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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Follow the Evidence: The Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators 

CSI Header

Imagine you were chosen to serve on the military commission for the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. After reviewing evidence what would your verdict be? Follow the Evidence: The Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators offers a glimpse at the role of each defendant along with evidence against them, the prosecution and their defense. You can then decide on your verdict for each conspirator. Let's get started!
1. Click on "The Conspirator" link here or below.
2. Select the name of a conspirator to begin your investigation. If you click on the image it will take you to a bibliography page at the Library of Congress.
3. Learn more about each defendant's case by clicking on "Evidence", "Prosecution", "Defense" or "Verdict".
4. When you get to the Verdict page you will indicate whether you think the defendant is Innocent or Guilty by clicking on your decision.
5. On the Conspirators page you can follow the link "From Fords Theatre to the Petersen House" to learn interesting facts and evidence or click on "Extension Questions" which will help you dive deeper into the impact of the assassination and trial.

April 14, 1865  

The Conspirators    

Lincoln CSI

On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was enjoying the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre. During the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth gained entry into the president's box. Standing behind the president, Booth fired the shot that would kill President Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth may have pulled the trigger but he was not the only party to this crime. Follow the evidence and trial to see if you agree with the military commission's decisions in the Lincoln conspirator's trials.

President Andrew Johnson ordered a military trial for the conspirators and suspended their writ of habeus corpus. Johnson said that the assassination of the president was considered an act of war. The use of a military trial gave the defense a great disadvantage. The conspirators were asked just three days before the trial started if they wanted an attorney. This gave the attorneys very little time to compile a defense for their clients. Another disadvantage to the defense was that the conspirators were not allowed to testify on their own behalf. The trial started on May 12, 1865 and by June 29th the trial was at an end. On July 5, 1865, the commission presented President Johnson with their verdicts.

Abraham Lincoln, head-and-shoulders
portrait traditionally called "last 
photograph of Lincoln from life"
Library of Congress/Prints and Photographs

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