Johnson's Last Words on Mary Surratt

The following is an excerpt from The Greeneville-Democrat-Sun, Wednesday, May 30, 1923 (p.1). The article contains information regarding Johnson's thoughts on Mary Surratt just three days before he died at his daughter's home near present day Elizabethton, then Carter's Station, TN. A Mr. McElwee of the American Steel Association accompanied Johnson on the train ride to Johnson City, and then on to Carter's Station in a carriage, during which time Johnson talked openly and freely of his time in office. Mr. McElwee later submitted a manuscript of the conversation to the state archives.

Note: The misspellings are part of the original article and have been left as printed. They will be identified by [sic].

"While Mr. McElwee, explained that he was not attempting to quote the exact words of Mr. Johnson, he gives the substance of the political conversation.

'The execution of Mrs. Surrat [sic] was a crime of passion without justice or reason. She knew no more about the intentions of Booth and his associates than any other preson [sic] who chanced to know Booth or Asterot. They had simply boarded as others had done, at her boarding house. She was entitled to trial in open court and the record of that trial preserved, but her executioners knew the records would condemn them if they kept till passion had subsided and they were estroyed' [sic].

'Is there no record of the condemnation and execution of Mrs. Surratt?'

'No Sir, the records were immediately destroyed. They were not even kept until John was arrested and tried.'

'If she was not guilty, why did you not interpose executive clemency?'

'If I had interfered with the execution it would have meant my death and a riot that would have probably ended in war.'

'Was there any appeal made to you for mitigating the sentence as reported after the execution.'

'No appeal reached me. Her daughter forwarded one, but it was suppressed by Secretary Stanton. I heard of it afterward but never saw it. It was murder founded on perjury and executed to gratif pyassion [sic]. The chief witness afterwards confessed to his perjury.'"

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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