PORTER, Fitz-John, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts



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Did President Johnson know of the plea for mercy?

PORTER, Fitz-John (1822-1901). American army commander and Police Commissioner of New York.
Important Autograph Letter Signed to Major C C Sniffen, 1 page 4to (neatly inlaid), Commssioner's Office, Police Department, New York, 22 September 1886. Asking Sniffen in confidence whether he knew for certain the President Johnson 'ever saw the recommendation to mercy for Mrs [Mary] Surratt'.
Mary Surratt had been executed by hanging on 17 July 1865 as an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (15 April). She had been convicted on the, possibly unreliable, testimony of other conspirators also on trial. The jury had added a recommendation of mercy to their finding of guilty, but President Andrew Johnson always maintained that he had never been shown the plea. Proctor is here asking a key presidential aide for his views in the light of an article alleging that Johnson had indeed seen it.
'... let me ask you to think over what you may bring to mind in relation to the facts whether or not President Johnson ever saw the recommendation to mercy for Mrs Surratt. I presume you have seen the article on Secy Stanton in the Journal of the Military Service Institute, in which it is alleged that President Johnson acknowledged that he had seen it prior to approval of the sentence.
My reasons for asking this I will give you when I call be it to-morrow or next day.'
Porter had a rather chequered career. He was accused by General Pope of failing to obey orders, and was court-marshaled and cashiered from the army in 1863. He was later rehabilitated and reappointed colonel (1886), and became Police Commissioner of New York in 1884.
[No: 20231]


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