Two years before the Civil War, Congressman Daniel Sickles and his lovely wife Teresa were popular fixtures in Washington, D.C. society. Their house sat on Lafayette Square across from White House grounds, and the president himself was godfather to the Sickleses’ six-year-old daughter. Because Congressman Sickles is frequently out of town, he trusted his friend, U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key—son of Francis Scott Key—to escort the beautiful Mrs. Sickles to parties in his absence. Revelers in D.C. were accustomed to the sight of the congressman’s wife with the tall, Apollo-like Philip Barton Key.
Then one day Daniel Sickles received an anonymous note suggesting his wife’s infidelity. It sets into motion a tragic course of events that culminated in a shocking murder in broad daylight in Lafayette Square.
Today’s guest is Chris DeRose, author of the book Star Spangled Scandal, about the biggest media sensation in Civil War America. The press couldn’t get enough of the trial, which had a play based on the events hit the stage as the trial was in progress. The trial introduced the concepts of the insanity defense, challenged ideas of chivalry and masculinity, and ensconced ideas of an unwritten law, where “honor crimes” were tolerated by judges for nearly a century after the trial.
Star Spangled Scandal explores:
- Why the “insanity defense” changed America
- Who sent the mysterious letter
- Why the story invented the 24/7 news cycle
- The shocking firsthand diary and journal entries which impacted the case
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