The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties

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

6

Numbers and Definitions

Most military arrests of civilians did not involve torture or prejudice against an ethnic group, but historians nevertheless generally regard them as a dark chapter in the history of the Lincoln administration. How dark a chapter is a question best answered by showing how many victims were arrested. Scholars have differed in their estimates, but no historian or commentator ever maintained that the number was trifling. No one has put the figure below ten thousand. Most have put it higher than that. In the years immediately following the war, the estimate stood at its highest. As it turns out, that high estimate appears as near as any to being correct.


History of Estimates of the Aggregate Number of Arrests

Just after the Civil War, The American Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1865 stated that the total number of military arrests in the North had been thirty-eight thousand. This publication had followed the issue closely throughout the war in articles written under the heading "Habeas Corpus". In their final article on the subject, the editors expressed shock and dismay: "The extent to which the arbitrary arrest of citizens without benefit of the writ of habeas corpus was carried, is indicated by the records of the Provost Marshal's office of Washington, which shows that from June, 1861, to January 1, 1866, the cases of some thirty-eight thousand prisoners have been reported to that office. Out of this vast number the Old Capitol prison shows upon its record that it has housed for longer or shorter periods sixty-five hundred prisoners of war, forty-five hundred real and fancied offenders against the State, and twenty-five hundred deserters and bounty jumpers." 1

My search for the exact source of the Cyclopaedia's figure proved fruitless. The two-volume Final Report . . . to the Secretary of War by the Provost Marshal General, published in 1866, the year the Provost Marshal General's Bureau

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The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Actions Without Precedent 3
  • 2 - Missouri and Martial Law 32
  • 3 - Low Tide for Liberty 51
  • 4 - Arrests Move South 75
  • 5 - The Dark Side of the Civil War 93
  • 6 - Numbers and Definitions 113
  • 7 - The Revival of International Law 139
  • 8 - The Irrelevance of the Milligan Decision 160
  • 9 - The Democratic Opposition 185
  • 10 - Lincoln and the Constitution 210
  • Epilogue 223
  • Notes 237
  • Index of Prisoners of State 269
  • Index 273
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