Tag Archives: William W. Holden

Davis Urges Suspension of Habeas Corpus

February 3, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis delivered a message to Congress asking for the authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, Federal military forces had begun various campaigns that included looting, pillaging, and plundering private property in the South. This had caused widespread disorder that required attention from the Confederate government. Consequently, Davis requested the same authorization that President Abraham Lincoln had assumed (without congressional consent) to apprehend and jail citizens suspected of disloyalty without trial.

In his message, Davis noted the “discontent, disaffection, and disloyalty” pervading the Confederacy, partly due to the demoralizing effects of Federal military occupation. Davis also alleged that such sentiments were rising among those who “have enjoyed quiet and safety at home.” He stated that suspending the writ was necessary to combat the rising number of Federal occupiers and Confederate dissidents, both of which tended to demoralize the people and encourage potential race wars between slaves and masters. Davis wrote:

“Must the independence for which we are contending, the safety of the defenseless families of the men who have fallen in battle and of those who still confront the invader, be put in peril for the sake of conformity to the technicalities of the law of treason?… Having thus presented some of the threatening evils which exist, it remains to suggest the remedy. And in my judgment that is to be found only in the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”

Although the Lincoln administration had suspended the writ long ago and jailed thousands of anti-war dissidents without trial, this concept was still controversial for the Confederacy, which had been founded on the principle that states’ rights checked a potentially overreaching national government. As such, many members of the Confederate Congress opposed Davis’s request. Conversely, supporters argued that such a measure was necessary to suppress draft opposition and other “disloyal” practices.

After nearly two weeks of acrimonious debate, Congress finally approved authorizing Davis to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The bill included a specific list of treasonable offenses, thus limiting Davis’s ability to act arbitrarily as much as possible. To further appease detractors, Davis only had suspension power until August 2.

Nevertheless, fierce critics remained, including Davis’s own vice president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Stephens declared that “constitutional liberty will go down, never to rise again on this continent” if Davis was empowered to suspend the writ. He called the bill a “blow at the very ‘vitals of liberty’” and accused Davis of–

“… aiming at absolute power… Far better that our country should be overrun by the enemy, our cities sacked and burned, and our land laid desolate, than that the people should thus suffer the citadel of their liberties to be entered and taken by professed friends.”

Despite opposition from Stephens and both of Georgia’s Confederate senators, the state legislature approved a resolution supporting this and all laws designed to win the war. Even so, the opposition to suspending the writ of habeas corpus remained so strong that Davis rarely exercised the power.

However, passage of the law prompted William W. Holden to suspend publication of his Unionist newspaper, the Raleigh (North Carolina) Standard. Many Confederate officials had targeted Holden as a traitor for urging southerners to rejoin the Union, and Davis could have ordered him arrested and jailed without charges.

Holden declared that “if I could not continue to print as a free man I would not print at all.” Holden then announced that he would oppose Governor Zebulon Vance in the upcoming election, but Vance turned many of Holden’s supporters against him by accusing him of treason.

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References

Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 950; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 394, 398; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 460-61, 465; 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. 435, 692-93, 697-98; 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), Q164

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Andrew Johnson’s Presidential Restoration Plan

May 29, 1865 – President Andrew Johnson issued two proclamations designed to continue former President Abraham Lincoln’s plan to restore the Confederates states to the U.S.

The “Amnesty Proclamation” pardoned anyone involved in the “existing rebellion” if they swore to “henceforth” fully support, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution, abide by Federal laws, and acknowledge the end of slavery. This generally followed the model Lincoln had established, but while Lincoln had created six classes of southerners ineligible for amnesty, Johnson added eight more. Ineligible southerners included those who:

  • Held civil or diplomatic offices in the Confederacy
  • Resigned from the U.S. Congress or a U.S. judicial post to join the Confederacy
  • Resigned from the U.S. military “to evade duty in resisting the rebellion”
  • Mistreated Federal prisoners of war
  • Served in a rank of colonel or higher in the Confederate army
  • Served in a rank of lieutenant or higher in the Confederate navy
  • Had been educated at a U.S. military academy before joining the Confederacy
  • Served as governors of Confederate states
  • Left their homes in loyal states to live in Confederate states
  • Engaged in destroying Federal commerce
  • Violated prior oaths [1]
17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: learnnc.org

17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: learnnc.org

Johnson also excluded every southerner owning more than $20,000 in taxable property. He sought to punish aristocrats—especially wealthy slaveholders—whom he believed had persuaded fellow southerners to support secession. Besides these exclusions, Johnson restored all property to southerners except for slaves. Voting rights would be restored when voters swore loyalty to the U.S. and accepted the end of slavery.[2]

Disqualified southerners were required to personally request a pardon from Johnson and “realize the enormity of their crime,” whereupon “such clemency will be liberally extended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States.”[3]

A second proclamation, drafted by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, restored civil government in North Carolina and named William W. Holden as provisional governor. Holden would temporarily rule the state while Federal duties such as tariff collection and mail delivery resumed.[4]

Holden was authorized to organize and schedule an election for delegates to a convention that would draft a new state constitution. The election would take place once 10 percent of the state’s eligible voters (according to the 1860 census) had sworn loyalty to the U.S. Convention delegates would be chosen among the eligible voters. Since blacks had been ineligible to vote in 1860, they were excluded from becoming voters or convention delegates.[5]

The convention delegates were required to:

  • Reject the ordinance of secession
  • Repudiate the Confederate debt
  • Ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery [6]

They also determined requirements for permanent voting and office-holding rights, which had traditionally been state, not Federal, prerogatives. After drafting the new constitution, it would become law when 10 percent of registered voters approved it in a general election. Once the constitution took effect, elections would be held to fill local, state, and Federal offices.[7]

The “North Carolina Proclamation” violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government for each state because Holden was not a popularly elected governor, and 10 percent of the voters would overrule the other 90. Nevertheless, Lincoln had used this plan to restore Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas to the Union, and Johnson also used it to restore the remaining conquered states (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas) during the summer of 1865.[8]

Like most events of the post-Civil War era, politics played a major role in shaping these proclamations.

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[1] Ferrell, Claudine L., Reconstruction (Greenwood, 2003), p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 690-91; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32

[2] CivilWarHome.com/presidentalreconstructionpartII.html (2002); Ferrell, Reconstruction, p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 690-91; Stewart, David O., Impeached (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2009), p. 17; Woods, Jr., Thomas E., The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004), p. 78

[3] Ferrell, Claudine L., Reconstruction (Greenwood, 2003), p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 690-91

[4] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 690-91; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32

[5] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 690-91; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32

[6] Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32; Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History (Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books Corp., 1993), p. 294

[7] Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32; Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History (Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books Corp., 1993), p. 294

[8] CivilWarHome.com/presidentalreconstructionpartII.html (2002); Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32; Napolitano, Andrew P., Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America (Thomas Nelson, Kindle Edition, 2009); Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 361