DURING these intricate political machinations, the apprehension and trial of persons implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln had gotten under way. In the light of fact subsequently developed, the trial of the conspirators by military commission casts a baleful shadow on Andrew Johnson's ill-starred presidency.
Stanton and his assistants made frantic efforts to connect the leading civil officers of the Confederacy with the Booth conspiracy. The Secretary of War employed a shabby troop of self-confessed perjurers to retail venomous scandal to the commission to prove that Jefferson Davis and even General Lee instigated the plot of John Wilkes Booth. But within a brief two years, even while Radical passion was still hot, it became clear that such talk was utterly absurd. No single Confederate of rank was ever brought to trial on the assassination charge.
The truth about the conspiracy may be summed up thus: Assassin though he was, John Wilkes Booth was a very remarkable man. For many years he was remembered as a magnetic personality by the confraternity of the stage. Forty-four years after the tragedy, Sir Charles Wyndham, the noted English actor, described Booth as "one of the few to whom that ill-used term of genius might be applied with perfect truth. . . . Seldom has the stage seen a more impressive, or a more handsome, or a more impassioned actor. Picture to yourself Adonis, with high forehead, ascetic face, corrected by rather full lips, sweeping black hair, a figure of perfect youthful proportions, and the most wonderful black eyes in the world. . . . When his emotions were aroused, they were like living jewels. Flames shot from them."1
This ill-starred genius, born in Maryland of a famous actor family, went on the stage as a lad and quickly made a name for himself. Born in the South, surrounded by Southern influences, and as an actor immensely popular in the South, Booth became an impassioned Southern sympathizer during the war. As the Confederate hopes paled, his heart grew dark with anger and something must have snapped in that eërie brain of his. After