Tag Archives: U.S. Constitution

The Chicago Times Suppression

June 3, 1863 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside responded to administration criticism of Clement Vallandigham’s arrest and conviction last month by closing the Chicago Times.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Burnside, commanding the Federal Military Department of the Ohio (which included jurisdiction over Illinois), issued a general order: “On account of the repeated expression of disloyal and incendiary sentiments, the publication of the newspaper known as the Chicago Times is hereby suppressed.”

At 3 a.m. on June 3, Federal cavalry rode up to the Times building, with two infantry companies from Camp Douglas arriving an hour later in support. Troops seized control of the building, stopped the presses, destroyed newspapers already printed, and announced that the Times was out of business.

Burnside’s order outraged many northerners, especially since it came so soon after his controversial arrest of Vallandigham for speaking out against the war. Chicago Mayor F.C. Sherman presided over a meeting held by city leaders at noon. Expressing outrage that Burnside had trampled upon the constitutional freedom of the press, the attendees unanimously demanded that President Lincoln revoke the Times’s closure.

That afternoon, the Illinois legislature in Springfield condemned Burnside’s suppression. In the evening, some “20,000 loyal citizens,” including many supporters of Lincoln’s administration, gathered in Chicago’s Court House Square to hear speeches denouncing military suppression of constitutional liberties and cheering the legislature’s condemnation.

The next morning, Federal Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton acted upon President Lincoln’s suggestion and revoked Burnside’s order. Stanton also directed Burnside, through Lincoln, to stop issuing such orders without prior War Department approval. But the Chicago Times closure became yet another rallying point for northerners to criticize Lincoln’s abuse of civil liberties and his conduct of the war.

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Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 634; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 522-24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 360-62; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

 

Lincoln Banishes Vallandigham

May 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to banish former Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham to the South for voicing anti-war views that the administration considered dangerous.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Vallandigham had been an outspoken opponent of Lincoln and the war since the conflict began. He was a prominent leader of the “Peace” Democrats, or “Copperheads,” in Ohio, where he had narrowly lost his congressional seat due to Republicans redrawing his district’s boundaries.

On May 1, Vallandigham delivered a speech to thousands of spectators at a party rally in Mount Vernon. He asserted that peace with the South could be negotiated, but Lincoln and his Republican Party refused to negotiate. This, Vallandigham said, was because they no longer sought to preserve the Union, but rather to free slaves and enslave whites by destroying civil liberties.

Vallandigham declared that the war would end only if soldiers began deserting in droves and the people hurled “King Lincoln from his throne.” He warned pro-war New Englanders that if they continued supporting the conflict, western states might secede and rejoin the South.

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio, had sent two staff members to listen to Vallandigham’s speech. After receiving their report on what the former congressman said, Burnside directed his aide-de-camp to take a company of Federal soldiers aboard a special train and arrest Vallandigham at his Dayton home.

At 2:30 a.m. on the 5th, the troops broke down Vallandigham’s door and pulled him out of bed amidst the screams of his wife and sister-in-law. The Federals dragged Vallandigham to the waiting railcar, which took him to Burnside’s headquarters at Cincinnati, where he was jailed.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Federals charged Vallandigham with violating Burnside’s General Order No. 38, issued on April 13. The order stated that “the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department,” and anyone committing such “treason, expressed or implied,” would be seized and brought before a military tribunal.

Burnside claimed he had the authority to enforce this order based on Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus last September, under which anyone expressing “disloyalty” or discouraging support for the war effort could be subject to military trial, regardless of the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression.

A military commission assembled on May 6 and tried Vallandigham for:

“Publicly expressing, in violation of General Orders No. 38, from Head-quarters Department of the Ohio, sympathy for those in arms against the Government of the United States, and declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions, with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the Government in its efforts to suppress an unlawful rebellion.”

According to witnesses’ testimony–

“… he addressed a large meeting of citizens at Mount Vernon, and did utter sentiments in words, or in effect, as follows: declaring the present war ‘a wicked, cruel, and unnecessary war’; ‘a war not being waged for the preservation of the Union’; ‘a war for the purpose of crushing out liberty and creating a despotism’; ‘a war for the freedom of the blacks and the enslavement of the whites’; stating that, ‘if the Administration had so wished, the war could have been honorably terminated months ago’; characterizing the (Burnside’s) military order ‘as a base usurpation of arbitrary authority’; declaring ‘that he was at all times and upon all occasions resolved to do what he could to defeat the attempts now made to build up a monarchy upon the ruins of our free government.’”

Vallandigham refused to enter a plea, arguing that a military tribunal had no authority where civilian courts functioned. The commissioners convicted Vallandigham the next day, but they expressed reluctance to execute him by firing squad. They ultimately recommended sending him to confinement at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, for two years or “during the continuance of the war.” Burnside approved the sentence, declaring that speeches such as Vallandigham’s were “weakening the power of the Government (to put down) an unlawful rebellion.”

Vallandigham’s conviction sparked protests throughout the North. Democrats and even some Republicans expressed outrage that someone could be thrown in prison for simply delivering a speech, and nearly every member of President Lincoln’s cabinet opposed the action. Nevertheless, Lincoln gave Burnside his “kind assurance of support” after learning of Vallandigham’s conviction in a newspaper.

When the Chicago Times backed Vallandigham and attacked the Lincoln administration, Burnside closed the newspaper down. An outraged mob burned the office of the Dayton Journal, the Republican newspaper in Vallandigham’s home town.

The pro-Democrat New York Atlas declared that “the tyranny of military despotism” displayed by Vallandigham’s conviction proved “the weakness, folly, oppression, mismanagement, and general wickedness of the (administration).” The New York Herald feared this was only the first of “a series of fatal steps which must terminate at last in bloody anarchy.”

Another Democrat noted that Vallandigham’s vocal opposition to the war was mild compared to then-Congressman Lincoln’s blistering speech in the House of Representatives condemning President James K. Polk and the Mexican War in 1849. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, a prominent pro-war Democrat whose support the Lincoln administration needed, issued a statement on the incident:

“The transaction involved a series of offenses against our most sacred rights. It interfered with the freedom of speech; it violated our rights to be secure in our homes against unreasonable searches and seizures; it pronounced sentence without a trial, save one which was a mockery, which insulted as well as wronged. The perpetrators now seek to impose punishment, not for an offense against law, but for a disregard of an invalid order, put forth in utter violation of the principles of civil liberty.

“If this proceeding is approved by the Government and sanctioned by the people, it is not merely a step toward revolution, it is revolution; it will not only lead to military despotism, it establishes military despotism. If it is upheld, our liberties are overthrown. The safety of our persons, the security of our property, will hereafter depend upon the arbitrary wills of such military rulers as may be placed over us, while our constitutional guarantees will be broken down. Even now the Governors and the courts of some of the great Western States have sunk into insignificance before the despotic powers claimed and exercised by military men who have been sent into their borders.”

Losing Seymour seriously jeopardized the administration’s hopes for a political alliance between Republicans and War Democrats.

On the 16th, a protest meeting took place in Albany, New York, headed by New York Central Railroad President Erastus Corning. The attendees consisted mostly of state Democrats supportive of Governor Seymour, and they adopted resolutions calling Vallandigham’s conviction a “blow… against the spirit of our laws and Constitution,” and the end of “the liberty of speech and of the press, the right of trial by jury, the law of evidence, and the privilege of habeas corpus.” The resolutions stated that upholding the conviction would be “a fatal blow at the supremacy of law, and the authority of the State and Federal Constitutions.”

Vallandigham’s arrest and conviction raised serious questions about whether a civilian could be seized by military force for giving a speech, and whether a military court could override a civilian court by trying and convicting said civilian. Former Senator George H. Pugh of Ohio applied for a writ of habeas corpus on Vallandigham’s behalf, but Judge Humphrey H. Leavitt of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of Ohio denied it. Citing the law passed by Congress on March 3 authorizing the president to suspend habeas corpus, Leavitt ruled that the president’s war powers included arresting Vallandigham for incendiary speech and subjecting him to military trial.

Lincoln recognized the political problem of such a harsh punishment, and so he sought a compromise by publicly supporting Vallandigham’s arrest but commuting his sentence. Lincoln ordered the former congressman banished to the Confederacy, and he also directed Secretary of War Stanton to reopen the Chicago Times. Federal cavalry soon escorted Vallandigham to Tennessee and handed him over to Confederate officials, who were reluctant to take him.

Meanwhile, protests continued throughout the month. Petitions condemning the “arbitrary arrest, illegal trial, and inhuman imprisonment of Hon. C.L. Vallandigham” circulated in Ohio. New Jersey Governor Joel Parker told an audience in Newark that the conviction and deportation “were arbitrary and illegal acts. The whole proceeding was wrong in principle and dangerous in its tendency.” Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, a Republican and Lincoln ally, alleged that the president’s actions emboldened Copperheads in his state. Despite such mass indignation, Lincoln refused Burnside’s offer to resign.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19965-76, 19978-86; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281-82, 286, 289; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8898, 8921-31, 9361; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 632-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 288, 292, 299, 301, 303; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 522-24; Lincoln, Abraham, Abraham Lincoln Complete Works, Vol. Two (New York, NY: The Century Co., 1920), edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, p. 239; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 349, 353-55, 357-60; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 596-97; Pittman, Benn, The Trials for Treason at Indianapolis, Disclosing the Plans for Establishing a North-Western Confederacy (Cincinnati, OH: Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, 1865), p. 253; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; Vallandigham, Clement Laird, The Trial Hon. Clement L. Vallandigham by a Military Commission: and the Proceedings Under His Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati, OH: Rickey and Carroll, 1863), p. 11, 23, 33-34, 40, 259-72; Vallandigham, James L., A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, MD: Turnbull Brothers, 1872), p. 288-93; “Vallandigham Meeting in Newark,” The New York Times, 31 May 1863; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 188-89; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

The Suspension of Habeas Corpus

September 24, 1862 – After issuing an order freeing all slaves in the Confederate states, President Abraham Lincoln issued a second order curtailing freedoms in the northern states.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the same day that the Emancipation Proclamation was published, Lincoln issued an edict declaring that “all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting military drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice affording aid and comfort to the 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 commission.” This order also suspended the writ of habeas corpus for those suspected of perpetrating such activities.

Lincoln issued this directive in conjunction with the provisions of the Militia Act, which gave the War Department arbitrary (and some argued unconstitutional) powers to arrest and imprison anyone suspected of interfering with the military draft. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had caused an uproar by ordering the arrest of hundreds of citizens, especially in traditionally Democratic districts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

In addition to this order, the new position of provost marshal general was created within the War Department. This person was to work with the provost marshals within the states:

“To arrest all deserters, whether regulars, volunteers, or militia, and send them to the nearest military commander or military post, where they can be cared for and sent to their respective regiments; to arrest, upon the warrant of the Judge Advocate, all disloyal persons subject to arrest under the orders of the War Department; to inquire into and report treasonable practices, seize stolen or embezzled property of the Government, detect spies of the enemy, and perform such other duties as may be enjoined on them by the War Department.”

The provost marshals were authorized to force citizens into helping them do their jobs, and military commissions were established to try those arrested for such infractions, regardless of whether civil courts functioned in those states. This threatened to place the North under military rule. Hundreds of people were arrested, including five newspaper editors, three judges, and several politicians.

This order served to silence dissent against not only the Emancipation Proclamation, but the war and even the Lincoln administration as well. Many expressed outrage that this order was issued alongside the order freeing slaves, believing that white rights were being curtailed while black rights were being expanded. In addition, many feared the ramifications of allowing the Federal government to infringe so heavily upon constitutional liberties.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19866-82; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8027; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 215; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 270-71; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 493; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362

Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan

March 6, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln submitted a message asking Congress to consider a plan of gradual, compensated slave emancipation.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In his message, Lincoln called for a joint resolution declaring “that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in it’s (sic) discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences public and private, produced by such a change of system.” No U.S. president had ever submitted such an extraordinary legislative proposal to Congress before.

Lincoln asserted that the plan would help keep border slave states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) from seceding. He wrote that “the leaders of the existing rebellion entertain the hope that this Government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say, ‘The Union for which we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.’ To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion, and the initiation of emancipation deprives them of it and of all the States initiating it.”

If the border states would “surrender on fair terms their own interest in Slavery rather than see the Union dissolved,” Lincoln believed it would hasten the war’s end. In this way, Lincoln argued for ending slavery not for moral reasons, but to preserve the Union and destroy the “proposed confederacy.”

To those concerned that such a plan would be too expensive, Lincoln argued that “less than one half-day’s cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at four hundred dollars per head,” and 87 days’ worth of expenses would compensate for all the remaining slaves in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Lincoln maintained that such a plan was constitutional because it served the “general welfare,” with each state being able to decide for itself whether or not to take part. Opponents quickly countered that individual states could not enter into special relationships with the Federal government, such as one that would give the slave states a financial benefit that free states could not enjoy, even though they would be helping to fund said benefit.

The president urged the border state congressmen to support this measure because it was “impossible to foresee all the incidents, which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it.” This was an implied warning that if they rejected the plan, involuntary emancipation without compensation might someday be imposed.

In a meeting with Lincoln four days later, the border state congressmen questioned the constitutionality of the plan, inferred that Federal coercion toward emancipation would be resisted, and expressed fears that freeing slaves would harm race relations.

Lincoln countered that the plan “would not be half as onerous, as would be an equal sum, raised now, for the indefinite prossecution (sic) of the war.” In a letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln stated that “we should urge it persuasively, and not menacingly, upon the South.” Nevertheless, congressmen from the border slave states maintained strong opposition to any Federal interference with slavery.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14906-32; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7306-17; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 117; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 459-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179, 184-85; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 498-99; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 270; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162

The Federal Crackdown on Maryland Secessionism

September 11, 1861 – Secretary of War Simon Cameron issued orders to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding Federal forces around Baltimore, to use military force to prevent the Maryland legislature from approving an act of secession.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Marylanders seeking to secede from the Union had been subdued by Federal military occupation forces earlier in the summer, but the Confederate victory at Bull Run had revived the secession movement. With legislators planning to assemble in an extra session, Cameron ordered Banks: “General: The passage of any act of secession by the Legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary all or any part of the members must be arrested. Exercise your own judgment as to the time and manner, but do the work effectively.”

On Banks’s direction, the Federal provost marshal made numerous arrests over the next five days for alleged disloyalty to the U.S. Federal troops occupied Baltimore and surrounded Frederick, site of the upcoming legislative session. Among those arrested:

  • Eleven men of the 22-man Maryland Senate
  • Forty men of the 73-man Maryland House of Representatives
  • Baltimore Mayor George Brown
  • S. Teacle Wallis (author of an essay defending the constitutional rights of Marylanders)
  • Baltimore Exchange editor Francis Key Howard (grandson of Francis Scott Key)
  • The South editor Thomas Hall
  • Annapolis Republican editor Elihu Riley
  • U.S. Congressman Henry May

President Lincoln defended arresting the suspects by stating that there was “tangible and unmistakable evidence” of their “substantial and unmistakable complicity with those in armed rebellion.” However, the Lincoln administration never produced said evidence. Nevertheless, the arrests left the legislature without a quorum, forcing the remaining lawmakers to adjourn without considering secession.

Those arrested were shipped to a military prison established at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. They were detained without trial for over two months (some as long as 14 months), long enough to allow for the election of a new Unionist state legislature in November. This ensured that Washington would not be surrounded by enemy states.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5887; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 75-76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-20; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 289; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 74; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

The New State of Kanawha

August 20, 1861 – Delegates to the second session of the Second Wheeling Convention approved a measure seceding from Virginia and bundling the state’s northwestern counties into the new state of Kanawha.

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The delegates reconvened their legally questionable convention at Wheeling, 10 miles west of the Pennsylvania border, after adjourning in June. While the members had previously considered declaring the Virginia government null and void because it had seceded from the Union, the members in this session instead proposed an Ordinance of Separation from Virginia. Delegates set up a Committee on the Division of the State that included one member from each of the 35 northwestern counties being represented.

The committee submitted its Division of the State Ordinance on August 13, which shifted the focus of debate from whether to secede from Virginia to how many counties would secede. The ordinance absorbed all Virginia counties in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Potomac River into the new state of New Virginia (later renamed Allegheny).

Most delegates supported forming the new state, but some urged postponement for now. Postponement was rejected a week later when the majority approved an “ordinance of dismemberment.” Delegates also reached a compromise on the number of counties to secede; they would begin with 39 counties of northwestern Virginia and add any other adjacent county if its residents voted to join.

Extensive debate took place over what the new state’s name should be, as many delegates did not like the names “New Virginia” or “Allegheny” proposed the previous week. A suggestion of “West Virginia” was also rejected. Finally, the name “Kanawha” was approved by a vote of 48 to 27.

The secession of “Kahawha” from the rest of Virginia violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution (“no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”). But the delegates approved the move nonetheless and resolved to submit the ordinance to the people in a popular election scheduled for October 24.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816-17; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

Scrutiny of Northern Anti-War Sentiment is Heightened

August 17, 1861 – In the North, both the government and the public stepped up scrutiny of anti-war sentiment this month, as wartime demands threatened constitutional guarantees.

On August 12, the New York Daily News published a list of 154 newspapers throughout the northern states that opposed President Lincoln’s war policies. Other newspapers quickly picked up the list and printed it themselves. Four days later, a grand jury indicted the Daily News along with the Day Book, Freeman’s Journal, Journal of Commerce, and Brooklyn Eagle on charges of disloyalty.

The grand jury, headed by Charles Gould, had been called to decide how to suppress pro-Confederate newspapers because they were “encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government by expressing sympathy and agreement with them, the duty of acceding to their demands, and dissatisfaction with the employment of force to overcome them.”

The U.S. Constitution | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The U.S. Constitution | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Jury members acknowledged that “free governments allow liberty of speech and of the press to their utmost limit,” but they contended that these newspapers exceeded that limit. The members stated, “If the utterance of such language in the streets or through the press is not a crime, then there is a great defect in our laws, or they were not made for such an emergency… the conduct of these disloyal presses is, of course, condemned and abhorred by all loyal men,” but the grand jury sought “to learn from the Court that it is also subject to indictment and condign punishment.”

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair issued orders declaring that “none of the newspapers published in New York city which were lately presented by the grand jury as dangerous, from their disloyalty, shall be forwarded in the mails.” Federal marshals at Philadelphia awaited the arrival of the New York train and seized all copies of the New York Daily News bound not only for Philadelphia but also for Washington, Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, and Louisville.

Other newspapers suppressed by government decree included the Christian Observer for publishing an article calling the conflict an “unholy war.” Several newspapers in Canton, Ohio were also closed down for alleged disloyalty. Democratic newspapers became prime targets for government scrutiny.

Northerners seemed to support this suppression, as many people took action when government officials did not. Around 12:45 p.m. on August 12, an angry mob broke into the offices of the Bangor (Maine) Democrat, destroyed the printing presses, and burned the remaining office equipment in the street. The Democrat did not resume publication until 1863.

In Pennsylvania, Unionists invaded the offices of the Democratic Jeffersonian in West Chester and destroyed the printing presses, office equipment, and business records. Nobody was arrested or charged with the crime. A mob also attacked the Sentinel’s offices in Easton for allegedly expressing Confederate sympathies. The crowd threw the printing presses and other office equipment into the street and destroyed it.

In Massachusetts, a mob dragged the editor of the Essex County Democrat out of his Haverhill home. When he refused to cooperate with his kidnappers, “he was covered with a coat of tar and feathers, and ridden on a rail through the town.” He was forced to swear that he would “never again write or publish articles against the North and in favor of secession.”

On August 24, Unionists led by showman P.T. Barnum disrupted a “peace meeting” in Stepney, Connecticut. Both sides brandished pistols until Barnum invited any “secessionist” to speak out and be “given a fair hearing, provided they say nothing treasonable.” Since the term “treasonable” was left open for varying interpretations, no secessionists or Democrats accepted Barnum’s offer.

After the meeting, some 1,500 people stormed the offices of the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Advertiser & Farmer, which had printed editorials calling Lincoln a “despot” and accusing him of exceeding his constitutional authority, much like Republican newspapers had done when President James Buchanan was in office. No arrests were made for destroying the printing presses and business records; the newspaper went out of business.

People became targets along with newspapers. Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered the arrest of Pierce Butler in Philadelphia for allegedly corresponding with Confederates. Federal marshals seized Butler and illegally searched his trunks, drawers, and papers. Butler was immediately sent without due process to confinement at Fort Lafayette, New York under armed guard. No formal charges were filed against him until he was eventually freed five weeks later.

Federal authorities also arrested several people in Washington for supposedly consorting with the enemy, including Mrs. Philip Phillips and Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Prominent Detective Allan Pinkerton apprehended Mrs. Greenhow. Meanwhile, Unionists broke up a meeting of alleged secessionists in Saybrook, Connecticut, and peace meetings at Middletown, New Jersey and Newton, Long Island, New York, were cancelled.

Unionist articles published in various newspapers helped to incite the masses against any opposition to the war. An example was an issue of Harper’s Weekly that contained a sketch of Confederate troops bayoneting wounded Federals on the Bull Run battlefield. This was the war’s first atrocity article, which alleged that “the savages who fought under the Confederate Flag systematically butchered the wounded, and this not only in obedience to their own fiendish instincts, but by order of their officers.”

The passions on both sides, along with enhanced government and public scrutiny of those who opposed the war, would continue to intensify in the coming months.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 498; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19648; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110-12; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 23-30