‘Manhunt’ Ending Explained & Finale Recap: What Happens To Edwin Stanton?


Manhunt comes to an end with its last episode titled “The Final Act.” The series is a dramatized retelling of one of the most tragic chapters in American history, the assassination of President Lincoln. A major portion of Manhunt revolves around the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and how his personal history influenced him to take the drastic step. The act aligned with his political beliefs, and it also came with the promise of fame and respect. But nothing went according to Booth’s plan, and he ended up a delusional man who found comfort in his impossible dreams.

Manhunt series unfolds from the perspective of the Secretary of War during the Lincoln administration, Edwin Stanton. His love and admiration for the president were his driving forces, and even in sickness, Stanton did not give up on fighting for justice. He was determined to punish those responsible for the assassination, and he did not leave any stone unturned to find the culprits. Stanton and Lincoln had a vision for the future of America, and till the very end, Stanton worked towards turning their dream into a reality. 

Spoiler Alert

What proof did Stanton have against Jefferson Davis?

The prosecutor accused David Herold, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, Mary Surratt, and Dr. Samuel Mudd of President’s murder and attempted murders of Vice President and Secretary of State. Whispers broke out in court when the prosecutor also accused John Surratt, George Sanders, and Jefferson Davis of conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Davis had rubbished the claim about his involvement in the assassination, and while a confession was a far-fetched dream, Stanton’s only hope was Sanford Conover’s evidence. The double agent was ready to testify against Sanders in court after spending time working for the Confederate Secret Service. Conover admitted that he had heard Confederates discuss the events that led to the assassination. He also claimed to have the CSS letter that addressed Booth as ‘pet’, a nickname given to Booth by Jefferson Davis. Even though he was not a reliable source, given that he lacked loyalty, Edwin Stanton believed that the evidence Conover provided could help prove his grand conspiracy theory.

What role did Mary Simms play in Dr. Mudd’s trial?

Mary was afraid that the defense would dismiss her testimony because she was an uneducated woman. But it was her determination to punish Samuel Mudd that allowed her to come up with ways to make sure that judges trusted every word she said. Mudd tried to establish in court that his reputation was unmatched. His character witnesses included a Black man he had managed to coerce into lying in court. Mary realized that her testimony alone was not enough to keep the monster in prison. She approached Milo to discuss the abuse he had endured in court. Milo was hesitant at first; he was a Black man who had recently been freed, and he was afraid of losing his freedom again. Mary accompanied Milo to Stanton’s office, where he felt all the more confident to share the trauma that was inflicted upon him by the doctor. Mary spoke to Louis Weichmann before the court hearing and begged him to tell the entire truth about him and his friendship with Surratt. Mary was well aware that Louis was a close friend of John Surratt, and he had seen the conspirators meet well before the 14th of April. His testimony could help support Mary’s statement in court. All she hoped for was for him to tell the truth, and Louis promised that he would confess everything he knew about the conspirators.

On the day of the court hearing, Milo walked up to the witness stand and discussed in detail how Samuel Mudd had shot him in the leg simply because he did not like Milo’s attitude that day. Mudd never considered that he would ever face any consequence for his actions, and he treated the enslaved without an ounce of humanity. It was because of him that Milo was left crippled. Mudd accused Milo of being a liar, but when Mary stated the same, he could not defend himself anymore. Mary was ready to remove her clothes to show the marks of abuse and prove her statement in court. She was desperate to punish Mudd, and she was prepared to go to any lengths for it. Mary also added that Mudd despised the president and always spoke ill of him. She confessed that John Surratt often visited Doctor Mudd and that Booth, Surratt, and Mudd were friends even before the assassination.

When the defense questioned her educational qualifications, she calmly responded that Officer Weichmann could confirm her statements. To everyone’s surprise, Weichmann confessed that he and John Surratt shared an intimate relationship, which was why he was certain that Surratt did not return to the boarding house after the 14th of April. He also confirmed that he had seen Booth, Surratt, and Dr. Mudd together in January in Booth’s hotel room. Officer Weichmann kept his word, even though the truth was not easy to discuss in court. Towards the end of Manhunt episode 7, Mary breathed an air of relief when Dr. Samuel Mudd was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor. After years of oppression, Mary Simms finally felt hopeful about the future of America.

How was Sanford Conover’s statement proved false in court?

After Sanford Conover took to the witness stand, he admitted that he lied to Detective Baker about having a source in the Confederate Secret Service in Montreal to gather information, when in reality, he himself was the source. He worked for both the CSS and the War Department to keep himself afloat. He remembered the panic in Montreal when Lee had surrendered, and it was on that day that John Surratt set in motion the “pet” plan (the assassination plan). They intended to unleash complete chaos by killing the president, the vice president, and the Secretary of State. This was their only hope for saving the Confederacy. He also provided a letter from the CSS addressed to George Sanders confirming that Booth was successful in carrying out their plan.

The defense established in court that Conover was not a man to be trusted. He was a double agent with three different identities, suggesting that his loyalty could easily be bought. Conover lied when the defense asked him about the last time he saw Surratt, Booth, and Sanders together. The defense proved in court that Conover was in prison for the entire month of October for trespassing. Conover admitted that he got the month wrong, and even though he confirmed that Davis knew about the assassination, he was no longer a reliable witness. After the verdict was announced, Conover confessed to Stanton and Baker that he received a suspicious package from London, suggesting that Sanders found a way to scare him. The court announced that, due to a lack of evidence, Davis’ connection to the assassination plan was inconclusive. The court found Mary, Lewis, George, and David guilty of the charges against them, and they were sentenced to death by hanging. The execution took place the very next day.

What was Stanton’s contribution to the execution of the reconstruction plan?

As soon as the verdict was announced and the assassination case came to a close, President Johnson decided to replace his Secretary of War. His views did not align with Stanton’s, and he was well aware that, as long as Stanton was in office, he would have no choice but to enforce the reconstruction plan. As the President of the United States, he was not ready to face opposition in his own office, and that was why he decided to replace Edwin Stanton with Thomas Lorenzo. Johnson wanted to appease his supporters, and he knew that he would lose their trust if he implemented the reconstruction plan. Stanton did not react to the news; rather, he simply stated that his removal would result in an investigation by Congress and that Johnson would be impeached, but the President did not seem to be bothered by it. Stanton calmly offered to give a tour of his office to Lorenzo.

Stanton gathered all his belongings, but he could not bear the thought of giving up when he was so close to realizing his and Lincoln’s goal for the United States. Winning the war was not their only objective, Lincoln had requested that he hold the office until they had enforced the reconstruction plan. Stanton chose to keep his promise, and instead of using violence, he decided to protest the unjust replacement. Stanton did the unthinkable. He had locked himself in the office for 3 month and continued to hold the position of Secretary of War and communicated with the world outside, but he refused to leave the office until a fair investigation was carried out. President Johnson, on the other hand, was impeached by the House of Representatives. While he was not removed from office by one vote, he lost his second term. After his many adventures in Europe, John Surratt was extradited to the United States, and he was tried in a Maryland civilian court and not the military tribunal that his co-conspirators had to face. Surratt was eventually released on bail, and he continued to boastfully discuss his association with Booth.

Slavery was finally abolished in the country five months after the assassination trial. Until the very end, Edwin Stanton continued to advocate for the rights of Black Americans, and the 14th Amendment was passed, granting them citizenship and equal protection. Stanton’s health had worsened in the next four years, but he continued practicing law. On his 55th birthday, Stanton received his nomination for associate justice position in the Supreme Court. He was confirmed after receiving a majority vote, and he later accepted the same through a letter. Unfortunately, Stanton remained the only Supreme Court nominee who accepted his appointment but died before he could assume office as associate justice. Manhunt does not follow the exact order of his nomination confirmation and death, but it stays true to the fact that Stanton passed away on Christmas Eve, 1869. He lived up to his promise to Lincoln; he finished the work that they both started. 

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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