The other day I watched The Conspirator, a 2010 movie directed by Robert Redford for the American Film Company. A historical film dealing with the trial of Mary Surratt by a military tribunal, it goes to considerable length to show the abuse of power by the Secretary of War, Edward M. Stanton, in the name of protecting the nation, as the principle antagonist to the hero, a Union Army Veteran and lawyer. The hero, Frederick Aiken, must confront the rigged system while attempting to prove his client’s innocence. Needless to say he is thwarted at every turn.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this brief bit of history, Mrs. Surratt was accused of being one of the principle conspirators with John Wilkes Booth, in the assassination of President Lincoln at Ford’s theater. She became the first woman executed for a crime in the United States.
In listening to Secretary Stanton’s reasoning, I was reminded of Joseph McCarthy and his pursuit of Communists from the 50’s. I believe the similarities were intended by Mr. Redford, as he portrayed the abuse of power and the rationalization of it being done for a greater good. How often do we hear that reasoning for abuses by government?
For me, the movie reinforced my belief that governmental power must be limited, for when it is not it will be abused. But I am left confused by the willingness of so many to relinquish individual rights to the government, in the hopes of some greater good. But I digress… I liked the movie and recommend it as a way to spend a couple of hours.