This year, movies about President Lincoln and the Lincoln assassination just seem to keep on coming. But what about last year’s Robert Redford-directed picture: The Conspirator? I thought it was an amazing movie, not for how it stuck to the facts but rather, for how it didn’t.
It was bankrolled by American Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade, to the tune of $25 million and directed by Redford. It is the first movie made by Ricketts’ American Film Company, which was founded to, “accurately portray extraordinary characters and events from American history.” But if that’s their goal, this first release missekd the mark by quite a bit.
The Conspirator was about Mary Surratt who, along with seven others, was found guilty of participating in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln and other high-ranking government officials. As well as being found guilty, she also gained the distinction of becoming the first woman ever executed by the United States government. She also was a devout Roman Catholic, the convicted group were mostly, if not all, Catholic. Discussions about Abraham Lincoln continue to be prevalent; hundred of books are written about him every year. But what about Mary Surratt?
In 2010 Laurie Verge, at the time the Director of the Surratt House Museum in Clintion, Maryland and senior volunteer for the Surratt Society, was asked if there had been any attempts to get Surratt’s conviction overturned. She responded that in the 1950s, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from adistrict in Maryland did propose introducing legislation to ‘free’ Mary Surratt. However, the legal advisers to this Representative advised against it because of the legal questions that would be raised and Congress does not adjudicate legal issues-that is the duty of the Judicial Branch.
Again in the 1970s, another Representative considered it and was advised again to drop it because it was “too much of a hot potato” issue. I’m fascinated by the idea that in that in the 1970s, more than a century after her execution, the question of Mary Surratt’s involvement is still “too much of a hot potato.” Could it be that this still even now, this woman remains an embarrassment to the Roman Catholic Church?