History

The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy (Against the Constitution)

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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.