Mudd Miscellany

The origin of the expression "His name is Mud."

An American myth almost as persistent as the one that has display clocks reading 8:18 because that was the hour Lincoln died is that the expression "his name is mud" derives from Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg.

The fact is that the expression "his name is mud" dates back to the 1820s and derives from an even older meaning of "mud," according to Eric Partridge - a dull fellow or a fool. Partridge cites an 1823 quotation: "And his name is mud!" Samuel Mudd's grandson, Dr. Richard Mudd, has spent more than fifty years trying to rectify what he regards as the injustice shown his grandfather, who was found guilty of conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln and sent to a Florida prison. (He was later given a Presidential pardon for his heroism in fighting a prison epidemic of yellow fever.)

(from More Misinformation by Tom Burnam)

...and Jimmy Carter gets involved

The following item is from the Jimmy Carter Library vertical file, "Mudd, Dr. Samuel":

"July 24, 1979

To Dr. Richard Mudd:

"I am aware of your efforts to clear the name of your grandfather, Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, who set the broken leg of President Lincoln's Assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and who was himself convicted as a conspirator in the assassination. Your persistence in these efforts, extending over more than half a century, is a tribute to your sense of familial love and dedication and is a credit to the great principles upon which our nation was founded.

"Your petition and the petitions submitted to me on behalf of your grandfather by numerous members of Congress, several state legislatures, historians and private citizens have been exhaustively considered by my staff over the past two years. Regrettably, I am advised that the findings of guilt and the sentence of the military commission that tried Dr. Mudd in 1865 are binding and conclusive judgements, and that there is no authority under law by which I, as President, could set aside his conviction. All legal authority vested in the President to act in this case was exercised when President Andrew Johnson granted Dr. Mudd a full and unconditional pardon on February 8, 1869.

"Nevertheless, I want to express my personal opinion that the declarations made by President Johnson in pardoning Dr. Mudd substantially discredit the validity of the military commission's judgement.

"While a pardon is considered a statement of forgiveness and not innocence, the Johnson pardon goes beyond a mere absolution of the crimes for which Dr. Mudd was convicted. The pardon states that Dr. Mudd's guilt was limited to aiding the escape of President Lincoln's assassins and did not involve any other participation or complicity in the assassination plot itself -- the crime for which Dr. Mudd was actually convicted. But President Johnson went on to express his doubt concerning even Dr. Mudd's criminal guilt of aiding Lincoln's assassins in their escape by stating:

‘ is represented to me by intelligent and respectable members of the medical profession that the circumstances of the surgical aid to the escaping of the assassin and the imputed concealment of his flight are deserving of a lenient construction, as within the obligations of professional duty and, thus, inadequate evidence of a guilty sympathy with the crime or the criminal;

‘ other respects the evidence, imputing such guilty sympathy or purpose of aid in defeat of justice, leaves room for uncertainty as to the true measure and nature of the complicity of the said Samuel A. Mudd in the attempted escape of said assassins...'

"A careful reading of the information provided to me about this case led to my personal agreement with the findings of President Johnson. I am hopeful that these conclusions will be given widespread circulation which will restore dignity to your grandfather's name and clear the Mudd family name of any negative connotation or implied lack of honor.

Jimmy Carter"

The folder contains, in addition to this letter, a legal discussion of the case (8 pages), drafts of the above, advice from counsel to President Carter, a letter from Rep. Simon (IL), a petition to President Carter signed by some 28 representatives and senators, a Department of Justice memo on the subject, several newspaper articles and a letter from Dr. Richard D. Mudd.

Army Rejects Bid to Clear the Name of Booth's Doctor

By Joyce Howard Pride (from the 3/10/00 Washington Times)


The U.S. Army has once again denied an appeal to overturn the 1865 conviction of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd for "aiding and abetting" the escape of President Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

The ruling Monday by Patrick T. Henry, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, marked the third time since 1990 the service branch has rejected appeals by Mudd's descendants to clear his name.

It marked the third time the Army found that the military trial of Mudd, a civilian, was legal.

"I'm completely devastated. This is the greatest injustice ever in the history of the United States," Samuel Mudd's grandson, Dr. Richard Dyer Mudd, 99, of Saginaw, Mich., said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The retired physician, who is homebound, said he is been trying unsuccessfully to get his grandfather exonerated for more than 80 years. He vowed yesterday the fight is not over.

Mudd set Booth's broken leg hours after he assassinated Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington. He always claimed he did not recognize Booth, when the popular actor showed up at his farm in Charles County on the night of April 15, 1865. However, Mudd had met Booth at least twice be- fore.

"Of course, my grandfather knew John Wilkes Booth ... but even if he knew that Booth assassinated Lincoln - which he didn't - he was a doctor, and so had no alternative but to treat Booth's broken leg," Dr. Mudd said yesterday.

On June 29, 1865, the Hunter Commission - a military body created by President Andrew Johnson to address the Lincoln assassination - found Mudd guilty of "receiving, entertaining, harboring and concealing" Booth and another man "with the intent to aid, abet and assist them in escaping from justice after the assassination."

Sentenced to life in prison, Mudd spent four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys before Johnson pardoned him for his efforts in fighting yellow fever at the prison. Yet, Mudd's conviction was never vacated.

As in the past, the Army's latest ruling in the Mudd case was not based on his guilt or innocence in facilitating Booth's escape. Mr. Henry said his decision was based on the narrow question of whether a military court had jurisdiction to try Mudd, who was a civilian. He concluded it did.

Mudd himself objected to being tried by a military panel, and he tried unsuccessfully to get his conviction overturned on that basis in a court of law in 1868. But the court held that the assassination itself was military in nature and that Washington at the time of Lincoln's death was a fortified city that had been under threat of invasion during the war with the Confederacy.

Johnson gave Mudd a "full and unconditional pardon" early in 1869. The doctor died in 1883 in Bryantown, Md.

In his ruling this week, Mr. Henry, the assistant Army secretary, cited the 1942 Supreme Court case, Ex Parte Quirin, that states: "Citizens who commit law of war violations against the United States in a time of conflict may be tried by a military commission."

Mr. Henry also pointed to an 1865 opinion of the attorney general, James Speed, which held that all Lincoln assassination conspirators were subject to the authority of a military commission.

"I am personally aware of the important issues presented by this, case and fully support this decision," Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said yesterday.

While Dr. Mudd has spent most of his life writing to presidents and members of Congress urging them to "vindicate" his grandfather, he first filed an application with the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to amend the 19th-century Maryland physician's military records on Oct. 15, 1990.

In January 1992, the board agreed with Dr. Mudd that the Hunter Commission lacked jurisdiction to try his grandfather, and it recommended the conviction be set aside. But the Army leadership twice rejected that recommendation in 1995 and 1996.

In December 1997, Dr. Mudd filed suit against the Army for its rulings against his grandfather.