The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties

By Mark E. Neely Jr. | Go to book overview

9

The Democratic Opposition

The Milligan decision provided a victory after the fact for opponents of the internal security measures taken by the Lincoln administration. It was all the more surprising and telling because it came from a Republican court and yet judged a Republican president harshly. It stands to reason that its sources must have included something other than Democratic denunciation of the Lincoln administration, and indeed a survey of the debate over the issue of civil liberties in the Civil War reveals that some doubts had been expressed on the Republican side all along. But naturally, the main opposition to the policy came from the Democratic party. They proved slow to criticize at first, lacking leadership and motivated by patriotic concern to preserve the Union. Eventually, their protests were heard, but a survey of Democratic criticism reveals a lack of depth and sincerity.


Early Criticism

Northern public debate on the question began in July 1861 only after Taney's pronouncement on the Merryman case was disseminated. Before that, little was heard. Even the rabidly anti-Republican New York Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register made no comment on the first order suspending the writ around Washington. On May 11, in fact, the paper stated: "The North stands as one man in saying that Washington, as the Capital of the country, shall be protected, and that Whatever is necessary to this end must and shall be done." 1

The situation was much the same in the West. When John C. Frémont declared martial law in St. Louis, Democratic newspapers in neighboring Illinois, which depended on the Missouri city's press for much of their material, uttered no dissent. Nor did Frémont's wider-reaching martial-law proclamation of August 30 prompt strenuous objections beyond the border states. On September 2, the Illinois State Register, the Democratic newspaper in Springfield

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