against Mary Surratt, so her trial should have been delayed.
    4. I think this film showed definite parallels between the 9/11 terrorist attack and the treatment of Muslims as suspects and what happened in the film. In both situations, the country was already prejudiced against the accused people and even though the point of an execution was to “bring the country together” both times, the people just wanted quick and easy revenge on people that were found guilty on shaky terms. The people were used as scapegoats and even though they may have been guilty, or even just associeated with people who were guilty, the thirst for blood that the country had made us ignore the fact that they are people too.

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