THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
IN COUNTRIES WHERE ANGLO-SAXON CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES rule, wartime usually provokes the controversy of whether in emergencies the government should, or even could, tamper with its citizens' fundamental rights. The Confederacy, though a nation of emergencies, was remarkably free of this problem, for its state rights heritage had almost settled the question before it arose. The only liberty actively threatened was the right of habeas corpus. By early 1862 the nation seemed falling apart. The likelihood that the twelve-month volunteers would refuse to re-enlist endangered the nation's defenses, conscription did not yet exist, and a number of cities contained lawless elements. As early as 1861 reports began to reach Congress that some commanders already were suspending civil rights as the occasion demanded.
To cover such emergencies Congress on February 27, 1862, and apparently at Davis's unofficial request, hurriedly allowed the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in cities, towns, and military districts when in his judgment they were in such danger of attack that proper defense required martial law. 1 Wigfall had assured his fellow senators that the law would seldom be applied and that it was primarily intended to cover Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the surrounding country; Davis immediately placed these areas under martial law with the suspension of all civil jurisdiction. Richmondites were so excited that the next day the Senate did not convene and the House adjourned after the opening prayer. Davis, however, was not fazed and on March 1 extended the suspension to Richmond and the area ten miles around it.
Congress soon was able to witness martial law in action. General John H. Winder, in charge of military affairs in Richmond, used his provost marshal "Plug Uglies" rather arbitrarily and members