Thursday, January 21, 2021

Becoming Ambassador: John Bartlow Martin and the Dominican Republic

After the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as the thirty-fifth president on January 20, 1961, Washington, D.C., appeared to be “suffused with an atmosphere of youth, of vigor, of hope,” noted John Bartlow Martin, who had worked as a speechwriter on Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Martin credited the transformation to the young president.

The new administration included many people Martin had known during his days with Adlai Stevenson’s two unsuccessful presidential campaigns, and his time as a Kennedy speechwriter. Although bitterly disappointed at being passed over for the Secretary of State position that had gone instead to Dean Rusk, Stevenson had accepted a job as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson’s law partners also joined the administration, with Newton Minow serving as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Bill Wirtz as undersecretary of labor, and Bill Blair as ambassador to Denmark. Theodore Sorensen, Pierre Salinger, Richard Goodwin, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Kenny O’Donnell were on the White House staff, while Robert F. Kennedy joined his brother’s Cabinet as attorney general. “Never before had I known so many important people in an administration,” said Martin. “It was an aspect of political campaigning to which I had given no thought.”

After the turmoil of the campaign season, Martin had relaxed with his wife Fran by vacationing in Puerto Rico, paid for by a public relations company promoting the commonwealth. The firm hoped Martin might write about his experiences there for the Saturday Evening Post. “I checked with the Post then went,” he said. Martin found no story there, which did not bother his hosts, as they were patient; Martin did later write some articles about Puerto Rico. When he and Fran were about to leave, he suggested that on their way home they should visit the Dominican Republic—a place Martin had not been to since the winter of 1937–38, on a trip with his first wife, Barbara. “I had always wanted to go [back],” Martin noted, “for I had liked the Dominican Republic and its people better than any other in the Caribbean, but, since I had published my anti-Trujillo piece [in Ken magazine] I had not thought it entirely safe.”

Although Rafael Trujillo continued to maintain an iron grip on the country and its people, Martin thought he might be safe because of his connection to the Kennedy administration. He took no chances, however, writing letters to Schlesinger and Sorensen in the White House giving them his detailed itinerary and letting them know when he and Fran expected to return. Because he entered the country as a journalist, and expected Trujillo’s secret police to search his hotel room, he kept carbon copies of his letters to the White House in his briefcase, hoping to forestall any reprisals for his previous supposed transgressions against the dictator.

The Martins spent a week in the Dominican Republic, visiting tourist sites and, more quietly, talking to people and getting their insights and opinions about Trujillo’s reign. The entire country, especially its capital, Ciudad Trujillo (Trujillo City), named by the dictator after himself, appeared to be “unusually tense,” according to Martin. Upon his safe return to the United States, Martin produced a memorandum about Trujillo, the country, the effect of economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on Trujillo by the Organization of American States after the dictator had dispatched agents to assassinate Venezuelan president Rómulo Betancourt, and the possibility of subversion inspired or instigated by Fidel Castro’s Communist government in Cuba. Once he finished the memo, Martin sent it off to Schlesinger.

Refreshed by his trip, Martin returned to producing well-researched stories for such national magazines as the Post and Look, including a four-part series on how the Midwest had changed in the years since the end of World War II and an in-depth examination of an obviously disturbed young New Jersey man who had murdered someone after receiving little or no help from his school and a state hospital. They were good stories, Martin noted, but he realized that he had begun to repeat himself; the Midwest series seemed to mirror what he had done on Muncie, Indiana, so long ago for Harper’s magazine. “It was getting too easy, too expectable,” he said. “I have always worked best when I worked against a resistance, writing something new, something hard.”

Martin began wondering if it was perhaps time for him to take a risk with his career. This restlessness might have been fueled in part by an offer broached by Schlesinger, who asked him if he might be interested in serving as ambassador to Switzerland. A startled Martin said he knew little about that country, but believed it was “a rather dull place.” He also demurred about serving as America’s top diplomat in Morocco, whose ruler, he noted, still cut off the hands of thieves—“not a pleasant prospect.” Undisturbed at his friend’s rebuffs, Schlesinger advised him to take time and think more about the job offers, as it was hard to find capable people to staff the new administration.

A dramatic event changed the course of Martin’s career. On May 30 on a road outside of Ciudad Trujillo, then the capital of the Dominican Republic, seven assassins ambushed and killed the dictator. Those directly involved in the dictator’s killing, and the other conspirators, had all previously been associated with Trujillo’s rule and were inspired in their action by everything from patriotism to revenge. The murder sparked retaliation from Trujillo’s relatives and remaining supporters, who tracked down and killed all but two of the assassins. The country slowly plunged into chaos as rival groups, including Trujillo’s son, Ramfis, and the dictator’s puppet president, Joaquín Balaguer, jockeyed for control. Democratic elements in the Republic took to the streets to seek the removal of the dictator’s family from the country once and for all.

The news of Trujillo’s fall from power prompted Martin to ask Fran, while they sat on their home’s back porch having a drink, “How would you like to be the wife of the ambassador to the Dominican Republic?” Although he had not spent a lot of time thinking about what Schlesinger had earlier said about being an ambassador, the chance to establish true democracy in the Dominican Republic after thirty-one years of Trujillo’s despotism had inspired Martin to start thinking about seeking a diplomatic post. It also marked a chance to be a part of the Kennedy administration’s Alianza para el Progreso (Alliance for Progress)—a program for economic aid and political reform instituted shortly after Kennedy had taken office to do for countries in Latin America what the Marshall Plan had done for Europe following World War II. Kennedy said the Alliance represented a “vast cooperative effort, unparalleled in magnitude and nobility of purpose,” to satisfy such basic needs in Latin America as homes, work, land, health, and schools. 

At the back of the president’s mind was the fear that the region, ripe for revolution, might embrace communism as Cuba had done when Fidel Castro overthrew pro-American dictator Fulgencio Batista. Kennedy told his aide Richard Goodwin, who worked to fashion many of the Alliance’s details, that the “whole place could blow up on us,” and considered the region to be, for his administration, the “most dangerous place in the world.” In the aftermath of Trujillo’s killing, Kennedy saw three possibilities for the Republic—the development of a democratic regime, a continuation of the government established by Trujillo, or the growth of a Castro-style leadership. “We ought to aim for the first,” the president told his aides, “but we can’t really renounce the second until we are sure that we can avoid the third.”

Martin called Schlesinger to express his interest in becoming the American ambassador to the Republic, and Schlesinger appeared enthusiastic about the suggestion, but cautioned patience. The Kennedy administration had yet to decide whether to send a new ambassador; the United States had cut diplomatic ties with Trujillo on August 26, 1960, and OAS sanctions against the Republic were still in force following the dictator’s assassination. 

As he later wrote Schlesinger, Martin believed he was particularly equipped for the job because he possessed a longstanding interest in the country, had written about it, studied it, and visited there. “I love it and its people and would like to help it realize its potentialities,” wrote Martin. “What is more, it seems to me that if somebody with my experience can serve this country abroad, it is primarily because he can do legwork, can find out what is going on; and the Dominican Republic seems to me to be a place where it could be a good idea to have someone who can do legwork.”

In June 1961 Martin met with Robert Kennedy, who had become increasingly involved in foreign affairs on his brother’s behalf since the Bay of Pigs disaster, at a fund-raising dinner. Before the dinner and after, Martin met with Kennedy in his room to talk about the Dominican post. “In brief,” Martin wrote Fran about the meeting, “he was for my appointment and was sure the President would favor it and he would get busy on ‘working something out’ and we would keep in touch.” 

Kennedy did tell Martin that there existed strong opposition within the government, especially within the State Department, on recognizing the new regime and nothing would happen anytime soon. Even if the administration decided to send an ambassador, the State Department was certain to have its own candidate in mind for the job. “This is all a long way from happening,” Martin wrote. “But I would think that tonight’s conversations moved the affair out of the realm of day dreaming and into the possible. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Other members of the administration offered their support for Martin, including Chester Bowles, undersecretary of state, who wrote Schlesinger that Martin, whom he knew from Stevenson’s 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns, would make “an excellent ambassador to the Dominican Republic when and if we restore normal relations.” Robert Kennedy spoke directly to Rusk about Martin’s wishes for a diplomatic assignment, and Kennedy told Martin that the Secretary of State appeared to be “enthusiastic about it.” Schlesinger informed Martin that support had been coming in “from even the remote precincts,” and jokingly said that “we confidently expect your nomination on the fourth ballot.” 

Although Stevenson had initially questioned whether Martin might be a good choice when asked by Schlesinger, saying he would have to first think about it for a time, he eventually wrote a letter of support on Martin’s behalf to Rusk. In the letter, Stevenson, sounding particularly Stevensonian, wrote: “I hear that John Bartlow Martin is under consideration for Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. I am not sure why anybody would want to be Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and John has not approached me personally. But if he wants to be, I can underline, endorse, recommend, sponsor, and get madly enthusiastic about his appointment. I don’t know whether you know him, but he’s a gifted writer and thoughtful student and perceptive reporter—and a damn good liberal Democrat!”

With no decision forthcoming from Washington, in early August Martin, accompanied by Fran and their two sons, traveled to Three Lakes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a vacation. On Friday, September 1, after a day spent exploring the dense woods in the family’s Jeep, Martin’s friends in Michigamme, Earl Numinen and Maurice Ball, greeted him with the news that President Kennedy had been calling all over town trying to reach him and wanted him to return the call as soon as possible. By the time Martin reached the White House, Kennedy had left for the Labor Day weekend and instead he talked to the president’s brother-in-law, Stephen E. Smith, who said Kennedy wanted Martin to travel to Washington as soon as he could for discussions on the Dominican Republic.

Upon his arrival in the nation’s capital, Martin met with Smith and Robert Kennedy, who told him that the president wanted additional facts in order to deal with the OAS sanctions against the Dominican Republic. “The main question was: Should we urge the OAS to lift its sanctions against the Republic?” noted Martin. “This, in effect, would mean that we regarded the sanctions as directed against the Generalissimo personally and that, with him gone, we now accepted his heirs as rulers of the Republic.” Kennedy wanted Martin to travel to the Republic, learn what he could, and report back to him. Smith gave Martin a sheaf of classified information to study and, when Martin pointed out he had no security clearance, Smith, knowing of the urgency of the situation, told him, “You’ve got Smith clearance—take them.”

Martin spent a week going over the material and gaining his bearings in the State Department before traveling to the Republic, arriving there for his presidential fact-finding mission on September 10 and staying in the country for three weeks. Martin, accompanied by an interpreter, Joseph G. Fandino, a State Department career officer, did most of his work in the Republic’s two major cities, the capital and Santiago (Martin spoke “adequate” Spanish, but always depended upon an interpreter when conducting official business). Martin did what he had always done in his magazine legwork, talking to all sorts of people—businessmen, workingmen, doctors, lawyers, militant university students, widows whose husbands had been murdered by the secret police, army officers, government officials, leaders of the underground political parties, and Trujillo’s son, Ramfis.

Everywhere he went, Martin was besieged by Dominicans pleading with him for visas so they could leave their country for the United States. The wife of a young member of the oligarch, then in prison, spoke for many of her fellow countrymen when she told Martin that Ramfis’s had been making a great show of democratizing the country, but that nothing had really changed. “There’s been thirty-one years of murder,” she said. “People now don’t want any more Trujillo. There’s a feeling that if you don’t help us, we’ll let anyone else do it. But we don’t want to.” She urged that the OAS sanctions remain in place. Ramfis insisted that only he could control the military, and expressed surprise at the opposition’s impatience with his attempts at democratization. He promised Martin that if a clash came, the opposition, and not his supporters, “would get the worst of it. I see the future as very, very dark.”

Trujillo’s decades of rule had left the Republic in shambles both economically and politically. In Martin’s estimation the worst thing the dictator had done was to damage almost beyond repair the Dominican character, destroying the nation’s approximately three million population’s confidence in themselves and in each other. “Nobody trusts anybody down there,” Martin noted. “They’re afraid to talk out loud . . . in restaurants. They whisper. To relatives, a man to his wife.” 

In his years in power Trujillo had unraveled the mutual trust that “creates civilization,” Martin said, “the glue that holds society together.” The dictator left behind a harmful legacy that affected the Dominican people as they moved toward self-government, and made things extremely difficult for the Kennedy administration as it attempted to aid the Republic through the Alliance for Progress. “They have no confidence in themselves because for thirty-one years they looked to the palace for everything, to Daddy [Trujillo],” lamented Martin. “They don’t think they can do a thing.” The Republic’s history provided little hope for future stability—between 1844 and 1930 the country had been presided over by fifty presidents and suffered through thirty revolutions.

Upon his return to the United States Martin produced a 115-page report for the president and State Department outlining what he had discovered and setting out the choices for the administration moving forward, “all bad,” he noted. Martin described the Republic as “a sick, destroyed nation, to be viewed as one ravaged by a thirty-years war, even one to be occupied and reconstituted.” Ramfis had begun to enjoy the feeling of power, Martin continued, describing him as “pretty cold and tough,” while Balaguer’s moves toward democratization were merely window dressing; the rightist military, not the Communist left, posed the greatest danger to establishing democracy in the country.

The alternatives Martin proposed to Kennedy were, in a rising order of involvement for the United States: do nothing (an impossible choice given America’s interest in establishing a pro-western, reasonably stable, and free government in an important region); support the regime as it then existed, which would cost the United States “the support of the Dominican people for years to come,” Martin noted; or help establish a broad-based provisional government until, with OAS assistance, free elections could be held, and negotiate Ramfis out of his economic power and out of the country.

If the last option, the one Martin supported, was selected, the Kennedy administration would also have to be prepared to loan the Republic funds to get its economy on track and send in numerous civil and military missions to establish order. “It amounted,” Martin said of this final choice, “to negotiating the Trujillos out if possible and, if not, throwing them out. I recommended sending a high-level negotiator immediately and sending the fleet to the horizon to back him up.” The political risks in this option were extreme for Kennedy because, if the administration tried, but failed, to establish democracy in the Republic, it faced the danger of “another Castro in the Caribbean,” noted Martin.

On October 5 Martin and a host of administration officials, including Rusk, Goodwin, Schlesinger, as well as representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and Alliance for Progress, met with President Kennedy in the Cabinet Room at the White House. As Kennedy came into the room and gestured for those waiting for him to be seated at the long, gleaming, six-sided cabinet table, he saw Martin and said to him, “I’ve been reading your novel, John.” A speed reader, Kennedy had perused Martin’s report, according to Schlesinger, “with relish” while he also listened to a World Series game between the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.

Kennedy told those gathered that none of the alternatives looked attractive, and asked questions as they discussed the issue. State Department officials George Ball and George McGhee had worked out a plan whereby the Trujillos would deed their vast land holdings to the Republic, and in return the United States would help the Dominican government raise the needed funds to pay off the dictator’s family.

In the end, Kennedy adopted the proposal Martin had recommended, and sent McGhee directly from the White House to the airport to put the policy into action. As Martin left the meeting to return home to Highland Park, Kennedy thanked him for his work. “Seeing President Kennedy made you feel good all the rest of the day and for several days thereafter,” noted Martin. “There was hope. If ever a man was a leader, John F. Kennedy was.” Of course, the policy chosen by the president meant that the United States would not be sending an ambassador, Martin or anyone else for that matter, to the Republic for quite some time—a fact he explained to Fran in talking about his trip.

Although negotiations in the Republic started well, and agreement appeared to have been reached with the Trujillos to leave the country, the Dominican armed forces balked and threatened a coup against the Balaguer government. Sporadic rioting broke out and troops began shooting students in the streets, the secret police continued a campaign of terror against those viewed as enemies of the state, and two of Ramfis’s uncle returned from “vacations” abroad to take matters into their own hands.

Moving swiftly, Kennedy dispatched a fleet of American warships to the Republic; the fleet sailed just offshore of the capital, ready to support Balaguer if he needed help in stopping a military coup. “The day we sent the fleet,” said Martin, “is the only time in our recent history, so far as I can recall, when we threw our weight, including the threat of force, solidly against a rightist dictatorship.” After further unrest and military uprisings, including strikes and looting in the capital, Ramfis flew to Paris, followed by the body of his father; Bonnelly succeeded Balaguer as president; the United States and a number of Latin American nations recognized the new Council of State, which took power on January 1, 1962, and was charged with leading the country until democratic elections could be held; and the OAS lifted its sanctions.

As matters reached a climax in the Republic, Martin poured over reports about the negotiations he had received from his friends in the State Department and White House. The Council’s establishment finally gave the American government a chance to do something positive in the Caribbean after the crushing failure of the CIA-sponosred Bay of Pigs operation. Because of Trujillo’s damaging influence, the country had no experience with democracy or politics, noted Martin. “They realize this,” he said of the Dominicans. “They seek guidance. If we do not provide it, the communists will. Now we have what may be a last chance to teach the moderate Dominicans how to lead.”

Martin remembered a conversation he had during his fact-finding mission with a young Dominican lawyer, ignorant of politics, who wanted to form a new political party and had asked him for copies of the U.S. Constitution and political party platforms. When Martin suggested that the lawyer obtain the documents at the library, the Dominican had looked at him “as though I’d lost my mind—didn’t I know Trujillo hadn’t allowed such subversive material into the Republic?” Appointing an ambassador to the Republic, Martin added, would show America’s moral support for the Council, and “symbolize our intention to offer it political as well as economic aid. It would give us a fresh start to match the regime’s fresh start. . . . Only an ambassador can make America’s purpose clear.” Martin wanted to be that ambassador.

With the way now seemingly clear for the Kennedy administration to send a new diplomat to the Republic, however, Martin received some disappointing news from Ball—the State Department had a candidate of its own, a career Foreign Service officer. Instead of the position in the Caribbean, Ball offered Martin a post as ambassador to the newly independent African nation of Tanganyika (today the United Republic of Tanzania). A frustrated Martin traveled to Washington to personally lobby for the Dominican post with administration officials, talking with Ball and Minow, who advised him to seek help directly from Robert Kennedy.

According to Martin, Minow had earlier told Kennedy that Martin badly wanted the Dominican position, and Kennedy had responded, “But John knows he can have any job in this administration he wants.” Martin went to Kennedy’s office in the Justice Department and arranged to meet with the attorney general. “I’ve never asked you for anything in my life, Bobby,” Martin said in the meeting, “but I want the ambassadorship to the Dominican Republic, and they’re about to give it to the [State] Department’s candidate.” Kennedy looked at him “for a long time,” then told Martin he would speak to the president on his behalf.

Martin waited in the apartment of his friend, Congressman Sidney Yates of Chicago, to learn about his fate. After six days, he received a call from a deputy undersecretary of state for administration telling him he was being appointed as the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic and he should come to his office to start filling out the necessary paperwork. It marked quite a change for the forty-six year old, self-employed, freelance writer. “I’m going to have a job and a boss—something I haven’t had for 25 years,” Martin noted.

After being confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn into office by McGhee, Martin paid a courtesy call at the White House on President Kennedy, who, from the first, acknowledged that the new ambassador’s job would not be an easy one. The two men discussed the problems facing the Republic and Kennedy noted his intent to send Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to the Republic for a visit in mid-April (later postponed), warning Martin that he did not want any riots to occur during Johnson’s stay. On more than one occasion the president said Martin should let him know directly if he needed anything. As Kennedy showed Martin out the door, he displayed his well-known mordant wit, saying to Martin, “If you blow this, you’d better not come home.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Country Newspaper: Isaac Strouse, Juliet Strauss, and the Rockville Tribune

Early in the fall of 1879, a group of high school boys were sitting around a table at the offices of the Rockville Tribune newspaper in Parke County, Indiana. These boys naturally gravitated to the newspaper office, where, according to the paper’s employee, Isaac Strouse, “pipes and tobacco were always at hand and could be smoked with immunity from parental displeasure.”

Born in Rockville, Strouse had quit school at age sixteen to learn the printing trade in the offices of the Indiana Patriot, the forerunner of the Rockville Tribune. At first, Strouse and another boy had simply been charged with the task of printing editions of the newspaper on an old Washington hand press and the Rockville native’s ambition had only included becoming a typesetter and finding a job in Indianapolis.

With John H. Beadle’s purchase of the Tribune, Strouse’s horizons expanded. The veteran newspaperman agreed to take him on as a cub reporter and to review his work and to give him informal lessons on the proper use of the English language. On this day in the newspaper office, Strouse, who had risen to become the newspaper’s local editor, heard one of the boys proclaim Juliet Humphries as “the prettiest and smartest girl in Rockville.” Although he had gone to school with Betty Humphries, the oldest of the Humphries’ daughters, Strouse had never been introduced to the youngest member of the clan.

A short time after the discussion in the newspaper office, Strouse finally met the then sixteen-year-old girl who was to become his wife at a party where he had the distinction of  “being the oldest boy, as well as the only one not in school.”  Strouse spied his friend Betty Humphries sitting alone and went over to talk to her. After the two had been talking for some time, another boy came over and demanded, in a friendly way, for Strouse to meet the other girls at the party and called over Betty Humphries’ sister, Juliet. “Gyp [Juliet] came to our corner, bringing several of the other girls,” said Strouse, “and we were all ‘introduced,’ though every one of us was born within a radius of a mile.” Strouse and Juliet fell into a long conversation, which included a discussion of books and poems they had recently read. Their shared love of literature, and the close bonds they formed through Juliet’s “secret” work for the Tribune (Beadle had hired her to write, anonymously, for the paper), helped begin a courtship that ended in marriage.

By the time Juliet did her first reporting job under her own name for the newspaper, she and the local editor were “regarded by themselves and everybody else as ‘engaged,’” noted Strouse. And, despite the use of a non de plume (“La Gitana”), the small community knew that it was Juliet Humphries who had written several pieces that had appeared in the newspaper. For her first assignment, Beadle assigned Juliet to cover the Fine Art Hall at the Parke County Fair. The fair was considered the one great event of the year and the Rockville Tribune, in order to scoop its rival newspaper, took its press out to the fairgrounds in order to issue a daily report on the fair’s activities.

According to Strouse, his fiancée had a bit of trouble at first with her assignment. Beadle, needing her copy, sent Strouse to secure her report. The local editor found her with a pencil posed to her lips and a blank notebook in her lap as she sat gazing at the quilts, bread, pies, canned fruit, and other articles that jammed the Fine Arts Hall. Sensing her quandary, Strouse advised Juliet to make general comments on the exhibits and not to give particulars. “O, that’s easy,” she responded. The couple walked over to the Rockville Tribune’s tent and she wrote such a fine article that Beadle told her “it was much better than anything he could have done, although he was a newspaper man of many years experience,” noted Strouse.

Unfortunately for Juliet, her work on the Parke County newspaper brought with it little financial remuneration. “I wanted money the money to buy my wedding frock and a few other things,” she said. “There was no help for it.” At the age of seventeen, Juliet left school without receiving her high school degree and successfully passed the examination to become a teacher. In those days in Indiana, the state had no mandatory standards for teachers, with teaching licenses (like that given to Juliet) granted by county superintendents to those candidates who successfully passed written tests.

In addition to the written test, in order to gain a teaching job in Parke County Juliet had to obtain the signatures of most of the patrons in the school district. She had varying degrees of success with her neighbors: one man railed at her that her proper place was in the kitchen, not teaching school, and another offered to marry her as an alternative to signing her paper. Her father’s legacy helped with one man, known in the area for his tendency to get drunk on election day and pick fights with fellow voters. The man, however, remembered that Juliet’s father had been “a mighty good Democrat!,” and agreed to help her by signing her paper and obtaining signatures from his other neighbors.

Juliet’s stint as an educator lasted only a short time. “Under different circumstances I think I might have succeeded fairly well as a teacher,” shet said, “for I did know what was in the books and I had a faculty for general information, which is what is often sadly lacking in a teacher. I could interest the children.” She received help in disciplining any wayward boys from the oldest boy in the class, Henry, whom she befriended. “Soon he ‘licked’ every boy in school for me and we had fair order,” Juliet said. 

Instead of continuing her teaching career, however, she quit her job when she married Strouse. The nuptials, which took place on December 22, 1881, did not proceed without some disapproval—from the bride’s family at least. Traveling to her job as a teacher one day in her uncle’s wagon, she informed him that she intended to marry a man whose life’s work was to be a newspaper editor. The uncle solemnly chewed on a piece of straw for a moment before telling his niece: “Jule, don’t you know that being an editor is the orneriest business in the world?”

Strouse, who at the time of his marriage to Juliet had gone over to the rival Rockville Republican to take a job as a printer at a higher salary, discovered that his new wife possessed not only writing talent, but an independent mind as well. On their wedding day the couple had received as presents such items as a set of silver spoons, a porcelain tea set, table linen, a lamb’s wool comforter, and twenty-five gold dollars from the groom’s father. Also, the uncle that had wondered about the wisdom of marrying a newspaper editor had “accepted the inevitable” and had given the couple as a wedding present an elaborate illustrated family Bible, which included an illuminated marriage certificate at the beginning of the family record. In the record, Juliet inscribed: “Isaac Rice Strauss was born December 12, 1863.” Many years before, Strouse’s father had “Americanized” his family’s name from the German Strauss to Strouse. Throughout the rest of her life, Juliet used for her married name the old German spelling (Strauss), while her husband kept the newer version (Strouse). “She never would write our name as it was written by my father after he changed the spelling to compel the people of a typical Hoosier pioneer community to call him ‘Strouse,’” noted her husband.

The newlyweds endured a rough beginning to their years together. In the summer of 1882 they were both stricken with typhoid fever when an epidemic hit Rockville. With Strouse unable to go to work, and hence earn an income, the couple moved in with Strauss’s mother, a woman for whom her son-in-law had a world of respect. “I have not spoken of this unequaled woman as my ‘mother-in-law a half dozen times in all my life,” he observed. “I never could apply a name, so long the object of jokes and jibes, to such a woman.” With Susan Humphries able care, the young couple survived their bout with illness, but it took until autumn for Strouse to feel well enough to be up and about (his wife, whose sickness was far worse than his, was still confined to her sickbed but convalescent).

Riding to the fairgrounds with his father, Strouse came across his former employer, Beadle. Taking Strouse aside, Beadle informed him that the “exigencies of journalism have made it imperative that I have a partner.” The editor had fallen on hard times in his competition with Rockville’s other two newspapers, the Rockville Republican, which (not surprisingly) supported the Republican party, and the Parke County Signal, which allied itself with the Democrats. Beadle’s lack of business skills and some unfortunate hiring decisions that curtailed his ability to take freelance writing projects prompted him to ask his former employee to take a half-interest in the paper for $800. “Had he said $800,000,” said Strouse, “the price to me would have amounted to the same kind of a proposal.”

Aware of the newlywed’s financial difficulties, Beadle arranged for Strouse’s brother David to contribute $300, which he required to make the Tribune solvent again, and agreed to take a personal note from Strouse for the remaining $500. Strouse was more than happy to accept the offer and rode home to share the “glorious news” with his family. “How it heartened all of us!” he said. Not only did it mean some hopes of financial security for the young couple, but Beadle’s kind offer (Strouse later learned that no mortgage had been made against his interest in the newspaper) would also provide Strauss the opportunity once again to utilize her writing talents. Beadle and Strouse announced their new partnership to the community in the pages of the Tribune on November 10, 1882. “It shall be our earnest endeavor to make it a live paper,” the coeditors said, “containing all the local and a fair share of the general news, and for the next year we expect to make a specialty of home interests, in the schools, churches and business of the town and county.”

Country weekly newspapers like the Tribune dominated journalism in the Hoosier state and the nation during the late nineteenth century. From 1870 to 1890, the number of community weeklies serving towns of less than ten thousand people tripled in size from four thousand to twelve thousand. The phenomenal growth could be attributed to the modest capital investment it took to start a weekly newspaper in a small town. Most towns could even boast of having two newspapers to choose from—one supporting the Democratic party and the other endorsing the Republican party. This happy circumstance came about as a result of the strong partisan nature of Indiana politics at this time and a legal advertising law requiring government notices to be published in two newspapers that represented political parties receiving the highest vote totals in the last general election.

Politics was important to Strouse (he gradually moved the Tribune from a nominally independent stance to one that solidly backed the Democratic party), but he had to concentrate on other matters first to get the newspaper back on its feet. Just the simple act of putting out a newspaper often meant heavy labor with a small staff, slowly churning out pages by brute force, typically with a Washington hand press. County editors in those days, one practitioner of the art observed, served as “editor, reporter, proof reader, solicitor, collector and general roustabout.”

One of the first steps Strouse took to improve the Tribune’s position in the community was to move its offices from its location on the south side, a place “shunned by the up-and-coming progressives and sought by the slothful, or down-and-outers in the town’s business affairs,” to an upstairs location on the town square. To brighten the newspaper’s look, Strouse removed several “dead ads,” reduced its size from eight columns to five columns, and expanded the weekly from four to twelve pages, which included a literary supplement. He also crowded into the newspaper “‘local’ and ‘feature’ articles written by Mrs. Strauss [his wife] and her knowing, sensible mother—all of it making a wonderful change in the old sheet,” Strouse noted, adding that “before long we began to issue extra pages and a special Christmas number.”

As he took on more and more responsibilities at the newspaper (Strouse became the Tribune’s sole owner and editor in 1889), the newspaperman also found himself calling upon his wife time and time again to provide more copy to enliven the newspaper’s columns, including a department of  “Local Fables” written in the style of Aesop.

Typically for her, Strauss later tried to downplay her early contributions to the newspaper’s revitalization. “The editor would come home tired and careworn from his struggles with the old Washington hand press,” she said, “and his interviews with patronizing subscribers who wanted to pay in pithy turnips or green stovewood cut two inches too long for our little ‘early breakfast’ wood cook stove—and I hadn’t the heart to refuse when he asked me if I couldn’t write something to brighten up the paper.”

Strauss proved herself to be a tower of support for everyone involved in the operation of the county newspaper. Edmund Beadle, a nephew of John Beadle who started at the Tribune as an apprentice printer and eventually rose to become its owner in 1919, remembered that during the Rockville and Bridgeton fairs the Tribune printed between two thousand and three thousand premium lists. “No sooner would the ink be dry than the sheets were carried to Mrs. Strauss for folding and binding at home,” said Beadle. “She with needle and thread gave every spare moment she could from household work and care of her small daughters to the tedious task of folding and binding the premium lists.” Strauss also provided leadership for the newspaper at a time in journalism when females were a rare sight in newsrooms. The dirty and often noisy newspaper offices were considered “off limits” for genteel ladies.

For Strauss, however, there was not alternative; she often had to take over management of the Tribune for a week or two at a time while her husband, an avid outdoorsman, took hunting trips into the countryside. “There were so many interesting habitués about the shop in those days of hand work and easy living—it seemed as if there was more time to be lazy, talented and happy,” she said. Although she had to often deal with such problems as drunk printers, Strauss could turn for help to such persons as Doug Smith, Frank Howard, Will Mason, and others for copy to fill the paper. As for printers, she noted that “one could always pick up somebody and put him on his mettle to save the day if somebody fell by the wayside.”

Although poor and struggling to repay the $300 debt owed his brother David, Strouse noted that the one outstanding recollection of those early days of his married life was “one of constant fun and frolic.” There may have been little or no cash on hand from subscribers, but when it came to farm products taken in kind for a subscription to the newspaper, “we were opulent beyond the wealthiest of our townspeople.”

The Strouse household also received an abundant supply of reading material. Such periodicals as the North American Review, Atlantic, Scribner’s, the Magazine of American History, and the Independent Youth’s Companion were obtained in exchange for advertising or reviews. With free passes provided by railroad lines, the young couple could also travel to Terre Haute for performances at the opera house. Angry or resentful comments against the couple, said Strouse, were given a “humorous turn” in their work for the newspaper.

With her husband’s complete takeover as owner and editor of the Tribune in 1889, Strauss continued to provide assistance in whatever areas she could, contributing essays, poems, and other articles. The only piece of work she refused to tackle were editorials. Although politically in sympathy with her husband’s support of the Democratic party, she personally disliked politics. No matter how “sick or unable to write I might be during all the years she constantly contributed to our paper she never would write a political editorial,” said Strouse.

The only time Strouse could remember his wife deviating from this nonpartisan outlook came in 1896 when John Clark Ridpath, a well-known Hoosier educator, writer, and popular historian ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket. Ridpath, according to Strouse, had been “one of the first to recognize literary abilities in Juliet V. Strauss” and had always visited the couple when he came to Rockville. Because of her fondness for Ridpath, Strauss, according to her husband, worked tirelessly on her friend’s behalf, attending rallies, decorating speaker’s stands, and assisting other women in their auxiliary work. Strauss’s efforts, which included helping feed hundreds of people who had attended a rally on Ridpath’s behalf, were for naught; the Indiana historian lost to Republican George W. Faris by only 365 votes.

Just a few years after her husband gained control of the newspaper, Strauss embarked on an ambitious new writing project. On February 9, 1893, Strauss wrote her first “Squibs and Sayings” column for the Rockville Tribune. At first, her husband had attempted to dissuade his wife from becoming responsible for a regular department. Although “delighted” with her idea, he warned her that in his experience such departments usually ran in country newspapers for only a few weeks or months at best before petering out. “I believe I can keep it up,” Strauss said. She was as good as her word; the front-page column ran in the newspaper every week until Strauss’s death in 1918.

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Father of Indiana History and the Lake Monster

On August 8, 1838, readers of the Indiana Democrat in Indianapolis were greeted by a special correspondence from the northern Indiana community of Logansport, which had been originally printed in the Logansport Telegraph

 

The article, signed “A Visiter to the Lake,” reported on the sighting of a sixty-foot-long creature sliding through the once quiet waters of Lake Manitou, located near Rochester in what is now Fulton County. One eyewitness, who viewed the monster from the safety of the shoreline, described the beast’s head as “being about three feet across the frontal bone . . . but the neck tapering, and having the character of the serpent; color dingy, with large bright yellow spots.”

  

This was not the first time such a creature had made an appearance. The behemoth had loomed large in the legend of the Potawatomi Indians of the area, who called it “Meshekenabek.” The Potawatomi’s belief in the monster was so great that one local historian noted that “they would not hunt upon its borders, nor fish in its waters for fear of incurring the anger of the Evil spirit that made its home in this little woodland lake.” In fact, the Potawatomis later cautioned white settlers against building a mill on the lake, predicting that the monster would “rush forth from his watery dominions and take indiscriminate vengeance on all those who resided near the sacred lake.” The power of the tale was such that several men who worked in surveying the lake for the mill reported seeing the monster—making it difficult to find men willing to finish the job.

  

The monster inhabiting what came to be celebrated as “Devil’ Lake” soon received the attention of newspapers not only in Indiana’s capital city, but also in such far-flung locales as Buffalo, Boston, and New York. The creature’s existence became hotly debated by Logansport’s two newspapers—the Telegraph, which printed the first report of the monster in its July 21, 1838, edition, and its rival publication, the Herald, which lambasted the Telegraph’s story and touted instead the existence of another monster in Bass Lake. Other doubters scoffed at those who claimed to have seen the creature, saying that the “men saw the monster through glass, the glass of a whiskey jug.”

  

The man responsible for the Telegraph’s publication of this unlikely story was a person who, in all other respects, seemed to be the least likely to come up with such a whopper of a tale—John Brown Dillon, who became known as the “Father of Indiana History” for his much respected History of Indiana, which went through four editions between 1843 and 1859, and helped save future the state’s past for future generations through his work with a number of early Hoosier historical organizations. His writings won praise from Indiana historians who came after him, with one, Emma Lou Thornbrough, commending Dillon for being the “only person in the state in this period whose writings deserved to be called history by modern standards of historical scholarship.” 


Dillon had help in his “Devil’s Lake” escapade, as noted pioneer Hoosier artist George Winter contributed several of the articles about the monster printed in the Telegraph and an illustration featuring a method of possibly capturing the creature.

  

Details about Dillon’s early life are sketchy at best. Born sometime in 1808 in Wellsburg, Brooke County, in what is now West Virginia, Dillon and his family soon moved to Belmont County, Ohio. After the death of his father, nine-year-old Dillon was apprenticed to a printer in Charleston. At the age of seventeen Dillon moved to Cincinnati, where he displayed literary skill, having his poems published in several local newspapers. 


Sometime in his life Dillon had suffered a visual malformity, and always could be seen wearing dark-green eyeglasses equipped with side mirrors. His friend, Logansport attorney and later Indiana supreme court judge Horace P. Biddle, recalled that “familiar as we were for so many years, meeting at all hours of the day, under all circumstances—even to bathing in the river—I never saw his face without his glasses on, which he always wore fastened by a little cord around the back of his head.” After Dillon’s death, when his body was being prepared for burial, Biddle investigated and discovered that his friend’s “left eye had been broken, apparently by a blow of some kind, and partially wasted away.”

  

By 1834 Dillon had settled in Logansport, where he studied law and was admitted to the Cass County bar in 1840. He never, however, established a law practice, preferring instead, noted Biddle, to spend his time on “hoary border legends, traditional story, but more especially local history.” Dillon pursued these interests through a career in pioneer journalism, starting work as an editor for the Logansport Canal Telegraph in August 1834. A year later he purchased an interest in the newspaper, which, by 1836, had changed its name to the Logansport Telegraph.

  

Described by his friends as shy, serious, and intellectual in nature, Dillon exhibited another side to his character in an incident during his time as the Telegraph’s editor. Biddle recalled that he, Dillon, and Winter were in his law office on April 1, 1840, when someone mentioned that it was April Fool’s Day. Dillion was keen on the idea of fooling somebody and wrote out a notice and tacked it on a billboard in the office of the hotel where he lived. The notice read: “There will be exhibited at the court house this evening a living manthorp, from 8 to 10 o’clock. Sir Roger De Coverly, Manager.”

  

Dillion’s notice had an immediate effect. At dinner that night, Biddle recalled, clergymen, lawyers, and other learned men of the community were searching every book they could find to learn what a manthorp was. “The word manthorp is really a compound of two Anglo-Saxon words,” Biddle noted, “meaning ‘the man of the village.’ For a long time afterwards Mr. Dillon’s ‘April Fool’ was locally a popular anecdote.”

  

If the Lake Manitou monster is but a legend, then the “living manthrop” was not Dillon’s first practical joke on the citizens of Logansport. The bespectacled editor, however, did not herald the monster’s existence by himself. He had the assistance of the English-born Winter, who came to Logansport from Indianapolis in May 1837, as he later wrote, “for the purpose . . . of seeing and learning something of the Indians and exercising the pencil in that direction.” Winter obviously had learned something of the Indians’ “Devil’s Lake” legend—knowledge he used for his articles in Dillon’s Telegraph.

  

Later in life, Winter confirmed his authorship of some of the newspaper articles about the monster and expressed his surprise at the reception they had received. In a December 16, 1871, letter to B. J. Lossing, Winter wrote: “I felt a deep interest in this inland lake as I had gathered up the facts in relation to the Indian story associated with it. . . . From the peculiarity of the tradition and from its emanating from a ‘Wild Region’ of [the] country, it won the attention of the press and went ‘the rounds’ unexpectedly to my anticipation or aspirations.”

  

Although Winter may have expressed astonishment over the response to his article years after the fact, initially he did try to stir up some reaction through the newspaper. The week following the first article on the creature, the Telegraph printed a second story titled “The Monster.” The story proposed calling a meeting to discuss the possibility of an expedition to the lake to “capture the Leviathan that inhabits its mysterious depths.” Written by Winter, the article went on to sound a battle cry to the local citizenry:

 

“It would be well, probably to suggest the propriety of those holding a meeting who are favorable, and willing to support the effort to ascertain with certainty, whether the mysterious, old and cherished tradition of the Indians, is based upon a KNOWN species of fish, or serpent, or whether the field of science shall be extended by the discovery of a new species of animal, peculiar to this beautiful and not oft visted Lake Mani-i-too.

 

It is truly astonishing that such a small inland lake, so remote too from the seas, should be as mysterious in its depths as it is in its legendary associations. But so it is. Boys! Up with your harpoons and to the Lake Man-i-too. The weather, the season, the forest in all its leafy beauties offer you inducements to leave the turmoil of every day life for a week, and seek relaxation in the exciting expedition to the Devil’s Lake.”

 

Although a meeting was organized on August 11, 1838, at the Eel River and Cass County Seminary to discuss methods of capturing the monster, no expedition to the lake was ever mounted by Logansport residents. According to a local historian, a “sickly season, combined with other circumstances,” prevented the investigation from happening. The creature remained safe and hidden.

  

Articles on the monster inhabiting Lake Manitou died out from the Telegraph’s pages by September 1838. Interest in the creature was resurrected, however, in 1849 when Winter wrote an article for the Logansport Journal on “The Monster Caught at Last.” The story reported the capture of a fish weighing “several hundred weight—the head alone weighs upward of 30 pounds and its capacity for swallowing may be imagined when we state the mouth measures three feet in circumference.” Also, in 1888, according to a history of Fulton County, a 116-pound spoonbill catfish was pulled from the lake by four men, who placed the fish in a horse trough by the courthouse in Rochester and charged people ten cents for a peek at the great beast. They later took their catch exhibit in Logansport. Eventually, they butchered the catfish and sold it at ten cents per pound.

  

Dillon’s work as a historian soon usurped his journalism career. He started his research on a history of Indiana in 1838, receiving assistance from U.S. Senator John Tipton, a close friend. Dillon left Logansport in 1842, moving to Indianapolis to pursue his historical studies and find funding for his history. Although he could rely on materials from the state library and private collections, Dillon lamented that “many interesting facts, connected with the early settlement of Indiana, have been perverted, or lost forever, because they were never recorded, and the stream of tradition seldom bears to the present, faithfully, the history of the past.” Still, his Historical Notes on the Discovery and Settlement of the Territory Northwest of the Ohio, appeared in 1843, and was followed sixteen years later by his History of Indiana. His posthumously published Oddities of Colonial Legislation in America came out in 1879. 

  

Fellow Hoosier historian George S. Cottman, founder of the Indiana Magazine of History, dubbed Dillon as the “Father of Indiana History” and praised him as the first in the state to enter the field “with any seriousness of purpose, and his contributions exceed in value any that have come after.” In his writing Dillon displayed “immense industry, unflagging perseverance and an ever-present purpose to find and state the truth,” said Cottman.

  

Dillon himself wrote that in his work he was striving to give an “impartial” recording of history. He noted in his preface to his History of Indiana that in writing the book he attempted to keep his mind free from such influences as “ambitious contentions between distinguished men, or from false traditions, or from national partialities and antipathies, or from excited conflicts between the partisans of antagonistic political systems, or from dissensions among uncharitable teachers of different creeds of religion.”

  

In 1845 the state legislature elected Dillon as state librarian, a post he held until 1851, when a Democratic legislature replaced him with Nathaniel Bolton. Dillon later served as, assistant secretary of state, secretary to the State Board of Agriculture and held numerous offices with the Indiana Historical Society, including secretary and librarian. He proved indefatigable at adding books and manuscripts to the Society’s early collection. In addition to state offices, Dillon served on a variety of Indianapolis governmental bodies, including being a member of the Marion County Library Board and a school trustee.

  

In 1862 Dillon left Indianapolis for Washington, D.C., where he received a position as clerk to the Department of the Interior, later moving to a job as clerk with the House Military Affairs Committee. Civic leaders in Indianapolis remembered Dillon’s contributions to the state, with noted attorney Calvin Fletcher calling upon the state legislature to bring the historian back to Indiana to write a history of the state’s contribution to the Civil War. Dillon finally returned to Indianapolis in 1875, living in a room at Johnson’s Building on Washington Street. He struggled to make a living, even having to sell his beloved library to make ends meet. Dillon died at age seventy-one and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The General and the President: Lew Wallace and Abraham Lincoln

On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, attended a performance of the popular play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Just five days before, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. With the war all but over, the president had joined in the joyful mood that had swept the capital upon hearing of Lee’s surrender. “I never felt so happy in my life,” Lincoln told his wife.

Arriving at the theater after the play had started, Lincoln and his wife settled into the presidential box to enjoy the comedy, which featured famed actress Laura Keene. Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, his fiancée, accompanied the Lincolns that night. (General Grant and his wife had been invited to attend the play, but they declined the offer in order to visit their children.) As the presidential party watched the action on stage, John Wilkes Booth, a successful actor and strong supporter of the South, slipped unseen into the box where the president sat. Booth placed his derringer pistol against the back of Lincoln’s head and fired.

Making his escape, Booth slashed Major Rathbone with a dagger he held in his left hand before leaping to the stage below, breaking his leg in the process. The astonished crowd heard the well-known actor call out the State of Virginia’s motto, “Sic semper tyrannis” (Thus always to tyrants). Others heard him say “The South is avenged!” Six soldiers carried the critically wounded president—the first in the country’s history to be assassinated—out of the theater to a nearby boardinghouse. Lincoln never regained consciousness, and at 7:22 a.m. the next morning, surrounded by doctors and members of the government, he died at the age of fifty-six.

Twelve days after the assassination, Union troops finally found and surrounded Booth, who had taken refuge in a Virginia barn. The soldiers set the barn on fire to force the killer out. One of the soldiers shot Booth as he crept toward the door armed with a carbine. Before he died, Booth said: “Tell my mother—tell my mother that I did it for my country—that I die for my country.” As those nearby helped raise his hands so he could see them, Booth uttered his final words: “Useless. Useless.”

Booth had not acted alone in killing the president. He had gathered around him a band of followers who planned at first to kidnap Lincoln and hold him in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners of war. When that plot failed, the new plan called for Booth to murder the president, Lewis Powell (also known as Lewis Payne) to kill Secretary of State William Seward, and George Atzerodt to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson. Although Atzerodt failed to follow through with his assignment, Powell did stab Seward as he lay in bed at his home recovering from a carriage accident. Seward survived Powell’s vicious attack, during which several members of the household were injured.

As a shocked nation attempted to deal with the dreadful news coming from Washington, General Lew Wallace of Indiana was on his way back to his military post in Baltimore, Maryland, following a mission to Mexico on behalf of Lincoln and Grant. The government of Mexico under President BenitoJuarez had been pushed out of power by troops sent by French ruler Louis Napoléon III, who had placed Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian in charge of the country. Wallace had gone to Mexico to attempt to convince Confederate forces in the region to rejoin the Union, help push the French out of Mexico, and restore Juarez’s government to its rightful place. Union officials had also feared that Confederate troops might flee to Mexico and join with the French or establish an independent empire.

Before his death, Lincoln had met with Wallace and approved the mission, but expressed some concern about angering the French. “I suppose it is right,” Lincoln told Wallace, “we should help the oppressed.” Still, the president had warned the Hoosier general to be careful. Although Wallace had established contact with General José María Carvajal, one of Juarez’s commanders, he had been unable to convince Confederate leaders to agree to the plan. Wallace made it back to Baltimore in time to oversee the display of thes casket as part of the president’s funeral train journey from Washington to Lincoln’s final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.

In early May Wallace received orders to join other Union officers as judges on a military commission authorized by the new president, Andrew Johnson, to try those charged with plotting to kill Lincoln and other government officials. The finding of the commission would be final, with no chance for appeal except directly to President Johnson.

The North wanted vengeance for the dead president. Government officials also wanted quick action. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted in his diary that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had told him he wanted those responsible for the assassination “to be tried and executed before President Lincoln was buried.” The eight persons on trial at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington were Powell, Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlin, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and Mary Surratt. Another person involved in the plot, John Surratt, Mary Surratt’s son, fled the country.

Mary Surratt, who ran a boardinghouse where the conspirators met, and Dr. Mudd, who treated Booth’s broken leg, were charged with aiding those planning the killing. Arnold and O’Laughlin were accused of being involved in the assassination plot. Powell, Atzerodt, Spangler, and Herold were indicted for their participation in the attacks on government officials. During their confinement, many of the prisoners were shackled and had to wear heavy cloth hoods over their heads.

At first, the military commission met in secret. Only later did the government agree to open the trial to selected members of the public and press. Those who wanted to attend had to receive a special pass from Major General David Hunter, who served as president of the commission. Hundreds of witnesses appeared before the commission on behalf of the prosecution and defense from May 9 to June 29. During the long, hot days of testimony, Wallace, the only lawyer among the army officers on the commission, passed the time by making sketches of the commission members, the spectators, and all of the defendants except for Mary Surratt, who spent most of the trial with her face hidden by a veil.

Those on trial for the Lincoln assassination had few of the legal rights afforded to defendants today, and some of the evidence presented by the government had been fabricated. Still, the attorneys for those on trial presented a spirited defense that may have won some of the commission to their side. In a June 26 letter to his wife, Wallace wrote that if the commission voted then, “three, if not four, of the eight will be acquitted.” 

The prosecution, however, continued to hammer away at the accused, even attempting to involve leaders of the Confederacy (especially Jefferson Davis) in the plot. On June 29 the commission met in secret to make its decision. It took the commission only a day and a half to reach a verdict—guilty for all. Powell, Herold, Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt were sentenced to death and were hanged on July 7 at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary.

At the time of the trial, only a few voices were raised in protest in the North. One newspaper, the New York World, dismayed by what went on, lashed out at the commission for its “heat and intolerance.” Although debate still rages today on the fairness of the Lincoln conspirators’ trial, Wallace never expressed any doubts about the verdict decided by the commission. In 1895 he wrote that the trial “was perfect in every respect. No judicial inquiry was ever more fairly conducted.”