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Book Review - His Name Is Still Mudd, by Edward Steers, Jr.

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 7

The day Dr. Samuel Mudd was convicted as a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination was the day his family began what is now a 135-year effort to clear his name. Although Mudd was eventually pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the conviction still stands.

During the Franklin Roosevelt administration, Mudd's grandson, Dr. Richard Mudd, petitioned Congress and the President to review his grandfather's case and reverse the conviction. His argument was that the military court that tried the conspirators had no jurisdiction over civilians; that the evidence was not sufficient to convict; and, that Mudd was just a country doctor fulfilling his Hippocratic oath by helping a stranger who needed medical assistance. Although in this case this stranger had murdered Abraham Lincoln just six hours before being treated by Dr. Mudd.

This book by Edward Steers examines the evidence available at the time, as well as new information. Steers concludes that Mudd was involved with Booth in a plot to kidnap Lincoln, but the plot turned into a conspiracy to murder.

First, Steers submits that neither the President nor Congress has the legal authority to set aside Mudd's conviction. Mudd was found guilty by a court that had legal jurisdiction, even though it was a military court. And, by accepting Johnson's presidential pardon, any further action to change the court's findings is moot. Mudd's pardon was just--a pardon--it did not change the court's guilty verdict.

Second, looking at the original court transcripts, Steers explains how Mudd lied about not knowing who Booth was or what Booth had done. There are several documented instances of Mudd and Booth having met previously, and it was Mudd who introduced Booth to those who would hide him during his escape. In addition, Mudd was a known Confederate sympathizer and Confederate operative. Mudd's house served as a safe-house on a route used to smuggle medicines, goods, and people into Virginia from Maryland's Eastern Shore.

And third, there is a statement damaging to Mudd in the confession of another conspirator, George Atzerodt. This was found recently among the papers of Atzerodt's defense attorney. In the confession, Atzerodt states, "I am certain that Dr. Mudd knew all about it, as Booth sent liquors and provisions for the trip...about two weeks before the murder, to Dr. Mudd's."

Steers argues that the military court had legal jurisdiction in this case, and that Mudd is guilty. In spite of this, the Mudd family continues to attempt to clear the name of their ancestor. Although it was misinterpreted by the press at the time, in response to their plea, both Presidents Carter and Reagan wrote that they had no authority to reverse Mudd's guilty verdict. But in 1997, Representative Steny Hoyer of the Mudd family's Congressional District in Maryland, attempted to pass legislation to set aside Mudd's conviction. Steers says Mudd was allowed due process and that he was justly convicted. "The good doctor had his day in court, both military and civil, and despite the concerted efforts and good intentions of his defenders--his name is still Mudd."