Missouri and Martial Law
Lincoln and his cabinet proved less vigorous in dealing with the West. The president suspended the writ of habeas corpus in places as remote from the Confederacy as Massachusetts six weeks before he made a similar move in the critical border state of Missouri. Yet Missouri surely merited closer attention. Unlike New England or any other state above Maryland, it was the scene of widespread popular revolt, guerrilla violence, and military campaigns from the beginning of the war to its end. But Lincoln, preoccupied with securing the nation's capital in the spring and with battles in Virginia in the summer, at first paid too little attention to the West. He failed to act with sufficient decisiveness to meet Missouri's extraordinary problems, and civil liberties in that state were severely restricted by local military commanders for months before the president did anything. Generals in the Western Department, like French and Brown in Florida, acted on their own.
On May 10, 1861, Captain Nathaniel P. Lyon took as prisoners a large body of Missouri militiamen at Camp Jackson who were allegedly poised to capture the St. Louis arsenal for the Confederacy. Later, Judge Samuel Treat, of the United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, issued a writ of habeas corpus for the release of one of the prisoners, Captain Emmett McDonald. General William S. Harney, the area's Union commander, responded to the writ on May 15, saying that despite a sincere desire "to sustain the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the State of Missouri,. . . I must take to what I am compelled to regard as the higher law, [and] even by so doing my conduct shall have the appearance of coming in conflict with the forms of law." This invocation of a higher law than the Constitution would surely have displeased the Republican administration in Washington, had it taken any notice at all. The country at large also paid little attention to this western fore