Should Civil Liberties Be Restricted During Times of War

Topics: President of the United States, Japanese American internment, Abraham Lincoln Pages: 5 (1571 words) Published: February 22, 2012
During America's most consequential wars, the United States government has restricted civil liberties of the American people despite the nation’s strong rooted foundation for preserving every citizen’s rights. When danger is an ever present factor for the nation due to war or conflict restrictions are often placed on some of the most basic freedoms and liberties. Perfect balancing of these restrictions is vital to the countries wellbeing. One of the most well-known examples of this type of restraint is Abraham Lincoln’s precedent of suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus and issuing martial law. Lincoln’s actions clearly violated the rights of the people that are guaranteed to them under the Constitution. While out of context it wouldn’t make much sense, the specific circumstance’s Abraham Lincoln was facing completely justified his unconstitutional orders. In retrospect we can now see how important Lincoln’s decisions were; If not for his actions the union may never have won the Civil War and history would have been irreparably altered. History repeated itself when following in Lincoln’s footstep’s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of over 100,000 people of Japanese descent in response to Japan’s attacks on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The country was in a state of panic and a response was needed to make Americans feel secure. Less than five decades later a similar attack devastated America. Similar to Roosevelt, George W. Bush was catapulted into taking responsive action after the September 11th terrorist attacks on U.S soil. His response was the Patriot Act. It was our founding fathers intentions for the people of these United States to be sheltered by liberty and freedom, however, it’s clear that later day presidents used a strong balance of discretion and justice for the sake of a greater good and national security. The government should be able to impede certain civil liberties should the situation arise where it is necessary as long as they use conscientious consideration to determine that it’s necessary for national security.

Habeas Corpus is a writ that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge. All US citizens were given this right when the constitution was initially drafted. This writ was maintained until the outbreak of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln suspended it in response to confederate attacks on Fort Sumter in April of 1861. His first concern was keeping a safe pathway between Washington and the rest of the northern states. If Maryland joined Virginia and seceded from the Union, the nation’s capital would be lost in the turmoil of the hostile south. In April 1861 tens of thousands southern sympathizers from Baltimore stopped Union troops from traveling to Washington. Lincoln was forced to suspend Habeas Corpus in areas along the route from the Capitol to Philadelphia so that union soldiers were able to arrest anyone who was causing a threat to public safety. Lincoln realized the importance of the north winning the Civil War. It was his duty as President of the United States to preserve the union at all costs. Without suspending Habeas Corpus there would be no way of controlling anti-union, southern sympathizers. Anti-war propaganda was dangerous to the spirits of Lincoln’s soldiers; Habeus corpus allowed for control of it.

Union leaders were not afraid to exert their newly claimed abilities. While running for governor, a former congressman named Clement Vallandigham was arrested by a military commander for advocating for negotiated peace by anti-war demonstrations. The risk of having an influential member of government persuading the population against war and demotivating them was too great for Lincoln’s cause. Vallandigham was convicted of treason and was confined for the entire extent of the war.

Later, in 1863 a draft was issued for the Union Army. Frustrated by their lack of motivation and their inability to pay a buyout, most of the working class...
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