September 24, 1862 (Wednesday)
September of 1862 is most often remembered for the Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation released just after. There was, however, another proclamation issued two days following. While the first was meant to set men free, the second was quite the opposite.
The proclamation stated simply that “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.”
It also suspected the writ of habeas corpus for anyone suspected of the above charges.
Like the Emancipation Proclamation, this wasn’t really anything new. Early on in the war, Lincoln suspended the writ, but left it up to the Secretary of War to decide when it should specifically be suspended. According to the Constitution, the President does indeed have the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in times of rebellion and invasion. He does not, however, have the right to allow someone else to decide when and where to enforce it. The responsibility and blame must be squarely upon his shoulders.
So instead of picking and choosing places such as Missouri or Kentucky, Maryland or Northern Virginia, Lincoln painted a much broader stroke, ordering indefinite confinement for those assumed to be guilty. There would be no civil trials for those accused – only military tribunals.
Orders went to the War Department to appoint a Provost Marshal General, who would be based in Washington. Other provost marshals would be scattered throughout all of the states.
Though either Proclamation could have easily stood on its own without the support of the other, the public largely viewed them together, being released only two days apart. To many, the rights of the white man were being taken away to expand the rights of the black man.
Many in the Republican party were disheartened by this one-two punch so close to the November election. Soon, a shift would be seen, swinging states like Pennsylvania and Illinois towards the Democrats.
Congress had been left out completely, as was the judicial branch of government. Lincoln’s newest proclamation usurped the power of both, creating what many saw as an out and out dictatorship.
Certainly, the power was there and only time would tell how it was abused. Could the Federal government really tell the difference between “disloyal acts” and Constitutionally-protected dissent? How would they decide what was subversion and what was simply not supporting the administration?
For the time being, the answers would have to wait. Most of the public was still focused upon the Emancipation Proclamation.
That night, though the windy streets of Washington, a crowd of supporters led by the Marine Band took to the streets, and marched to the White House. There, they demanded a speech from Lincoln. When he appeared, he was met with loud and enthusiastic huzzahs.
Lincoln said that he did not know exactly why they had dropped in for a visit, but he assumed that it was because of the Emancipation Proclamation.
“What I did,” explained the President, “I did after a very full deliberation, and under a very heavy and solemn sense of responsibility. I can only trust in God I have made no mistake. I shall make no attempt on this occasion to sustain what I have done or said by any comment. It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment and, maybe, take action upon it.”1
- Sources: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6; Freedom Of Speech: A Reference Guide To The United States Constitution by Keith Werhan; White House Studies Compendium, Volume 5 by Robert W. Watson; Lincoln, His Life and Times by Henry Jarvis Raymond; Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by Allen C. Guelzo; Lincoln’s Darkest Year by William Marvel. [↩]