Tag Archives: sam butterworth

Dan Sickles Part Three: “The Whole Country Turned Jury”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break for a while to read and reflect and as such I and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

HD_TrialofDanielSickles1859.preview

The Sickles Trial

The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history, a trial that would have been much more suited to the era of 24/7 cable news coverage and the Internet than the era of the telegraph and newspaper, but even so it was sensational by any standard and it riveted the attention of the public in every part of the nation, from the largest cities to the smallest towns.

Almost immediately swarms of journalists were camped outside the prison and Sickles’ house where distraught Teresa sought a way to gain Dan’s forgiveness having received his broken wedding band which he sent to her from the jail. Witnesses to her dalliances with Key at the 15th Street house and other venues were brought to the Stockton Mansion to identify her. “She was the meat in the market, the ogre at the carnival. A little way across the square, souvenir hunters were cutting fragments of wood out of the tree by which Key had fallen, and artists from the illustrated papers set up their easels and began sketching every aspect of the area – the railings, the Stockton Mansion, the Clubhouse.” [1] A Presbyterian pastor who knew the couple found her obsessed by the shame that she had brought upon herself and her daughter, and he “found her in such mental agony that he feared for her sanity and even felt that she might try to take her life.” [2]

It was a credit to her own emotional strength that Teresa survived the ordeal that she had helped to bring about, and which she found herself blamed for, even by her father, who felt that she had dishonored the Bagioli family name. Antonio Bagioli wrote to Dan in prison, “You have heaped on my child affection, kindness, devotion, generosity. You have been a good son, a true friend, and a devoted, kind, loving husband and father.” [3] Of all the commentators, it was the eminent historian and diplomat George Bancroft who seemed to have any “sense of Teresa’s pain: “Poor child, what a cruel thing to deprive her of her sole stay and support. Key was the only man she could look to for sympathy and protection.” [4]

After Barton Key’s lifeless body was borne off in a mahogany casket to the Presbyterian cemetery in Baltimore and buried in the grave of his dead wife, and his children placed in the care of his family, his effects, what they amounted to, including his resplendent Montgomery Guards uniform were “sold off to a morbid, bargain-hunting, souvenir-hounding crowd.” [5] It was an ignoble end to the scandalous story of the son of Francis Scott Key, a story that soon with all of its salacious detail would be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, inside the jail her husband, alternating between fits of rage and calm was visited by Washington’s Mayor James Barret, Sam Butterworth, Attorney General Black, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, and Speaker of the House, James Orr. He was comforted by the many expressions of support and sympathy found in scores of letters from people around the country, one of the first “a kindly note from the President,” [6] and others from total strangers. He was also joined by friends and allies from New York and Washington. “James Topham Brady, John Graham, and Thomas Francis Meagher, able lawyers all, arrived post haste to defend their rash ally” [7] as well as his father who before offering encouragement to his son offered a sharp chastisement, “You hot-headed fool! That’s no way to settle things! No woman’s worth it! No matter how you come out of this, you’ve killed your career – White House and everything else.” [8]Undeterred and calm Dan told his father that he understood and that if he had to he would do it again, after which, his father began to discuss the organization of his son’s defense with this legal team.

rerl_02_img0122

The case was front page news in all the major newspapers, which provided “extensive coverage of the “Sickles Tragedy.” Sickles’ murder of his friend Key in broad daylight in view of the White House had all of the scandalous elements that have thrilled Americans then and even today: “adultery, politics, celebrity, and a handsome corpse,” [9] not to mention a beautiful young woman who even more than her husband who had killed a man, stood accused in the eye of the public.

Despite the notoriety of the case, many people found sympathy with Sickles and believed that no jury would convict him of murder or manslaughter, after all, Teresa was the one who committed adultery with Key. The New York Herald “doubted that a grand jury would indict him. Even if he were indicted, Harper’s Weekly presumed that no jury would convict him of manslaughter if the adultery charge were proven, which it considered a foregone conclusion.” [10] The New York Times noted well before the trial opened, “there appears to be no second opinion as to the certainty of Mr. Sickles acquittal” but “national interest” arose from “the general desire to see the whole case fairly put, and the million scandals of mystery laid to rest by the plain facts.”[11]Newspapers like the New York Evening Post, his political arch-enemy found the murder an excellent opportunity to attack Sickles, “That wretched man, Daniel E. Sickles, has in his career reached the stage of assassination, and dipped his hands in human blood… It is certain that a man… who in his own practice, regards adultery as a joke and the matrimonial bond as no barrier against the utmost caprice of licentiousness – has little right to complain when the mischief which he carriers without scruple into other families enters his own.” [12] But such commentary was the exception, and it came from the organ of a political enemy. It is an interesting comment on the era, that a woman’s adultery, even when committed by the wife of an adulterous male who had killed her lover, was consider more of a social stigma and crime than murder.

Within days Sickles had assembled one of the most formidable defense teams ever to dominate an American court. Brady, who was considered to be the ablest criminal defense lawyer of his day became the lead attorney for the defense team, and was joined by Sickles’ New York friends, Graham and Meagher. Brady was an excellent choice, he “was admired and even loved by society in general, but on top of that, though his legal repertoire was wide, he had been involved successfully in more than fifty murder cases.” And he “had also made a special study of pleas of insanity,” [13] something that would figure greatly in the trial.

Additionally, President Buchanan helped recruit one of the finest attorneys in the country, the future Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton to the team. They were joined by four lesser known, yet high-powered attorneys; Samuel Chilton a Virginian who later represented John Brown, and his partner Allen Magruder, Daniel Ratcliffe, and Philip Phillips, a former Alabama Congressman and member of Washington’s Jewish community. Additionally, Reverdy Johnson, one of the most respected attorneys of the day served as an occasional advisor. “The Washington Evening Star observed that Sickles was collecting a lot of lawyers for a man whose defenders did not expect to leave their box before acquitting him.” [14]

Sickles’ defense team was a nineteenth century legal Dream Team against which the government deployed but one attorney, Key’s former assistant District Attorney Robert Ould. Ould, described by one of Sickles’ biographers as “a dull bull of a man, at one time a Baptist parson,” [15] had been named acting District Attorney by President Buchanan when Key was killed. It was an odd place for Ould, as he was serving to prosecute his former boss’s killer, at the behest of the President, who happened to be one of the defendant’s best friends. Ould, the former parson “was placed by inference in the unhappy position of defending adultery – something that he indignantly denied, insisting that he was merely prosecuting a killer….” [16] but to many people, the murderer of an adulterer by an aggrieved husband was complete justified. Ould was totally outclassed by the defense team, and Key’s family paid to have John Carlisle a respected Washington attorney to aid Ould in the case, but the trial would prove them appear incompetent and not up to the task of convicting Sickles.

HarpersMagazineTeresaConfession

Teresa Sickles Confession on the Front Page of Harper’s Weekly

The defense pushed for a speedy trial and decided, as many lawyers do today, to try the case in the newspapers, which in light of the lurid nature of the story hung on every word coming out of Washington. The defense team pursued the strategy of “entirely reversing the roles of Sickles and Key by putting the dead man on trial for having made a victim of the defendant, and the New York Press prepared the public for just such an emotional appeal.” [17] The news stories printed by papers that supported Sickles as well as those of his detractors helped inflame the public as the newspapers across the country “wherever wires ran, were front-paging the story under screaming headlines and, in larger cities, rushing out extras every hour or two, as fresh details came to hand.” [18] The private affairs of Dan and Teresa Sickles became known around the nation, and even though the judge in the case refused to admit the confessions Sickles had forced from Teresa into evidence they found their way into the papers, some like Harper’s not only ran the text but reproduced the confession in enlarged facsimile form. The question in many people’s mind “was Dan Sickles justified in slaying the man who had betrayed his confidence and seduced his wife?… As a consequence the whole country turned jury.” [19]

The trial began on April 4th, just over a month after the killing and barely a week after the indictment was handed down. The first three days involved jury selection, a task that the defense turned over to Philip Phillips, who sparred with the prosecutor Ould over the twelve men who would eventually sit in judgment of Dan Sickles. Ould attempted to gain a favorable jury by introducing the property qualifications of jurors, he “ruled out jurors who did not meet the requirement of owning property valued at $800. Since this $800 property limit had not been imposed in similar cases, Ould’s insistence on it would attract much scorn from Dan’s lawyers…”[20]Sickles’ team fought back embarrassing Ould in the process, but not getting the judge to change his narrow application of the law to help the defense. Over two hundred potential jurors were examined before twelve unbiased jurors could be found, and a “great majority of those dismissed confess strong prejudice in favor of the prisoner.” [21] When the jury was seated it was composed of twelve men, two farmers, four grocers, a merchant, a tinner, a coach maker, a men’s clothing salesman, a shoemaker, and a cabinetmaker, “but not a single “gentleman” in the occupational sense.” [22]

Ould opened his case, “ponderously, powerfully, in the blackest of terms,” [23] he drew a picture of the killing. He delivered an “emotionally charged argument that Sickles, “a walking magazine,” had taken deliberate care in arming himself against Key, who only had “a poor and feeble opera-glass.” [24] Ould argued “that homicide with a deadly weapon, perpetrated by a party who has all the advantage on his side and with all the deliberate cruelty and vindictiveness, is murder, no matter what the antecedent provocation in the case.”[25]He then called twenty-eight witnesses, the majority of whom had actually witnessed the shooting, but he did not call upon Butterworth, Teresa, or the young White House page boy who had told President Buchanan and been sent away. Likewise he had not established intent, a key factor in any murder trial, nor had he introduced evidence that he had obtained regarding Sickles’ own affairs with women in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere. The presentation of the physical evidence of Barton Key’s clothing and the bullet that supposedly killed Key was botched, the bullet that the prosecution claimed to have killed key did not fit either the Derringer, or the Colt revolver. Thus Ould left open for the defense the chance to explore all the salacious details of the case to put Key on trial, and to establish exculpatory reasons why Sickles had killed Key. Ould’s presentation of his case was brief, and so futile “that it seemed that Key was on trial for seduction, not that Sickles was on trial for murder.” [26]

sickles in the box

Sickles in the Prisoner’s Dock

The defense team made mincemeat of the prosecution. John Graham’s opening statement was a work of oratory genius that “would massively outshine Robert Ould’s more cumbersome opening.” [27]Weaving allusions from Shakespeare and other literary greats into his statement, he painted Sickles as the victim of a adulterous rogue who had on a Sunday, a day when he should have “sent his aspirations heavenward,” had instead besieged “that castle where for security and repose the law had placed the wife and children of his neighbor.” [28] Casting Sickles as the aggrieved and temporarily insane victim he also asked if it was a “crime for a husband to defend his family altar.” From there he proceeded to use quotes from Shakespeare’s Othello he inveighs against the adulterer as the supreme criminal, piling up quotation upon quotation from the Old Testament and Roman law to show that in wiser days the punishment invariably was death’” [29] to paint the picture of Sickles’ agony as he saw the man who had defiled his wife prowling outside of his home. Graham then went to provocation and argued that due the circumstance of the crime, a friend and confidant attempting to defile Sickles’ wife on a Sunday that the prosecution “needed to prove Dan’s sanity at the time of the act. And they could not do that, because there was not enough in the case “to melt the heart that is not cut from the unwedgeable gnarled oak.” [30] It was a masterful performance.

Over the next two weeks, Brady, Stanton, and Graham would continue to hammer the prosecution case. The defense proved that Key’s family had tampered with evidence, including testimony from a locksmith who had changed the locks at the 15th Street house at the direction of Key’s family. Witness after witness was introduced to undermine the prosecution and support the defense’s claim that Sickles’ was indeed in a state of uncontrollable madness, and the defense deftly parried the prosecutor’s rebuttal witnesses. When Ould attempted to keep African American witnesses from testifying Stanton, thundered and“accused the prosecution of a “monstrous” attempt to suppress evidence in its zeal of the defendant’s blood,” [31] and argued from North Carolina precedent that the prosecution was not willing to grant Sickles the same right as a slave. As his lawyers argued his case and witnesses gave testimony Sickles maintained his composure except for a number of times when he broke down and had to be excused from the proceedings. “Whether the courtroom histrionics were real or an award-winning performance, the jury witnessed firsthand a husband who was mentally unable to bear his wife with another man.” [32] On the Friday the 22nd of April Judge Crawford declared the testimony closed and the next day began the closing arguments.

Saturday April 23rd dawned with a violent gale, but that did not prevent crowds of people from trying to gain admittance to the courtroom. Edwin Stanton began the defense closing arguments in a manner that was calm and precise. He brought up that justifiable homicide included that which was “committed in defense of family chastity, the sanctity of the marriage bed, the matron’s honor, the virgin’s purity.” [33] Since the prosecution had never brought into evidence Sickles’ own violation of these covenants his attacks on Key and the prosecution case hit home. As he continued his voice rose to a roar, sounding like a prophet of ancient Israel “Who seeing this thin, would not exclaim to the unhappy husband, “Hasten, hasten, to save the mother of your child! And may the Lord who watches over the home and family guide the bullets and direct the stroke!” [34] When Stanton finished the court erupted in a frenzy as spectators as well as supporters of Sickles applauded his closing.

Next up was Brady who went on for three hours, captivating the audience which hung on every word. “When Daniel Sickles realized how he had been betrayed, all the emotions of his nature changed into a single impulse; every throb of his heart brought before him the sense of his great injuries; every drop of his blood was burdened with a sense of shame; he was crushed by inexorable agony in the loss of his wife, in the dishonor that he had come upon his child, in the knowledge that the future – which had opened to him so full of brilliancy – had now been enshrouded in eternal gloom by one who, contrawise, should have invoked form the eternal God his greatest effulgence on the path of his friend….” [35]

The closing had been masterful, emotional, and dramatic. In response Ould attempted to recover, but his arguments were weak, he agreed with the defense about the crime of adultery, and attempted to redirect the jury’s attention that it was Sickles who was on trial for murder and not Key for adultery, but he had already lost that argument. He called the defense of temporary insanity a ploy and “mentioned how easily, and readily a man on trial for his life might pretend to be deranged if he were on trial for his life.” But it was too little, too late. Since there was no psychiatric profession to weigh in on the matter, the argument of temporary insanity fell back on the “tradition of male marital dominance” and “that argument played well among men who rarely wore collars on their shirts…” [36] the very kind of men seated in the jury booth.

When the jury recessed to deliberate Sickles’ fate on the 26th it took them less than an hour to return their verdict, and few were surprised when it came back “not guilty.” Stanton “was so excited that he did a jig in the courtroom, the hoarsely called for three cheers.” [37]As he did “Pandemonium and cheers broke out in the courtroom.” [38]People crowded around to congratulate Sickles and the crush was so great that Sickles had to be escorted for the courtroom. President Buchanan on hearing the verdict was delighted, later in the evening, though he sought rest, Sickles was taken by Brady to a gala in his honor attended by nearly 1500 supporters and well-wishers. The trial was over but the trials of Dan Sickles were not.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.142

[2] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[3] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.146

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.147

[5] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible pp.62-63

[8] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.116

[9] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.12

[10] Marvel, William Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2015 p.103

[11] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.12-13

[12] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.151

[14] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.103

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.121

[16] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.64

[17] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.104

[18] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.118

[19] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles pp.118-119

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.162

[21] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.120

[22] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.105

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.14

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.65

[27] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[28] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[29] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.124

[30] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.175

[31] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.107

[32] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.15

[33] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.127

[34] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.128

[35] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.129

[36] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.110

[37] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.66

[38] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.17

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under crime, History, Loose thoughts and musings

Murder in Lafayette Square, Dan Sickles: Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over the next few to read and reflect I am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history: Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

philip-barton-key-granger

 

Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

HarpersMagazineMrs.Sickles

Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5]and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.”[6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

4P8V9475

Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24]He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, crime, History, laws and legislation

Dan Sickles Part Three: Trial of the Century

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

HD_TrialofDanielSickles1859.preview

The Sickles Trial

 

The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history, a trial that would have been much more suited to the era of 24/7 cable news coverage and the Internet than the era of the telegraph and newspaper, but even so it was sensational by any standard and it riveted the attention of the public in every part of the nation, from the largest cities to the smallest towns.

Almost immediately swarms of journalists were camped outside the prison and Sickles’ house where distraught Teresa sought a way to gain Dan’s forgiveness having received his broken wedding band which he sent to her from the jail. Witnesses to her dalliances with Key at the 15th Street house and other venues were brought to the Stockton Mansion to identify her. “She was the meat in the market, the ogre at the carnival. A little way across the square, souvenir hunters were cutting fragments of wood out of the tree by which Key had fallen, and artists from the illustrated papers set up their easels and began sketching every aspect of the area – the railings, the Stockton Mansion, the Clubhouse.” [1] A Presbyterian pastor who knew the couple found her obsessed by the shame that she had brought upon herself and her daughter, and he “found her in such mental agony that he feared for her sanity and even felt that she might try to take her life.” [2]

It was a credit to her own emotional strength that Teresa survived the ordeal that she had helped to bring about, and which she found herself blamed for, even by her father, who felt that she had dishonored the Bagioli family name. Antonio Bagioli wrote to Dan in prison, “You have heaped on my child affection, kindness, devotion, generosity. You have been a good son, a true friend, and a devoted, kind, loving husband and father.” [3] Of all the commentators, it was the eminent historian and diplomat George Bancroft who seemed to have any “sense of Teresa’s pain: “Poor child, what a cruel thing to deprive her of her sole stay and support. Key was the only man she could look to for sympathy and protection.” [4]

After Barton Key’s lifeless body was borne off in a mahogany casket to the Presbyterian cemetery in Baltimore and buried in the grave of his dead wife, and his children placed in the care of his family, his effects, what they amounted to, including his resplendent Montgomery Guards uniform were “sold off to a morbid, bargain-hunting, souvenir-hounding crowd.” [5] It was an ignoble end to the scandalous story of the son of Francis Scott Key, a story that soon with all of its salacious detail would be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, inside the jail her husband, alternating between fits of rage and calm was visited by Washington’s Mayor James Barret, Sam Butterworth, Attorney General Black, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, and Speaker of the House, James Orr. He was comforted by the many expressions of support and sympathy found in scores of letters from people around the country, one of the first “a kindly note from the President,” [6] and others from total strangers. He was also joined by friends and allies from New York and Washington. “James Topham Brady, John Graham, and Thomas Francis Meagher, able lawyers all, arrived post haste to defend their rash ally” [7] as well as his father who before offering encouragement to his son offered a sharp chastisement, “You hot-headed fool! That’s no way to settle things! No woman’s worth it! No matter how you come out of this, you’ve killed your career – White House and everything else.” [8]Undeterred and calm Dan told his father that he understood and that if he had to he would do it again, after which, his father began to discuss the organization of his son’s defense with this legal team.

rerl_02_img0122

The case was front page news in all the major newspapers, which provided “extensive coverage of the “Sickles Tragedy.” Sickles’ murder of his friend Key in broad daylight in view of the White House had all of the scandalous elements that have thrilled Americans then and even today: “adultery, politics, celebrity, and a handsome corpse,” [9] not to mention a beautiful young woman who even more than her husband who had killed a man, stood accused in the eye of the public.

Despite the notoriety of the case, many people found sympathy with Sickles and believed that no jury would convict him of murder or manslaughter, after all, Teresa was the one who committed adultery with Key. The New York Herald “doubted that a grand jury would indict him. Even if he were indicted, Harper’s Weekly presumed that no jury would convict him of manslaughter if the adultery charge were proven, which it considered a foregone conclusion.” [10] The New York Times noted well before the trial opened, “there appears to be no second opinion as to the certainty of Mr. Sickles acquittal” but “national interest” arose from “the general desire to see the whole case fairly put, and the million scandals of mystery laid to rest by the plain facts.” [11]Newspapers like the New York Evening Post, his political arch-enemy found the murder an excellent opportunity to attack Sickles, “That wretched man, Daniel E. Sickles, has in his career reached the stage of assassination, and dipped his hands in human blood… It is certain that a man… who in his own practice, regards adultery as a joke and the matrimonial bond as no barrier against the utmost caprice of licentiousness – has little right to complain when the mischief which he carriers without scruple into other families enters his own.” [12] But such commentary was the exception, and it came from the organ of a political enemy. It is an interesting comment on the era, that a woman’s adultery, even when committed by the wife of an adulterous male who had killed her lover, was consider more of a social stigma and crime than murder.

Within days Sickles had assembled one of the most formidable defense teams ever to dominate an American court. Brady, who was considered to be the ablest criminal defense lawyer of his day became the lead attorney for the defense team, and was joined by Sickles’ New York friends, Graham and Meagher. Brady was an excellent choice, he “was admired and even loved by society in general, but on top of that, though his legal repertoire was wide, he had been involved successfully in more than fifty murder cases.” And he “had also made a special study of pleas of insanity,” [13] something that would figure greatly in the trial.

Additionally, President Buchanan helped recruit one of the finest attorneys in the country, the future Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton to the team. They were joined by four lesser known, yet high-powered attorneys; Samuel Chilton a Virginian who later represented John Brown, and his partner Allen Magruder, Daniel Ratcliffe, and Philip Phillips, a former Alabama Congressman and member of Washington’s Jewish community. Additionally, Reverdy Johnson, one of the most respected attorneys of the day served as an occasional advisor. “The Washington Evening Star observed that Sickles was collecting a lot of lawyers for a man whose defenders did not expect to leave their box before acquitting him.” [14]

Sickles’ defense team was a nineteenth century legal Dream Team against which the government deployed but one attorney, Key’s former assistant District Attorney Robert Ould. Ould, described by one of Sickles’ biographers as “a dull bull of a man, at one time a Baptist parson,” [15] had been named acting District Attorney by President Buchanan when Key was killed. It was an odd place for Ould, as he was serving to prosecute his former boss’s killer, at the behest of the President, who happened to be one of the defendant’s best friends. Ould, the former parson “was placed by inference in the unhappy position of defending adultery – something that he indignantly denied, insisting that he was merely prosecuting a killer….” [16] but to many people, the murderer of an adulterer by an aggrieved husband was complete justified. Ould was totally outclassed by the defense team, and Key’s family paid to have John Carlisle a respected Washington attorney to aid Ould in the case, but the trial would prove them appear incompetent and not up to the task of convicting Sickles.

HarpersMagazineTeresaConfession

Teresa Sickles Confession on the Front Page of Harper’s Weekly

The defense pushed for a speedy trial and decided, as many lawyers do today, to try the case in the newspapers, which in light of the lurid nature of the story hung on every word coming out of Washington. The defense team pursued the strategy of “entirely reversing the roles of Sickles and Key by putting the dead man on trial for having made a victim of the defendant, and the New York Press prepared the public for just such an emotional appeal.” [17] The news stories printed by papers that supported Sickles as well as those of his detractors helped inflame the public as the newspapers across the country “wherever wires ran, were front-paging the story under screaming headlines and, in larger cities, rushing out extras every hour or two, as fresh details came to hand.” [18] The private affairs of Dan and Teresa Sickles became known around the nation, and even though the judge in the case refused to admit the confessions Sickles had forced from Teresa into evidence they found their way into the papers, some like Harper’s not only ran the text but reproduced the confession in enlarged facsimile form. The question in many people’s mind “was Dan Sickles justified in slaying the man who had betrayed his confidence and seduced his wife?… As a consequence the whole country turned jury.” [19]

The trial began on April 4th, just over a month after the killing and barely a week after the indictment was handed down. The first three days involved jury selection, a task that the defense turned over to Philip Phillips, who sparred with the prosecutor Ould over the twelve men who would eventually sit in judgment of Dan Sickles. Ould attempted to gain a favorable jury by introducing the property qualifications of jurors, he “ruled out jurors who did not meet the requirement of owning property valued at $800. Since this $800 property limit had not been imposed in similar cases, Ould’s insistence on it would attract much scorn from Dan’s lawyers…”[20] Sickles’ team fought back embarrassing Ould in the process, but not getting the judge to change his narrow application of the law to help the defense. Over two hundred potential jurors were examined before twelve unbiased jurors could be found, and a “great majority of those dismissed confess strong prejudice in favor of the prisoner.” [21] When the jury was seated it was composed of twelve men, two farmers, four grocers, a merchant, a tinner, a coach maker, a men’s clothing salesman, a shoemaker, and a cabinetmaker, “but not a single “gentleman” in the occupational sense.” [22]

Ould opened his case, “ponderously, powerfully, in the blackest of terms,” [23] he drew a picture of the killing. He delivered an “emotionally charged argument that Sickles, “a walking magazine,” had taken deliberate care in arming himself against Key, who only had “a poor and feeble opera-glass.” [24] Ould argued “that homicide with a deadly weapon, perpetrated by a party who has all the advantage on his side and with all the deliberate cruelty and vindictiveness, is murder, no matter what the antecedent provocation in the case.”[25] He then called twenty-eight witnesses, the majority of whom had actually witnessed the shooting, but he did not call upon Butterworth, Teresa, or the young White House page boy who had told President Buchanan and been sent away. Likewise he had not established intent, a key factor in any murder trial, nor had he introduced evidence that he had obtained regarding Sickles’ own affairs with women in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere. The presentation of the physical evidence of Barton Key’s clothing and the bullet that supposedly killed Key was botched, the bullet that the prosecution claimed to have killed key did not fit either the Derringer, or the Colt revolver. Thus Ould left open for the defense the chance to explore all the salacious details of the case to put Key on trial, and to establish exculpatory reasons why Sickles had killed Key. Ould’s presentation of his case was brief, and so futile “that it seemed that Key was on trial for seduction, not that Sickles was on trial for murder.” [26]

sickles in the box

Sickles in the Prisoner’s Dock

The defense team made mincemeat of the prosecution. John Graham’s opening statement was a work of oratory genius that “would massively outshine Robert Ould’s more cumbersome opening.” [27]Weaving allusions from Shakespeare and other literary greats into his statement, he painted Sickles as the victim of a adulterous rogue who had on a Sunday, a day when he should have “sent his aspirations heavenward,” had instead besieged “that castle where for security and repose the law had placed the wife and children of his neighbor.” [28] Casting Sickles as the aggrieved and temporarily insane victim he also asked if it was a “crime for a husband to defend his family altar.” From there he proceeded to use quotes from Shakespeare’s Othello he inveighs against the adulterer as the supreme criminal, piling up quotation upon quotation from the Old Testament and Roman law to show that in wiser days the punishment invariably was death’” [29] to paint the picture of Sickles’ agony as he saw the man who had defiled his wife prowling outside of his home. Graham then went to provocation and argued that due the circumstance of the crime, a friend and confidant attempting to defile Sickles’ wife on a Sunday that the prosecution “needed to prove Dan’s sanity at the time of the act. And they could not do that, because there was not enough in the case “to melt the heart that is not cut from the unwedgeable gnarled oak.” [30] It was a masterful performance.

Over the next two weeks, Brady, Stanton, and Graham would continue to hammer the prosecution case. The defense proved that Key’s family had tampered with evidence, including testimony from a locksmith who had changed the locks at the 15th Street house at the direction of Key’s family. Witness after witness was introduced to undermine the prosecution and support the defense’s claim that Sickles’ was indeed in a state of uncontrollable madness, and the defense deftly parried the prosecutor’s rebuttal witnesses. When Ould attempted to keep African American witnesses from testifying Stanton, thundered and“accused the prosecution of a “monstrous” attempt to suppress evidence in its zeal of the defendant’s blood,” [31] and argued from North Carolina precedent that the prosecution was not willing to grant Sickles the same right as a slave. As his lawyers argued his case and witnesses gave testimony Sickles maintained his composure except for a number of times when he broke down and had to be excused from the proceedings. “Whether the courtroom histrionics were real or an award-winning performance, the jury witnessed firsthand a husband who was mentally unable to bear his wife with another man.” [32] On the Friday the 22nd of April Judge Crawford declared the testimony closed and the next day began the closing arguments.

Saturday April 23rd dawned with a violent gale, but that did not prevent crowds of people from trying to gain admittance to the courtroom. Edwin Stanton began the defense closing arguments in a manner that was calm and precise. He brought up that justifiable homicide included that which was “committed in defense of family chastity, the sanctity of the marriage bed, the matron’s honor, the virgin’s purity.” [33] Since the prosecution had never brought into evidence Sickles’ own violation of these covenants his attacks on Key and the prosecution case hit home. As he continued his voice rose to a roar, sounding like a prophet of ancient Israel “Who seeing this thin, would not exclaim to the unhappy husband, “Hasten, hasten, to save the mother of your child! And may the Lord who watches over the home and family guide the bullets and direct the stroke!” [34] When Stanton finished the court erupted in a frenzy as spectators as well as supporters of Sickles applauded his closing.

Next up was Brady who went on for three hours, captivating the audience which hung on every word. “When Daniel Sickles realized how he had been betrayed, all the emotions of his nature changed into a single impulse; every throb of his heart brought before him the sense of his great injuries; every drop of his blood was burdened with a sense of shame; he was crushed by inexorable agony in the loss of his wife, in the dishonor that he had come upon his child, in the knowledge that the future – which had opened to him so full of brilliancy – had now been enshrouded in eternal gloom by one who, contrawise, should have invoked form the eternal God his greatest effulgence on the path of his friend….” [35]

The closing had been masterful, emotional, and dramatic. In response Ould attempted to recover, but his arguments were weak, he agreed with the defense about the crime of adultery, and attempted to redirect the jury’s attention that it was Sickles who was on trial for murder and not Key for adultery, but he had already lost that argument. He called the defense of temporary insanity a ploy and “mentioned how easily, and readily a man on trial for his life might pretend to be deranged if he were on trial for his life.” But it was too little, too late. Since there was no psychiatric profession to weigh in on the matter, the argument of temporary insanity fell back on the “tradition of male marital dominance” and “that argument played well among men who rarely wore collars on their shirts…” [36] the very kind of men seated in the jury booth. When the jury recessed to deliberate Sickles’ fate on the 26th it took them less than an hour to return their verdict, and few were surprised when it came back “not guilty.” Stanton “was so excited that he did a jig in the courtroom, the hoarsely called for three cheers.” [37] As he did “Pandemonium and cheers broke out in the courtroom.” [38]People crowded around to congratulate Sickles and the crush was so great that Sickles had to be escorted for the courtroom. President Buchanan on hearing the verdict was delighted, later in the evening, though he sought rest, Sickles was taken by Brady to a gala in his honor attended by nearly 1500 supporters and well-wishers. The trial was over but the trials of Dan Sickles were not.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.142

[2] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[3] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.146

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.147

[5] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible pp.62-63

[8] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.116

[9] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.12

[10] Marvel, William Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2015 p.103

[11] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.12-13

[12] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.151

[14] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.103

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.121

[16] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.64

[17] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.104

[18] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.118

[19] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles pp.118-119

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.162

[21] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.120

[22] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.105

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.14

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.65

[27] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[28] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[29] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.124

[30] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.175

[31] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.107

[32] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.15

[33] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.127

[34] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.128

[35] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.129

[36] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.110

[37] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.66

[38] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.17

Leave a comment

Filed under crime, History, laws and legislation

Dan Sickles Part Two: Murder in Lafayette Square

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

philip-barton-key-granger

 

Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

HarpersMagazineMrs.Sickles

Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5] and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.”[6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

4P8V9475

Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24]He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

Leave a comment

Filed under crime, History, laws and legislation

Trial of the Century: Dan Sickles Pt.3

HD_TrialofDanielSickles1859.preview

The Sickles Trial

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am a historian as well as a chaplain and priest. I do a lot of work with the Battle of Gettysburg and much of my work involves biography as I believe that the one constant in history is people. Technology and many other things may change, but people and human nature are constant, for good and for bad, and frankly I find people fascinating.

One of the most fascinating people of the Battle of Gettysburg is Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles, a man who was one of the most fascinating, salacious, scandalous, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history.

This is the second of a multi-part series taken from my Gettysburg and Civil War text. It deals with one of the most memorable trials in American History. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history, a trial that would have been much more suited to the era of 24/7 cable news coverage and the Internet than the era of the telegraph and newspaper, but even so it was sensational by any standard and it riveted the attention of the public in every part of the nation, from the largest cities to the smallest towns.

Almost immediately swarms of journalists were camped outside the prison and Sickles’ house where distraught Teresa sought a way to gain Dan’s forgiveness having received his broken wedding band which he sent to her from the jail. Witnesses to her dalliances with Key at the 15th Street house and other venues were brought to the Stockton Mansion to identify her. “She was the meat in the market, the ogre at the carnival. A little way across the square, souvenir hunters were cutting fragments of wood out of the tree by which Key had fallen, and artists from the illustrated papers set up their easels and began sketching every aspect of the area – the railings, the Stockton Mansion, the Clubhouse.” [1] A Presbyterian pastor who knew the couple found her obsessed by the shame that she had brought upon herself and her daughter, and he “found her in such mental agony that he feared for her sanity and even felt that she might try to take her life.” [2]

It was a credit to her own emotional strength that Teresa survived the ordeal that she had helped to bring about, and which she found herself blamed for, even by her father, who felt that she had dishonored the Bagioli family name. Antonio Bagioli wrote to Dan in prison, “You have heaped on my child affection, kindness, devotion, generosity. You have been a good son, a true friend, and a devoted, kind, loving husband and father.” [3] Of all the commentators, it was the eminent historian and diplomat George Bancroft who seemed to have any “sense of Teresa’s pain: “Poor child, what a cruel thing to deprive her of her sole stay and support. Key was the only man she could look to for sympathy and protection.” [4]

After Barton Key’s lifeless body was borne off in a mahogany casket to the Presbyterian cemetery in Baltimore and buried in the grave of his dead wife, and his children placed in the care of his family, his effects, what they amounted to, including his resplendent Montgomery Guards uniform were “sold off to a morbid, bargain-hunting, souvenir-hounding crowd.” [5] It was an ignoble end to the scandalous story of the son of Francis Scott Key, a story that soon with all of its salacious detail would be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, inside the jail her husband, alternating between fits of rage and calm was visited by Washington’s Mayor James Barret, Sam Butterworth, Attorney General Black, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, and Speaker of the House, James Orr. He was comforted by the many expressions of support and sympathy found in scores of letters from people around the country, one of the first “a kindly note from the President,” [6] and others from total strangers. He was also joined by friends and allies from New York and Washington. “James Topham Brady, John Graham, and Thomas Francis Meagher, able lawyers all, arrived post haste to defend their rash ally” [7] as well as his father who before offering encouragement to his son offered a sharp chastisement, “You hot-headed fool! That’s no way to settle things! No woman’s worth it! No matter how you come out of this, you’ve killed your career – White House and everything else.” [8] Undeterred and calm Dan told his father that he understood and that if he had to he would do it again, after which, his father began to discuss the organization of his son’s defense with this legal team.

rerl_02_img0122

The case was front page news in all the major newspapers, which provided “extensive coverage of the “Sickles Tragedy.” Sickles’ murder of his friend Key in broad daylight in view of the White House had all of the scandalous elements that have thrilled Americans then and even today: “adultery, politics, celebrity, and a handsome corpse,” [9] not to mention a beautiful young woman who even more than her husband who had killed a man, stood accused in the eye of the public.

Despite the notoriety of the case, many people found sympathy with Sickles and believed that no jury would convict him of murder or manslaughter, after all, Teresa was the one who committed adultery with Key. The New York Herald “doubted that a grand jury would indict him. Even if he were indicted, Harper’s Weekly presumed that no jury would convict him of manslaughter if the adultery charge were proven, which it considered a foregone conclusion.” [10] The New York Times noted well before the trial opened, “there appears to be no second opinion as to the certainty of Mr. Sickles acquittal” but “national interest” arose from “the general desire to see the whole case fairly put, and the million scandals of mystery laid to rest by the plain facts.” [11] Newspapers like the New York Evening Post, his political arch-enemy found the murder an excellent opportunity to attack Sickles, “That wretched man, Daniel E. Sickles, has in his career reached the stage of assassination, and dipped his hands in human blood… It is certain that a man… who in his own practice, regards adultery as a joke and the matrimonial bond as no barrier against the utmost caprice of licentiousness – has little right to complain when the mischief which he carriers without scruple into other families enters his own.” [12] But such commentary was the exception, and it came from the organ of a political enemy. It is an interesting comment on the era, that a woman’s adultery, even when committed by the wife of an adulterous male who had killed her lover, was consider more of a social stigma and crime than murder.

Within days Sickles had assembled one of the most formidable defense teams ever to dominate an American court. Brady, who was considered to be the ablest criminal defense lawyer of his day became the lead attorney for the defense team, and was joined by Sickles’ New York friends, Graham and Meagher. Brady was an excellent choice, he “was admired and even loved by society in general, but on top of that, though his legal repertoire was wide, he had been involved successfully in more than fifty murder cases.” And he “had also made a special study of pleas of insanity,” [13] something that would figure greatly in the trial.

Additionally, President Buchanan helped recruit one of the finest attorneys in the country, the future Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton to the team. They were joined by four lesser known, yet high-powered attorneys; Samuel Chilton a Virginian who later represented John Brown, and his partner Allen Magruder, Daniel Ratcliffe, and Philip Phillips, a former Alabama Congressman and member of Washington’s Jewish community. Additionally, Reverdy Johnson, one of the most respected attorneys of the day served as an occasional advisor. “The Washington Evening Star observed that Sickles was collecting a lot of lawyers for a man whose defenders did not expect to leave their box before acquitting him.” [14]

Sickles’ defense team was a nineteenth century legal Dream Team against which the government deployed but one attorney, Key’s former assistant District Attorney Robert Ould. Ould, described by one of Sickles’ biographers as “a dull bull of a man, at one time a Baptist parson,” [15] had been named acting District Attorney by President Buchanan when Key was killed. It was an odd place for Ould, as he was serving to prosecute his former boss’s killer, at the behest of the President, who happened to be one of the defendant’s best friends. Ould, the former parson “was placed by inference in the unhappy position of defending adultery – something that he indignantly denied, insisting that he was merely prosecuting a killer….” [16] but to many people, the murderer of an adulterer by an aggrieved husband was complete justified. Ould was totally outclassed by the defense team, and Key’s family paid to have John Carlisle a respected Washington attorney to aid Ould in the case, but the trial would prove them appear incompetent and not up to the task of convicting Sickles.

HarpersMagazineTeresaConfession

Teresa Sickles Confession on the Front Page of Harper’s Weekly

The defense pushed for a speedy trial and decided, as many lawyers do today, to try the case in the newspapers, which in light of the lurid nature of the story hung on every word coming out of Washington. The defense team pursued the strategy of “entirely reversing the roles of Sickles and Key by putting the dead man on trial for having made a victim of the defendant, and the New York Press prepared the public for just such an emotional appeal.” [17] The news stories printed by papers that supported Sickles as well as those of his detractors helped inflame the public as the newspapers across the country “wherever wires ran, were front-paging the story under screaming headlines and, in larger cities, rushing out extras every hour or two, as fresh details came to hand.” [18] The private affairs of Dan and Teresa Sickles became known around the nation, and even though the judge in the case refused to admit the confessions Sickles had forced from Teresa into evidence they found their way into the papers, some like Harper’s not only ran the text but reproduced the confession in enlarged facsimile form. The question in many people’s mind “was Dan Sickles justified in slaying the man who had betrayed his confidence and seduced his wife?… As a consequence the whole country turned jury.” [19]

The trial began on April 4th, just over a month after the killing and barely a week after the indictment was handed down. The first three days involved jury selection, a task that the defense turned over to Philip Phillips, who sparred with the prosecutor Ould over the twelve men who would eventually sit in judgment of Dan Sickles. Ould attempted to gain a favorable jury by introducing the property qualifications of jurors, he “ruled out jurors who did not meet the requirement of owning property valued at $800. Since this $800 property limit had not been imposed in similar cases, Ould’s insistence on it would attract much scorn from Dan’s lawyers…” [20] Sickles’ team fought back embarrassing Ould in the process, but not getting the judge to change his narrow application of the law to help the defense. Over two hundred potential jurors were examined before twelve unbiased jurors could be found, and a “great majority of those dismissed confess strong prejudice in favor of the prisoner.” [21] When the jury was seated it was composed of twelve men, two farmers, four grocers, a merchant, a tinner, a coach maker, a men’s clothing salesman, a shoemaker, and a cabinetmaker, “but not a single “gentleman” in the occupational sense.” [22]

Ould opened his case, “ponderously, powerfully, in the blackest of terms,” [23] he drew a picture of the killing. He delivered an “emotionally charged argument that Sickles, “a walking magazine,” had taken deliberate care in arming himself against Key, who only had “a poor and feeble opera-glass.” [24] Ould argued “that homicide with a deadly weapon, perpetrated by a party who has all the advantage on his side and with all the deliberate cruelty and vindictiveness, is murder, no matter what the antecedent provocation in the case.” [25] He then called twenty-eight witnesses, the majority of whom had actually witnessed the shooting, but he did not call upon Butterworth, Teresa, or the young White House page boy who had told President Buchanan and been sent away. Likewise he had not established intent, a key factor in any murder trial, nor had he introduced evidence that he had obtained regarding Sickles’ own affairs with women in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere. The presentation of the physical evidence of Barton Key’s clothing and the bullet that supposedly killed Key was botched, the bullet that the prosecution claimed to have killed key did not fit either the Derringer, or the Colt revolver. Thus Ould left open for the defense the chance to explore all the salacious details of the case to put Key on trial, and to establish exculpatory reasons why Sickles had killed Key. Ould’s presentation of his case was brief, and so futile “that it seemed that Key was on trial for seduction, not that Sickles was on trial for murder.” [26]

sickles in the box

Sickles in the Prisoner’s Dock

The defense team made mincemeat of the prosecution. John Graham’s opening statement was a work of oratory genius that “would massively outshine Robert Ould’s more cumbersome opening.” [27]Weaving allusions from Shakespeare and other literary greats into his statement, he painted Sickles as the victim of a adulterous rogue who had on a Sunday, a day when he should have “sent his aspirations heavenward,” had instead besieged “that castle where for security and repose the law had placed the wife and children of his neighbor.” [28] Casting Sickles as the aggrieved and temporarily insane victim he also asked if it was a “crime for a husband to defend his family altar.” From there he proceeded to use quotes from Shakespeare’s Othello he inveighs against the adulterer as the supreme criminal, piling up quotation upon quotation from the Old Testament and Roman law to show that in wiser days the punishment invariably was death’” [29] to paint the picture of Sickles’ agony as he saw the man who had defiled his wife prowling outside of his home. Graham then went to provocation and argued that due the circumstance of the crime, a friend and confidant attempting to defile Sickles’ wife on a Sunday that the prosecution “needed to prove Dan’s sanity at the time of the act. And they could not do that, because there was not enough in the case “to melt the heart that is not cut from the unwedgeable gnarled oak.” [30] It was a masterful performance.

Over the next two weeks, Brady, Stanton, and Graham would continue to hammer the prosecution case. The defense proved that Key’s family had tampered with evidence, including testimony from a locksmith who had changed the locks at the 15th Street house at the direction of Key’s family. Witness after witness was introduced to undermine the prosecution and support the defense’s claim that Sickles’ was indeed in a state of uncontrollable madness, and the defense deftly parried the prosecutor’s rebuttal witnesses. When Ould attempted to keep African American witnesses from testifying Stanton, thundered and “accused the prosecution of a “monstrous” attempt to suppress evidence in its zeal of the defendant’s blood,” [31] and argued from North Carolina precedent that the prosecution was not willing to grant Sickles the same right as a slave. As his lawyers argued his case and witnesses gave testimony Sickles maintained his composure except for a number of times when he broke down and had to be excused from the proceedings. “Whether the courtroom histrionics were real or an award-winning performance, the jury witnessed firsthand a husband who was mentally unable to bear his wife with another man.” [32] On the Friday the 22nd of April Judge Crawford declared the testimony closed and the next day began the closing arguments.

Saturday April 23rd dawned with a violent gale, but that did not prevent crowds of people from trying to gain admittance to the courtroom. Edwin Stanton began the defense closing arguments in a manner that was calm and precise. He brought up that justifiable homicide included that which was “committed in defense of family chastity, the sanctity of the marriage bed, the matron’s honor, the virgin’s purity.” [33] Since the prosecution had never brought into evidence Sickles’ own violation of these covenants his attacks on Key and the prosecution case hit home. As he continued his voice rose to a roar, sounding like a prophet of ancient Israel “Who seeing this thin, would not exclaim to the unhappy husband, “Hasten, hasten, to save the mother of your child! And may the Lord who watches over the home and family guide the bullets and direct the stroke!” [34] When Stanton finished the court erupted in a frenzy as spectators as well as supporters of Sickles applauded his closing.

Next up was Brady who went on for three hours, captivating the audience which hung on every word. “When Daniel Sickles realized how he had been betrayed, all the emotions of his nature changed into a single impulse; every throb of his heart brought before him the sense of his great injuries; every drop of his blood was burdened with a sense of shame; he was crushed by inexorable agony in the loss of his wife, in the dishonor that he had come upon his child, in the knowledge that the future – which had opened to him so full of brilliancy – had now been enshrouded in eternal gloom by one who, contrawise, should have invoked form the eternal God his greatest effulgence on the path of his friend….” [35]

The closing had been masterful, emotional, and dramatic. In response Ould attempted to recover, but his arguments were weak, he agreed with the defense about the crime of adultery, and attempted to redirect the jury’s attention that it was Sickles who was on trial for murder and not Key for adultery, but he had already lost that argument. He called the defense of temporary insanity a ploy and “mentioned how easily, and readily a man on trial for his life might pretend to be deranged if he were on trial for his life.” But it was too little, too late. Since there was no psychiatric profession to weigh in on the matter, the argument of temporary insanity fell back on the “tradition of male marital dominance” and “that argument played well among men who rarely wore collars on their shirts…” [36] the very kind of men seated in the jury booth. When the jury recessed to deliberate Sickles’ fate on the 26th it took them less than an hour to return their verdict, and few were surprised when it came back “not guilty.” Stanton “was so excited that he did a jig in the courtroom, the hoarsely called for three cheers.” [37] As he did “Pandemonium and cheers broke out in the courtroom.” [38] People crowded around to congratulate Sickles and the crush was so great that Sickles had to be escorted for the courtroom. President Buchanan on hearing the verdict was delighted, later in the evening, though he sought rest, Sickles was taken by Brady to a gala in his honor attended by nearly 1500 supporters and well-wishers. The trial was over but the trials of Dan Sickles were not.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.142

[2] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[3] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.146

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.147

[5] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible pp.62-63

[8] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.116

[9] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.12

[10] Marvel, William Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2015 p.103

[11] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.12-13

[12] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.151

[14] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.103

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.121

[16] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.64

[17] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.104

[18] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.118

[19] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles pp.118-119

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.162

[21] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.120

[22] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.105

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.14

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.65

[27] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[28] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[29] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.124

[30] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.175

[31] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.107

[32] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.15

[33] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.127

[34] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.128

[35] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.129

[36] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.110

[37] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.66

[38] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.17

3 Comments

Filed under civil war, crime, ethics, History, Religion

Incredible Scoundrel Pt.2: A Murder in Washington

philip-barton-key-granger

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am a historian as well as a chaplain and priest. I do a lot of work with the Battle of Gettysburg and much of my work involves biography as I believe that the one constant in history is people. Technology and many other things may change, but people and human nature are constant, for good and for bad, and frankly I find people fascinating.

One of the most fascinating people of the Battle of Gettysburg is Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles, a man who was one of the most fascinating, salacious, scandalous, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history.

This is the second of a three part series taken from my Gettysburg and Civil War text. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

HarpersMagazineMrs.Sickles

Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5] and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.” [6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

4P8V9475

Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24] He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

3 Comments

Filed under civil war, crime, Gettysburg, History, laws and legislation, Political Commentary