Excerpt by John Dean

Allison's Wonderland
The world of LA's Dopest Attorney



How Does President Bush Compare with  Other Wartime Presidents

With Respect  to Free Speech Issues?


Excerpt by John Dean

For example, consider Lincoln's famous decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Lincoln made this decision in response to specific threats: He sought to address the widespread fear that Maryland was going to leave the Union, and knew that riots and disorder threatened troop movements to Washington, DC through Maryland. The result of his action was to prevent the judiciary from reviewing the arrest and imprisonment of individuals by the military.

In addition, while Lincoln initially acted unilaterally, he did not do so for long: He subsequently called a special session of Congress, which ratified his actions. It is hard even to imagine President Bush asking for this kind of ratification from Congress - the very Congress whose specific statutes he bypassed, and whose members he largely kept ignorant - with respect to the NSA surveillance program.

Lincoln's successors also draw on the more general precedent of Lincoln's aggressive prosecution of the war against the Confederacy, which knew few bounds. But in so doing, they utterly fail to recognize his sensitivity to civil liberties.
For instance, in May 1863, with the war well underway, General Ambrose Burnside, who commanded the Department of Ohio, ordered the arrest of Clement Vallandingham, a vocal opponent of Lincoln's. Vallandingham had publicly criticized the President, his Emancipation Proclamation, the military draft, and the war itself, encouraging soldiers to desert the Union forces to "hurl King Lincoln from his throne." When the Chicago Times added its own inflammatory coverage, Burnside shut down the newspaper as well. However, Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin reports that Lincoln, rather than supporting Burnside's activities, was deeply troubled, and raised the matter with his Cabinet.

Secretary of War William Seward (Lincoln's Rumsfeld) -- believed by many historians to be the person who convinced Lincoln to suspend habeas corpus - was shrewd enough to realize the arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent had gone too far, and he told the Cabinet so. In the end, the Cabinet unanimously agreed that Vallandingham's arrest had been improper. (Rather than undercut his general's authority, Lincoln simply exiled Vallandingham from the Union, sending him to live within the Confederacy.)

Goodwin also reports that when Lincoln was asked to support closing down the Chicago Times, he rejected the idea. He explained that those behind the idea did "not fully comprehend the dangers of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens."