Mary Surratt on the Altar of National Identity

in The Trial in American Life

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2007 | ISBN: 9780226243252
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226243283 | DOI:
Mary Surratt on the Altar of National Identity

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Comparatively few women end up on death row, and as slight as those numbers are, the figures for condemned women who are “screened out” still exceed the overall rate of those removed from death row. A decision by the state to kill a woman occurs only in extraordinary circumstances, and nowhere is that premise plainer than in the first woman to be legally executed by the government of the United States: Mary Surratt. Surratt was the most peripheral of the four convicted defendants who, on July 7, 1865, faced the hangman's noose for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Surratt loomed large in state accusations and newspaper coverage in the joint trial of the conspirators across May and June, and she remained the focal point during and after her execution in July. Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while watching the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. on the night of April 14, 1865.

Keywords: execution; United States; Mary Surratt; assassination; Abraham Lincoln; Our American Cousin; John Wilkes Booth; death row

Chapter.  14715 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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