Mrs. Surratt owned a rooming house in Washington and among her many lodgers were several involved in the killing of the President and attempts on the lives of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Her own son played a very active role in the conspiracy and escaped the area and was still loose at the time of her trial and sentencing.
There was a heavy blood lust in Washington at the time and Secretary of War Stanton actively fed the flames. His name had even been bandied about as wanting more power and some thought he was using this as a stepping stone. We will never really know the truth, but in his hurry to "find justice" he took the lead in using a military tribunal instead of civilian courts to try Mrs. Surratt.
The evidence was quite weak and a young attorney, a former Union Army Captain named Frederick Aiken, reluctantly took the case. From a start of just wanting to get it over with, Captain Aiken quickly realized that the Constitution was at stake and military tribunals were not appropriate for trials of civilians since the rules were quite lenient and evidence could be easily politicized. The young attorney did a wonderful job despite the ongoing efforts by the President of the tribunal to push aside all objections to the proceedings. In the end, Stanton got his way and Mrs. Surratt was hanged along with three others while her son, a real conspirator, was still at large.
Why do I tell you this? Well, it's because of the importance of the jury system in America and how it is designed to make sure that innocent men and women get a fair trial. Oh, mistakes can be made as in anything else, but it is the best system there is in the world. And the best way to keep it strong is to keep politics out of the courtroom.
If you look honestly at things, you can see how important our civilian jury system was in the recently concluded Zimmerman trial. There was a blood lust by some in that case as well. The media went out of its way to try and sway public opinion and the likes of Al Sharpton also stirred up trouble. Even the prosecutor did some things that were unscrupulous and some even think illegal trying to get a conviction and the judge clearly seemed to be intimidated by what was going on outside of the courtroom as well. Even the President of the United States weighed in with his bias against the defendant with no first hand knowledge, only hearsay.
In the end, however, an acquittal was reached due to a weak case. This would never happen in a military tribunal. We should also remember this when we want to use tribunal proceedings for American citizens, no matter the nature of the charges, for the potential is there always for the rights of Americans to be violated. Our forefathers gave their blood to insure that our rights as spelled out in our founding documents were guaranteed. We should do no less.
Oh, and the finale to the Surratt trial. A year after Mrs. Surratt was put to death, the Supreme Court ruled that military tribunals should not be used for citizen trials. Shortly thereafter, John Surratt, her son, was captured and tried by a civlian court. A jury made up of both Northerners and Southerners could not reach a verdict and he was freed.
Look back at history. It can teach us so much. It is a real shame that so many of our young people growing up today are not exposed to it.
God bless each of you today and always know that He is here for you and God Bless America and may He help us save our Republic.