“What makes The Conspirator relevant today?”

The country at that time, almost 150 years ago, was in a very fearful place. The South and the North had been in such a vicious contest with each other and the peace was very fragile. So when Lincoln was assassinated, the fear of something uncontrollable breaking loose forced the Union leadership into a kind of behavior that’s very similar to some of our behavior over the last several years. The story of The Conspirator raises questions about a nation’s survival, and about how we respect our laws, and even our Constitution. I’m always drawn to stories about America, not just as a country but as a “concept” of who we are or aspire to be. Those aspirations and ideals are the basis from which our country was founded. They have the ability to inspire greatness and at times, they have the ability to corrupt our judgment. It’s human nature and I find stories that expose the humanity of our ideals fascinating. It’s these intimate human stories that become so revealing about America, and to me this is one of those stories.

Robert Redford

About Robert Redford

Director Robert Redford offers his insight into the talent, themes, and making of The Conspirator, due in theaters April 15.
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9 Responses to “What makes The Conspirator relevant today?”

  1. Virginia B. Johnson says:

    Hello, Mr. Redford — As the great-great-grandaughter of the Hon. Reverdy Johnson, I am very, very pleased to finally see someone take an interest in this chapter of U.S. history. It is such a fascinating case during what must have been the most tumultuous of times; to think that a miltary court would decide the guilt or innocence of ordinary citizens! As you may know, my g-g-grandfather, Senator Reverdy Johnson was a long-term representative & constitutional lawyer from MD; he served as U.S. Attorney General in Zachary Taylor’ s administration & it was he, at his own professional & personal peril, who first questioned the legality of this tribunal involving Mrs. Surratt, et al. While I believe that the outcome of this or any other trial at that time of upheaval & strife would have been the same — I’ve always envisioned the public clamoring for a swift & bloody “justice” no matter what the actual circumstances — I am so proud of my g-g-grandfather for raising his voice & speaking out on behalf of ordinary people…citizens, like you & me. I look forward to seeing your film & I sincerely thank you for bringing this story to the public’s attention.

    • Marj Johnson says:

      Thank you for telling this story. While the children of today spend time playing violent video games, it is hoped they may learn a little history from your film. I believe it is very important to remember the past and learn its lessons.

    • Jennifer Satterlund says:

      Hello Virginia,

      Thank you for sharing your story. Mary Surratt’s Great Grandson – Reginald Tonry – was my Godmother’s husband (Anna Surratt was his Grandmother).

      I am very grateful for your gg-grandfather’s efforts defending Mary, and am very happy to have made your aquaintance through this site.

      Reginald (aka Pappa Bear) worked tirelessly to clear Mary’s name, but unfortunately, was unable to achieve this before his death.

      Thank you , Mr. Redford, for sharing this story with the everyone through your film. I believe strongly in Mary’s innocence, and hope that she will be exhonnerated some day.

  2. Bruce Donald says:

    I’m amazed that an America which increasingly abandons the ideals of American Revolution (freedom) and instead seems to cherish the bloody equality of French Revolution would be preoccupied with death of man who was responsible for the death of approximately 600,000 Americans.

    How many soldiers died a lonely death without medical attention or even a loved one by their side – many of them fighting for the preservation of Lincoln’s government. Perhaps this is part of the process to make us idolize those who would enslave us. Crushing those pesky state governments which created the central government was a necessary step to establish a strong central government.

    The relevance today is a central government that seeks monsters abroad and continually engages the citizens of our country in making war against others, has debased our currancy to finance it’s obligations because it can’t keep it’s promises by honest means, has engaged in corporate bailouts that might even make Lincoln blush.

    I hope Mr Redford’s film will encourage more interest in this history as it is so very relevant in our lives today.

  3. RRuin says:

    The rush to judgment during times of panic and trial make the story of Mrs. Surratt very relevant.
    But the comment above displays no understanding of history. The Civil War was fought for the preservation of the United States of America, not Lincoln’s government.
    Crushing those “pesky” Southern Slavery fueled state governments was the only way to preserve the Union.
    Would you have the country split? Would you want the South to have been able to continue to enslave human beings?
    The story has relevance, but not in the way the Mr. Donald has suggested.

  4. Leslie Klug says:

    I have recently become interested in The Civil War, Lincoln and all things associated with that era. I was not aware of this movie until I saw Mr. Redford and his cast on Piers Morgan’s CNN show last night.
    My father took me to many Civil War battle sites during road trips when I was a child. Seeing photographs of the people who lived during this tumultuous time was a humbling experience. I hope to get that same feeling while viewing this motion picture.
    My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that my local theatre will be showing The Conspirator this weekend.

  5. Sharon Wyda Collison says:

    Dear Mr. Redford,
    As a young girl in Baltimore in the early 1950′s I was witness to a particular visit of Helen Surratt to my grandmother, Florence Bailey. They were old friends and around 80 yrs. old at the time. They sat at my mother’s kitchen table. I recall Miss Surratt being distressed about a reporter who was wanting to do a story about her family and how they simply could not dredge it up again. No good could come from it. There was just too much pain. She spoke with distainment about the ultimate insult of a man who held an umbrella up for her grandmother, Mary, as she climbed the stairs to the noose so she wouldn’t get wet moments before she was hung. I was told to fetch a handkerchief from my grandmothers pocketbook.

    As a child I really didn’t understand what I was hearing and how something that happened so long ago could cause so much pain. I wanted to make it better for Miss Surratt. I didn’t know who this man with the umbrella was and all I could say was that maybe he was trying to be nice. I
    learned that day that there are some wounds that never heal even with a century of time.

    • Laurie Verge says:

      As director of the Surratt House Museum in old Surrattsville, I have had the honor of meeting quite a few descendants of Mary Surratt and her offspring. They are warm and caring people who have remained out of the limelight throughout the past 146 years. Several once told me that I knew more about the story than they because the subject was taboo when they were growing up. I can certainly understand and appreciate that.

      Unlike the Dr. Mudd family, they have sought no publicity. I often think that they have accepted the fate that befell their family and that the religious strength of their matriarch has been passed on to them. They have moved on.

      It is strange to compare the Mudd efforts to exonerate their ancestor – who is the one who introduced Booth into the Surratt family, which led to young John Surratt being recruited into the original plot to kidnap the president – and the quiet acceptance of the Surratt descendants.

      While I am one historian who believes that Mary was on the fringes of, or at least aware of, the kidnap scheme and who understands the terror and emotions brought on by the assassinaton, I can accept the fact of the military court – even while I consider it unconstitutional.

      I will say that I think the movie handles the personality of Mary Surratt very well. I see her as a strong woman who had endured an unhappy marriage, extreme debts, and the chore of becoming a widow near the beginnning of the Civil War. She was also deeply religious and very concerned about the welfare of her children. Robin Wright portrays these strengths and concerns very well. There is one line in the play where she informs Aiken that “I am a Southerner, I am a Catholic, and I am a mother.” I thought that was a very strong summation of her character.

  6. Barbara Edwards says:

    Our family lived in the Surrattsville area at the time the Surratts house was restored. The many stories that were unearthed at that time were interesting to me, so I began an indepth study of Mary Surratts. It was appaling the way she was treated, and was nearly insane when finally allowed a tria. She was going thru the ‘change of life’ and was never allowed any medical assistance, only a bucket and some rags. Several of her neightbors, and former friends took over her property for back taxes. She never really had a chance at any defense, that might have saved her.

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