The Civil War anniversary we’d rather forget


National Archives

You’re pretty much guaranteed a daily150th anniversary Civil War remembrance through Spring 2015. Last week was a grim remembrance of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in U.S. history.

You probably will not hear a lot, though, about today’s unique Civil War history, the 150th anniversary of one the worst episodes of the suspension of American civil rights.

On this day, Abraham Lincoln issued Presidential Proclamation 94, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, meaning you could be thrown in jail without charges or a court hearing.

Lincoln had suspended this basic civil liberty several times earlier in the war. Presidential Proclamation 94 went further, though. It was in force throughout the union states and made it treasonous to merely speak out against the draft.

…all rebels and insurgents, their aiders and abettors, within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia draft or guilty of any disloyal practice affording aid and comfort to rebels against the authority of the United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by courts-martial or military commissions; second, that the writ of habeas corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now or hereafter during the rebellion shall be imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority or by the sentence of any court-martial or military commission…

You can read more here about Lincoln and civil liberties in war time.

Coincidentally, Sept. 24 is also the day in 1789 when Congress established the Supreme Court, which was created to protect the key rights Lincoln suspended nearly four score later.

— Paul Tosto

  • Robert Moffitt

    Not one of American democracy’s brightest moments, to be sure, but considering the crisis of the day, perhaps not surprising. Look at the rules we are willing to bend, break and ignore today in the name of “national security.”

  • jon

    Ah habeas corpus one of the many things I learned about back in school.

    I also learned Pluto was a planet.

    Corpus only applies if you are determined to not be an “enemy combatant”

    And Pluto isn’t a planet.

    Sad how little has changed in 150 years.

  • D. Gray

    jon, you should have clicked the link and learned something instead of speaking from ignorance. Lincoln and his military officers detained civilians and denied them habeas, and continued to deny habeas even after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled against them. A more flagrant breach of the Constitution so many people claim to honor but so few actually understand it would be difficult to imagine. Lincoln claimed that he had to break one law in order to preserve all the others. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.