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HON. EDWARDS PIERREPONT
TO THE JURY,
ON THE TRIAL OF
JOHN H. SURRATT
May it please your honor and gentlemen of the jury, I have not, in the progress of this long and tedious cause, had the opportunity as yet of addressing to you one word. My time has now arrived. “Yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” When the book of Job was written this was true, and it is just as true to-day. A man, in order to save his life, will give his property, will give his liberty, will sacrifice his good name, and will desert his father, his brother, his mother, and his sister. He will lift up his hand before Almighty God and swear that he is innocent of the crime with which he is charged. He will bring perjury upon his soul, giving all that he hath in this world, and be ready to take the chances and "jump the life to come ;" and so far as counsel place themselves in the situation of their client, and just to the degree that they absorb his feeling, his terror, and his purpose, just so far will counsel do the same.
I am well aware, gentlemen, of the difficulties under which I labor in addressing you. The other counsel have all told you that they know you, and that you know them. They know you in social life, and they know you in political affairs. They know your sympathies, your habits, your modes of thought, your prejudices even. They know how to address you, and how to awaken your sympathies, while I come before you a total stranger. There is not a face in these seats that I ever beheld until this trial commenced, and yet I have a kind of feeling pervading me that we are not strangers. I feel as though we had a common origin, a common country, and a common religion, and that, on many grounds we must have a common sympathy. I feel as though if hereafter I should meet you in my native city, or in a foreign land, I should meet you not as strangers, but as friends. It was not a pleasant thing for me to come into this case. I was called into it at a time ill suited in every respect. I had just taken my seat in the convention called for the purpose of forming a new constitution for my State, and I was a member of the judiciary committee. That convention is now sitting, and I am now absent where I ought to be present. I felt, however, that I had no right to shirk this duty.
The counsel asked whether I represented the Attorney General in this case. They had, perhaps, the right to ask, and so asking I give you the answer. There surely is no mystery about the matter. The district attorney, feeling the magnitude of this case, felt that he ought to apply to the Attorney General for assistance in the prosecution of it, and he accordingly made the application. I have known the Attorney General more than twenty years. Our relations have been most friendly, both in a social and professional point of view. The Attorney General conferred with the Secretary of State, who is, as you know, from my own State, and they determined to ask me to assist in the prosecution of the cause. On receiving a letter from the Secretary of State, I came to Washington, when I met him and the Attorney General. That is the way I happened to be here engaged in this case; and I may say that I am assured that there was no member of the cabinet but those two who ever heard or knew of my retainer until after my arrival here. I have simply tried to perform my duty as I best could, but I have no doubt failed to a great extent. A trial protracted as this has been, and in such oppressive weather, is indeed a trial. It is a trial to the court, it is a trial to you, it is a trial to the counsel; it is a trial to health, it is a trial to patience, and it is a terrible trial to the temper. When the President of the United States was assassinated, I was one of a committee sent on by the citizens of New York to attend þis funeral. When standing as I did stand in the east room by the side of that coffin, if some citizen sympathizing with the enemies of my country had, because my tears were falling in sorrow, over the murder of the President, there insulted me and I had at that time repelled the insult with insult, I think my fellow-citizens would have said to me that my act was deserving of condemnation; that I had no right in that solemn hour to let my petty passions or my personal resentments disturb the sanctity of the scene. To my mind the sanctity of this trial is far above that funeral occasion, solemn and holy as it was, and I should forever deem myself disgraced if I should allow any passion of mine or personal resentment of any kind to bring me here into any petty quarrel over the murder of the President of the United States. I have tried to refrain from anything like that, and God helping me, I shall so endeavor to the end.
To me, gentlemen, this prisoner at the bar is a pure abstraction. I have no feeling toward him whatever. I never saw him until I saw him in this room, and then it was under circumstances calculated to awaken only my pity. I never knew one of his kindred, and never expect to know one of them. To me he is a stranger. Toward him I have no hostility, and I shall not utter any word of vituperation against him. I came to try one of the assassins of the President of the United States, as indicted before you. I laid personal considerations aside, and I hope I shall succeed in keeping them from this cause, so far as I am concerned. I believe, gentlemen, that what you wish to know in this case is the truth. I believe it is your honest desire to find out whether the accused was engaged in this plot to overthrow this government, and assassinate the President of the United States. My duty is to try to aid you in coming to a just conclusion. When this evidence is reviewed, and when it is honestly and fairly presented, when passions are laid aside, and when other people who have nothing to do with the trial are kept out of the case, you will discover that in the whole history of jurisprudence no murder was ever proved with the demonstration with which this has been proven before you. The facts, the proofs, the circumstances all tend to one point, and all prove the case, not only beyond a reasonable, but beyond any doubt.
This has been, as I have already stated, a very protracted case. The evidence is scattered. It has come in link by link, and as we could not have witnesses here in their order when you might have seen it in its logical bearings, we were obliged to take it as it came; and now it becomes my duty to put it together and show you what it is. I shall not attempt, gentlemen, to convince you by bold assertion of my own. I fancy I could make them as loudly and as confidently as the counsel upon the other side, but I am not here for that purpose. The counsel are not witnesses in the cause. We have come here for the purpose of ascertaining whether under the law and on the evidence presented, this man arraigned before you is guilty as charged. I do not think it proper that I should tell you what I think about everything that may arise in the case, or that I should tell you that I know that this thing is so and so, and that the other is another way. My business is to prove to you from this evidence that the prisoner is guilty. If I do that I shall ask your verdict. If I do not do that I shall neither expect nor hope for it.
I listened, gentlemen, to the two counsel who have addressed you for several days, without one word of interruption. I listened to them respectfully and attentively. I know their earnestness, and I know the poetry that was brought into the case, and the feeling and the passion that was attempted to be excited in your breasts, by bringing before you the ghost trailing her calico dress and making it rustle against these chairs. I have none of those powers which the gentlemen seem to possess, nor shall I attempt to invoke them. I have come to you for the purpose of proving that the party accused here was engaged in this conspiracy to overthrow this government, which conspiracy resulted in the death of Abraham Lincoln, by a shot from a pistol in the hands of John Wilkes Booth. That is all there is to be proven in this case. I have not come here for the purpose of proving that Mrs. Surratt was guilty, or that she was innocent; and I do not understand why that subject was lugged into this case in the mode that it has been; nor do I understand why the counsel denounced the military commission who tried her, and thus indirectly censured, in the severest manner, the President of the United States. The counsel certainly knew when they were talking about that tribunal, and when they were thus denouncing it, that President Johnson, President of the United States, ordered it with his own hand; that President Johnson, President of the United States, signed the war. rant that directed the execution; that President Johnson, President of the United States, when that record was presented to him, laid it before his cabinet, and that every single member voted to confirm the sentence, and that the President, with his own hand, wrote his confirmation of it, and with his own hand signed the warrant. I hold in my hand the original record, and no other man, as it appears from that paper, ordered it. No other one touched this paper; and when it was suggested by some of the members of the commission that in consequence of the age and the sex of Mrs. Surratt it might possibly be well to change her sentence to imprisonment for life, he signed the warrant for her death with the paper right before his eyes and there it is, (handing the paper to Mr. Merrick.) My friend can read it for himself.
The counsel on the other side have undertaken to arraign the government of the United States against the prisoner. They have talked very loudly and eloquently about this great government of twenty-five or thirty millions of people being engaged in trying to bring to conviction one poor young man, and have treated it as though it were some hostile act, as though two parties were litigants before you, the one trying to beat the other. Is it possible that it has come to this, that, in the city of Washington, where the President has been murdered, that when under the forms of law, and before a court and a jury of twelve men, an investigation is made to ascertain whether the prisoner is guilty of this great crime, that the government are to be charged as seeking his blood, and its offi. cers as “ lapping their tongues in the blood of the innocent?” I quote the language exactly. It is a shocking thing to hear. What is the purpose of a government? What is the business of a government? According to the gentlemen's notion, when a murder is committed the government should not do anything toward ascertaining who perpetrated that murder; and if the government did undertake to investigate the matter, and endeavor to find out whether the man charged with the crime is guilty or not guilty, the government and all connected with it must be expected to be assailed as bloodhounds of the law, and as seeking “to lap their tongues in the blood of the innocent.” Is that the business of government, and is it the business of counsel under any circumstances tbus to charge the government? What is government for? It is instituted for your protection, for my protection, for the protection of us all. What could we do without it? Tell me, my learned and eloquent counsel on the other side, what would you do without a government? What would you do in this city ? Suppose, for instance, a set of young men who choose to lead an idle life say to themselves that it is not right that some rich man living here should be enjoying his hoarded wealth, and they break into his house at night and steal therefrom. My learned friend would say, when you came to prosecute them for that robbery, “ What! would you have this great and generous government of twenty-five or thirty millions of people pursue these poor young men, who merely tried to break into the house of one of your citizens and steal his money ?” Should not this government be generous and let them go? Oh, yes! Let them off. Well, they are let off, and a few days afterward they break into the house of my friend Merrick for the purpose of stealing his money, when he, a brave man, undertakes to resist them, and in doing so they strike him down in death. Oh, generous government! with from twenty-five to thirty millions of people,