On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, died from a bullet wound inflicted the night before by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer. Lincoln’s death came only six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox, effectively ending the American Civil War. In the aftermath of the nation’s first assassination of its president, the newly sworn-in President Andrew Johnson issued an Executive Order on May 1 directing that persons charged with Lincoln’s murder stand trial before a military tribunal. The trial lasted more than fifty days, and 366 witnesses gave testimony. The Lincoln assassination and its aftermath continues to resonate with the public and historians.
The Brooklyn Law School Library has ordered a new book on the subject for its collection: The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial and Its Legacy by Frederick Hatch (Call # KF223.L47 H38 2015). The 244 page book takes a close look at the trial of the eight defendants charged with conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln who were tried by a military commission under military law. The author contends that this was illegal, since the civilian legal system was fully functioning. The many ways in which the defendants’ rights were violated are described, as are the ways in which the trial testimony was either not accurate or not legally obtained. The trial is also compared with other incidents in which the U.S. military was used in police and judicial functions, with questionable results. The book is a warning against unchecked power by the executive branch of the government.