The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy (Against the Constitution)


Occasional Reason contributor and great American localist patriot Bill Kauffman finds decent respect for the principles of the American Constitution in a I-missed-it-too 2010 Robert Redford-directed movie, The Conspirator, about Mary Surratt, railroaded in the investigation of the Lincoln assassination:

Mrs. Surratt was railroaded by a military tribunal for aiding and abetting Lincoln's murder. Although her son John was almost certainly implicated in the crime, Mary probably had no knowledge of the plot. "If I had two lives to give, I'd give one gladly to save Mrs. Surratt," said Booth associate Lewis Payne as he awaited the gallows. "She knew nothing about the conspiracy at all, and is an innocent woman."….

"The Conspirator," scripted by James Solomon, is refreshingly cant-free. The luminous Robin Wright plays Mary as a woman of adamantine faith. "I am a Southerner, a Catholic, and a devoted mother above all else," she tells her lawyer. Three strikes and you're out, lady, one might think, but no, this film is respectful of Mrs. Surratt's loyalties. ….

Maryland Sen. Reverdy Johnson, the Lincoln pallbearer who was Mrs. Surratt's first attorney, is the film's voice of reason and constitutional fealty—"a military trial of civilians is an atrocity"—in a time of panic. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, played by an unrecognizable Kevin Kline, is the Dick Cheney-ish villain of the piece. It's nice to see Stanton, a thoroughgoing bastard, get his. I expect he and Booth will meet Cheney soon enough in the sulfurous precincts of the afterworld.

The foreshadowing of post-9/11 America is deliberate but not clumsy. "The world has changed," the sinister Secretary Stanton tells Senator Johnson. "Abandoning the Constitution is not the answer," replies Johnson, sounding like, well, Ron Paul.

"The Conspirator" sits lonely in the almost empty sleeve of movies about spectacular violations of the Bill of Rights. So cheers for Robert Redford. 

NEXT: A Seafaring Farewell for Now

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  1. Thank heavens children are no longer stuck with the name "Reverdy."

  2. As you wish!

  3. I'm reading "The Real Lincoln" right now. It seems that Old Abe was actually a statist asshat who was tired of being thwarted by the Constitution.

    I have "The Conspirator" but haven't seen it yet. I may have to move it to the top of the list.

    1. "It seems that Old Abe was actually a statist asshat who was tired of being thwarted by the Constitution."

      That is a pretty shocking revelation. Certainly not the sort of behavior I would expect out of a U.S. President, especially a war president.

    2. You might want to consider that DiLorenzo's portrayal of Lincoln as an inhuman monster worse than anyone in US history before or since, to be in error.

      Here's what DiLorenzo will not tell you: The South blockaded its own ports. The South tore up its own rails. The South inflated its currency far faster than did the North. The South imposed draconian price controls. Painting Lincoln as the ultimate evil because he was a mercantilist while treating Jefferson Davis as an innocent victim, is such a distortion of the facts that I have to call out DiLorenzo as a deliberate liar.

      1. Enough of the spoilers. I haven't finished it. Don't tell me how it ends.

        1. I get all my history from Hollywood movies.

      2. Yeah, because excuses like that explain away the habaeus corpus rule, the threatening the Supreme Court Justices, raping and pillaging against (what he thought and professed) was U.S. Citizens. Douglas was correct when he said Lincoln wants to "impose on the nation a uniformity of local laws and institutions and a moral homogeneity dictated by the central government" that would "place at defiance the intentions of the republic's founders."

        But yeah, keep calling yourself a libertarian who like Lincoln, our first dictator.

        And speaking of conspiracy theories, the South blockaded their own ports? I'm surprised smiley faces don't pop right the fuck out of the screen when you typed that drivel.

        1. "But yeah, keep calling yourself a libertarian who like Lincoln, our first dictator."

          Cite? Do I see a cite?

        2. So if I don't call Lincoln the worse president we have ever had, I am not a libertarian? Fuck you and the LRC you rode in on.

          1. No.
            You're not a libertarian if you like Lincoln and don't think he was a dictator.

            And if you agree he was, you're still guilty of making pathetic excuses and ranting against one of the few people who actually doesn't kiss his ass and dares exposed him.

            1. I think you need to take a step back, take off your LRC-colored goggles, and look at what you just said objectively.

              The world is not as black and white as that. There are a thousand shades of gray between loving Lincoln and calling him an evil dictator. In no way shape or form is he my favorite president. But I still rank him above Wilson, FDR, Bush and Obama.

              It's great that DiLorenzo exposed Lincoln as being less than godlike, but his sin is taking his dislike to an extreme, portraying the man as having zero redeeming qualities. But more than that, his hyperbolic treatment of Lincoln ends up whitewashing far greater evils committed by the South. This isn't like comparing Hitler to Stalin, it's like comparing Hindenburg to Stalin. Sheesh.

        3. Not to mention instituting military conscription and the income tax. The Great Hypocrite was such a known scumbag that seven Southern states seceded before he could even be inaugurated.

      3. Actually, Dilorenzo did talk about those things;

        I listened to an mp3 of a lecture series he gave on the history of the war between the states.

        An hour+ one is titled "The South's War Against the South" and covers all that. DiLorenzo is no fan of the Confederacy any more than someone writing nasty things about Joe Stalin's conduct of WWII is a fan of Hitler.

      4. there was that whole business about the 750k or so dead people, that he had the power to avoid through choosing diplomacy rather than inventing modern warfare.

        1. inventing modern warfare
          Watch out EA is releasing that one next!

          1. Hahaha, the grapeshot killstreak is awesome.

    3. All the serious people know that Lincoln committed suicide.

  4. Booth thought he would be hailed as as a hero.

    I never thought about the worship commonality that exists with assassins

  5. I have always thought it ironic that the one provable (successful) assassination conspiracy in US history has had so little attention from conspiracy theorists.

    The advantage that Stewart and Stanton took of Lincoln's assassination should have made it ripe for "Grand Conspiracy" theories.

    1. Jesse Ventura covers it in his conspiracy book, and he largely accepts the conventional narrative.

      1. Jesse Ventura is literate?

        1. The manuscript was written in crayon and had cheetos crumbs in the creases, but yes, you can say that.

    2. What am I, just a lasagna-head?

  6. I saw it a couple of months ago. Highly recommend.

    Now if we could get it screened for Congress...

  7. It was a cover-up. She was the only one who knew the location of the device Time-Lincoln used to help the Aqua Teens escape, and his killers had to silence her.

    I believe the Trilateral Commission was working with the Greys on this one.

    1. Ha ha! No one will catch Time Lincoln!

      1. If only after he was shot, they could have used the Drum Solo...Of Life!

        1. That, or maybe some bull semen would have brought him back. Unfortunately, the only thing bull semen has ever done for me is activate my gag reflex.

          1. You've gotta open your throat, and cup the balls.

  8. I watched the movie. It was very well done, and thought-provoking for those concerned with similar issues in modern America, but a bit dreary and lacking in action. It also didn't explain the vastness of the actual conspiracy all that well if the viewer wasn't already familiar with it.

    1. Hopefully the movie makes a better case for innocence than did The Crime of the Century which, by the movie's end had me more convinced than ever of Hauptmann's guilt.

    2. It went the other way. Many people are unaware that it was a conspiracy and Boothe was the only actor in the plot.

      1. *and think that Booth was

  9. Being a Southerner is a strike? Say, can I demand a retraction?

    1. And satisfaction! I don't care what the Rolling Stones say, I demand satisfaction, suh!

      1. That's what we do down here. Dueling. That, and we fry everything. Everything. And eat it.

        1. Even the moonshine is fried.

          And the RC Cola.

          And the mint juleps.

          1. Mmmm, fried mint juleps.

            1. Fried iced tea is great on a hot day.

          2. What about the moon pies?

          3. You left out Moonpies which make a most excellent prison scrip.

    2. In Hollywood it is. For a reference, check out the trailer for the remake of "Straw Dogs."

  10. So cheers for Robert Redford.

    As long as we can keep Redford behind the camera as opposed to in front of it, I'm good... I'm good.

  11. a I-missed-it-too 2010 Robert Redford-directed movie, The Conspirator

    You missed it because it opened the same day (April 15, 2011) as "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1."

  12. yessuh! yessuh! old man linkin sho' did free them negro folk 'cause slavery was wrong, not 'cause he wanted to force unity! no suh, any imply-ings to the contrary are klan pro-puh-ganduh!



    2. Retard.

    3. So why was there any question of unity in the first place? Lincoln's stated views about slavery had nothing to do with Southern secession?

  13. I had the feeling when I saw the ads for that movie it was some kind of anti-Bush allegory in disguise - there was a string of those between 2004 and 2010 or so, including "Good Night and Good Luck", and (if you believe some of the reviews) "The Village" and "Prince of Persia". And this one - a talky court drama about an obscure historical figure - seemed too dry to get the major Hollywood treatment, unless there was an ulterior motive. But now it all makes sense.

  14. The accused must be a tea-bagger -- how else can you explain her disdain for the Great Liberator?

  15. In a world where one man has sat through one boring play too many and decides to take matters into his own hands...

    One Man, One Pistol, One Spear...


    One Pile of Dead Actors!

    ...Starring Libertymike as Lincoln, Opens Christmas Day

  16. Joe Schablotnik|12.2.11 @ 8:49PM|#
    ..."Douglas was correct when he said Lincoln wants to "impose on the nation a uniformity of local laws and institutions and a moral homogeneity dictated by the central government" that would "place at defiance the intentions of the republic's founders.""

    Hyperbole on Douglas' part.
    Lincoln's crimes of commission are many and serious. But the result, regardless of whether Lincoln desired it or not, was the removal of government sanction of slavery, and slavery cannot exist absent government grants of some portion of the monopoly of force. Grants of that exception for the reason of enslaving people are probably one of the worst failures of government.
    The question remains whether that crime could have been removed absent the civil war. I suspect so, since government is a trailing indicator, but any 'proof; requires counter-factual history.

    1. But the crime of "moral homogeneity" is far far serious than the crime of slavery. Lincoln was a devil for denying the Southern States their Peculiar Institution, and Jefferson Davis an angel for standing up for the principle that states can do whatever the fuck they want and still call themselves libertarian because it ain't the feds doing it.

      1. Got the [s]----[/s]

    2. Allowing slavery was the worst failure of the US government, no probably about it.

      I don't think slavery could have been abolished without war. The slaves as property were going up in value. The South's wealth was tied up in slave trading. It was a slave society. It was illegal in many states to even free your own slaves. It was becoming by any measure more draconian and I think successful. It was growing and enmeshed everywhere in southern society. I can't fathom anything that could have seriously tripped it up without bloodshed.

      1. It was illegal in many states to even free your own slaves.

        Where and when?

        I can't fathom anything that could have seriously tripped it up without bloodshed.

        Uh.. probably England's disgust at slavery, which was the south's primary customer. I guess the question in my mind is the more immoral act: allowing slavery to continue for a couple decades until it dies out or killing 2% of the total population in order to restore unity?

        1. Where was manumission banned?

          1. Yeah, I'm curious where it was banned. No search has turned up a credible source.

            1. I'm reading this; slightly OT but fascinating:

                1. start here


                  I have my writing to do but I found the most interesting book on this topic months ago. I have in downloaded for later

      2. Holy shit that's a whole paragraph of lies. Literally none of what you said there is true.

        Slavery was a dying institution at the time of the Civil War. The economic advantage of slavery in America during the colonial period was getting labor to an area that was rich in resources but had a severe lack of labor. Europeans didn't want to move to what was literally howling wilderness with scattered outposts of colonization. So they forced Africans to move and provide labor.

        The percentage of people who owned slaves was on steady decline, and by the time of the war less then 10% of Southerners owned slaves, and the majority of those had one or two who worked the farm or shop alongside their owner. The Gone With The Wind lifestyle was an extreme minority. Just like the vast majority of people in the Middle Ages were peasants not great nobles, so were the vast majority of Southerners not slaveowners.

        Slavery is not economically viable in societies that rank anywhere above marginal. If makes no sense to own a slave who is motivated only enough to avoid a whipping when you can hire Irish immigrants who will work their ass off for 2 dollars a day.

        Fact is slavery would have died out naturally because it is economically unsustainable in a modern society. If Lincoln had really wanted to end slavery he could have gone with a policy of compensated manumission. Or he could have let the CSA go, had his massive Congressional majority repeal the Fugitive Slave Act and watch as every single slave headed into the US with the Union Army stopping any slavecatchers.

        1. Agreed, except most slaves were too far from the Northern borders to be able to escape. Even with the collapse of slavery, Africans would have been an under-class and it may well have taken the same 100 years to end Jim Crow and discrimination.

          1. Agreed, except most slaves were too far from the Northern borders to be able to escape.


            If only there was some kind of clandestine network of abolitionists who smuggled slaves through the South to freedom.

            1. This clandestine network was a drop in the bucket securing freedom for the enslaved in the deep south. It might as well have been a unicorn.

              1. First time I've seen anyone diss the Underground Railroad.

                Estimates vary, but between 20,000 and 100,000 slaves escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Moving the line of freedom from the Canadian border to the Mason-Dixon would have led to many more slaves attempting the escape.

                I mean, the American Civil War remains the bloodiest war the US has ever fought. With the continuing replacement of large scale armies by professional advanced forces, it will probably remain the bloodiest conflict. If we fought it today, there'd be over 6 million dead Americans.

                1. I didn't diss it. Last I checked US census data accounted for closer to 6000 slaves freed by the UR. Of course it's history and prevalence are complicated by it necessarily needing to be clandestine. I don't doubt many enslaved black people wished they could join in. But it wasn't a mass exodus.

                  Moving that line of freedom wouldn't have been an action in a vacuum. The south fired the first shots of the war over a lesser pretext. Possibly more states would have left the union over such a decision.

                  1. Forgot to add that I like unicorns. Robot unicorn attack is my favorite iOS game.

                  2. The thing propping up the Fugitive Slave Act was the Southern votes in Congress. No Southern votes, no more Fugitive Slave Act. The border states could have been bought of with compensated manumission. Remember, Lincoln had control of both houses of Congress. He could have done a lot of things. He committed an act of war when he refused to turn over Fort Sumter, which constituted an unlawful interdiction of a sovereign nation's vital transportation node.

                    Personally I believe Lincoln thought war was better then yet another compromise, I think he thought that a war would be short and that being defeated in open battle would resign the slaveholders to inevitable, giving them a convenient excuse to knuckle under. Except by invading the sacred soil of the South, he pissed off almost everybody, instead of just the plantation owners.

                    1. So you think Lincoln should have been cowed by the southern aggression at the seizure of Federal property? More than seizure, the attacking of forces inside. WTF? I'm sure that would have made him very popular.

                      And you think after downscaling that in popular society, he would somehow be able to sell a principled argument to a largely racist population that the best way to end slavery would be to buy all the souths slaves and set them free. Right fat chance of that happening.

                    2. He could have just turned over the fort. Like he did with every other federal military base in the CSA, with the exception of Fort Monroe in VA, if I recall correctly.

                      The Union could have let the CSA secede peacefully, as was their full intention. Fort Sumter was literally a knife to the throat of the CSA. It's exactly like FDR's Export Control Act. Charitably, you could say that both Presidents didn't realize the consequences of their actions. I would argue that foreseeable consequences cannot be unintended ones.

                      Look, as a native son of the South I know what an intellectual pygmy Jefferson Davis was. Lincoln was the one with the brains and the ability to avoid war.

                      The compensated manumission possibility would have been a hard sell, but you're forgetting (again) the lock Lincoln had on the Congress. He held 60% of House and roughly equivalent numbers in the Senate. He could have forced a bill through, I think. Perhaps some kind of bond system where slaves could borrow money from the federal government to buy their freedom, with a sunset date on when slave children could be born into slavery. Remember the slave trade was outlawed in the Constitution by setting a date in the future that it would be illegal.

                      I'm not claiming it would have been easy or painless. Or even bloodless. I'm saying that there was a way to end slavery without killing 1 of every 50 Americans, without the draft, without stripping citizens of their civil rights.

                    3. I won't categorically state that it was outside the realm of possibility that slavery could have been eradicated in the US without war. But I'm as skeptical about that happening as one can be.

                      I find it interesting that you would rather engage in these counter factual fantasies concerning history rather than address my argument at 4:34pm. What evidence do you have that slavery was dying?

        2. The only comment I will walk back is manumission. But I would also add that most southern states, rather than outright making it illegal, added stipulations to their laws concerning manumission, such as only persons of a self supporting age could be freed. Of course no one freed them because they made a master the most money.


          This site proves many of your assertions incorrect.

          1. Umm, no. It actually backs me up on the whole "slaveowners were a minority" point. All those numbers and charts there at the beginning.

            I will confess that I didn't read past that (I'm at work right now), but I assure you that you have been apparently misinformed on a number of counts.

            Slavery was in decline in 1860 and an intelligent policy would have hastened its death with a minimum of bloodshed. Instead Lincoln played right into the hands of slaveholding elites who were able to whip up a furor about state's rights that clouded the primary driver of the conflict. Which leads to poor white people fighting to preserve an institution that they were harmed by much more then any Northern white.

            1. What do you offer up as evidence that slavery was dying?

              The charts show that in the southern states, it was growing. The exceptions are the states of Virginia and N. Carolina. They weren't freeing their slaves, they were selling them to other states.

              Table 2 makes I think the best case for your claim, if you calculate percentage of slaves to white people over time. But, just looking at the furthest right column shows slavery growing, period. Over time slaves change from a high of around 54% of the pop in the south to just over 49% in 1860. But their numbers in aggregate keep growing. In 1800 less than a million slaves. 1860 nearly four million. Sixty years. Did it grow or not?

              Scroll down to the Markets and Prices section. It clearly shows that the value of slaves, even controlling for inflation, was going up.

              Again, what evidence do you have that slavery was dying?

              1. Britt|12.3.11 @ 3:06PM|#
                "Umm, no. It actually backs me up on the whole "slaveowners were a minority" point."

                Which is totally irrelevant. Slaves were expensive; poor people couldn't afford them.
                So what?

              2. Sorry, I wrote the math findings incorrectly. Slaves were never fifty percent of the pop. Closer to 33. As a percentage of pop, over time it was slowly lowering, as illustrated in table three. But that just is a measurement in relation to how fast the white population was growing. The quantity of slaves was still growing. Sorry about any confusion.

        3. Britt|12.3.11 @ 12:57PM|#
          "Holy shit that's a whole paragraph of lies. Literally none of what you said there is true."

          Ya know, if you make a statement like this, you probably ought to copy some of my points and show where they're wrong.
          All you did was argue that the government grant of slavery could be ended without war, and you did so exactly as I mentioned; counter-factually.

          1. Oops.
            Apologies; I thought you were referring to my post, not Abersouth's.

  17. Thanks, Brian! Yes, I missed it too. I'll give it a gander. (I also recommend the John Ford classic, "Prisoner of Shark Island," about the unfortunate Dr. Mudd - written by the great Nunnally Johnson.)

    1. Dr. Mudd was a piece of crap historically and Ford made him into a martyr. That movie sucks.

  18. What's with the reviewers creepy Dick Cheney reference? That's so 1990's liberal.

  19. Unfortunately "The Conspirator" was such an empty movie I can't really remember my exact problems with it but remember that I came away totally unimpressed by the entire affair. It came across as very sincere but lacking in real substance.

    I guess you could dismiss my comments for the lack of specifics but it's a pretty damning point that the movie was so underwhelming that only a few months later it leaves the viewer with this little to remember.

  20. "It's nice to see Stanton, a thoroughgoing bastard, get his. I expect he and Booth will meet Cheney soon enough in the sulfurous precincts of the afterworld."

    Really? What is this site becoming? Huff Post? Media Matters? C'mon, guys, this really stinks. Why not an article on how Cheney did 9-11?

  21. I saw this movie when it came out and thought it well-done. I was very skeptical going in, knowing that Redford was in charge of it, but it is blessedly free of Huffington/Kos-style idiocy and is actually a very matter-of-fact telling of a story that should disturb everyone.

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