Lincolns suspension of the writ of habeas corpus

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survive the war. Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus infuriated Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who STEPHEN B. OATES / 121
accused the President of usurping power. Taney argued that only Congress could legally suspend the writ, and he admonished Lincoln not to violate the very laws he had sworn to defend. “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted,” Lincoln asked Congress, in refer- ence to habeas corpus, “and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?” Moreover, the Constitution did not specify which branch of the government could suspend the writ, so that Lincoln did not think he had broken any laws or violated his oath of office. Still, he invoked his presidential powers in heretofore undreamed- of ways, as we have seen in the matter of emancipation. Recall, though, the novelty of the war. Nothing like this had ever occurred in America, and there were no guidelines in dealing with dissent and national security in the midst of a giant domestic insurrection that imperiled the nation itself. As in most war matters, Lincoln and his Cabinet found themselves in uncharted legal territory. In 1862 the President centralized jurisdiction over internal-security matters in the War Department. To deal with such matters, the de- partment created a corps of civilian provost marshals, but allowed them too much independence in policing and jailing alleged disloy- alists. Their zealous, far-ranging operations led to widespread criti- cism of the Lincoln administration. At the same time, Lincoln’s War Department empowered army officers to apprehend anybody who discouraged volunteering or otherwise helped the enemy. And the department got up dragnets in which state militia, home guards, police chiefs, and vigilantes all participated. In all, they seized and imprisoned at least 14,000 people—many of them antiwar Demo- crats—under Lincoln’s authority. The outcry against arbitrary arrests became so strident that Lincoln tried to restrain excessive use of power whenever he could. He speedily ordered the release of people unwarrantedly arrested, especially political prisoners. Also, when General Ambrose E. Burnside suspended the Chicago Times for vir- ulent outbursts against the administration, Lincoln promptly revoked the order. 122 / ABRAHAM LINCOLN
The most controversial military arrest was that of Clement L. Val- landigham, an Ohio congressman and a leading antiwar Democrat. “Valiant Val,” as his friends called him, accused Lincoln of dishon- oring the Constitution with his “tyrannical” measures, of abandoning the war for the Union in favor of a crusade for Negroes in which the white people were to be enslaved. “I see nothing before us,” he warned war-weary northerners, “but universal political and social revolution, anarchy and bloodshed, compared with which the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution was a merciful visitation.” For Vallandigham, the solution was clear: stop the fighting and negotiate a peace with the rebels that would somehow restore the old Union and the old certitudes. Stumping Ohio in the spring of 1863, he de-

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