Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Six

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Lamon meets Walt Whitman.
His conversation with Walt Whitman gave Lamon a measure of hope to sustain him into the New Year when Johnson vetoed the black suffrage act. How could Lamon help this man and through him bring the assassination conspirators to justice? Johnson, on the one hand, was a man of strong personal integrity who defied his own state to remain loyal to the union. On the other, however, he was an unrepentant racist, intent on restricting the freedoms of the people he fought to liberate. Lamon always considered himself a simple, straightforward man. Lincoln was complicated yet understandable; Johnson was complicated and frustrating. Lamon’s instinct was to go over to the Executive Mansion and lecture the President about compromising on some issues to win the important battle.
Johnson followed his veto of the black suffrage bill with another veto, this time the infamous Tenure of Office bill. Within days, Missouri Rep. Benjamin Logan called for Johnson’s impeachment. By March Congress clarified the bill by adding if President Lincoln had appointed the secretary, then Johnson could not remove the appointee without approval from the Senate. Johnson could fire anyone he had personally hired. The changes did not impress the president, and he vetoed it again. The House immediately overrode it.
In the middle of all this insanity, Lamon read in the newspapers about another sideshow. Lafayette Baker, the short, red-haired mean man that intimidated Gabby Zook, published his biography in which he claimed to have established the Secret Service all by himself. “Braggadoccio and nonsense,” Lamon thought. “It takes a man of unbounded ego to make such a preposterous claim.”
Baker also wrote in extensive detail about his role in the search, capture and death of John Wilkes Booth. The most controversial detail of his book, however, was the claim that he received a diary retrieved from the dying Booth detailing the assassin’s days from the time he shot the president to his own death. Baker alleged someone had torn eighteen pages from the diary.
This information prompted a congressional hearing on April 2, 1867. Lamon followed the proceedings in the newspapers. He bought several, pulling together facts found in one account but not another. News articles quoted Benjamin Butler at length during a hearing at which Baker testified.
“That diary, as now produced, had eighteen pages cut out, the pages prior to the time when Abraham Lincoln was massacred, although the margins show they had all been written over. Now, what I want to know, was that diary whole? Who spoliated that book?”
The newspaper accounts reported that Baker swore no pages were missing from the diary when he turned it over to Edwin Stanton.
“Do you mean to say at the time you gave the book to the Secretary of War there were no leaves gone?” Butler asked.
“I do,” Baker responded.
“Did you examine it pretty carefully?”
“I examined the book quite thoroughly, and I am very sure that if any leaves had been gone I should have noticed it.”
In the following days, Lamon reached for his newspaper in anticipation of reading new revelations about the diary, but none were forthcoming. He became sick at heart of the conflicts on Capitol Hill and unable to see any appropriate resolution. More and more, his mind wandered back to his home in Danville, Illinois, and to his dear family who waited for his return. He acknowledged how fine a woman his second wife, Sally, was. She didn’t hesitate to open her arms to his daughter Dorothy and loved her as her own. His first wife Angelina had died of natural causes only a few years earlier. He remembered the letter from Sally that described her joy when his ten-year-old child without any prompting hugged her and called her “Mommy.” How many more warm family moments would he miss because of his vaunted conviction that the nation needed him to save it? He didn’t know the answer, but he knew it was a cost that he was increasingly unwilling and unable to pay.
So when summer arrived in Washington City and Congress continued to butt heads with Johnson over reconstruction legislation, Lamon left the battle to the politicians. A sense of relief overcame him as he boarded the train to Danville in early June, and every mile closer to home convinced him that he had made the right decision. Sally and Dorothy welcomed him with hugs and kisses. He reopened his law practice and focused on civil suits about property disputes and contract negotiations.
Barely a week had passed when he received a letter from Lincoln’s former law partner William Herndon who requested permission to visit his office as soon as was convenient. Herndon had always appeared to be an affable man, though not possessed of the highest intellect, so Lamon agreed to the visit. When the Springfield attorney arrived, Lamon noticed he had gained quite a bit of weight. Coffee and food stained his wrinkled clothing.

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