During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln faced many challenging situations. One of them came when General Burnside arrested former Ohio congressman Clement Vallandigham. Burnside was in charge of the Department of Ohio. Burnside had issued General Order No. 38.
The General Order said: “… the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department….” Persons violating the order were to be subject to arrest and trial in military court on the charge of treason. The penalty for treason was death.
Vallandigham was a demagogue. He proceeded to incite a crowd to a frenzy with passionate denunciations of a failed war. He railed of defeat saying the conflict would end only if soldiers deserted en masse. He said the other way to end the war was for the people to act; to “hurl King Lincoln from his throne.”
Lincoln felt compelled to support Burnside. But Burnside’s action was not politically popular. It had the potential to fracture the Union coalition. Lincoln supported Vallandigham’s arrest. After the trial he commuted the sentence. He banished Vallandigham to the Confederate side of the lines. The Army conveyed Vallandigham to Tennessee under a flag of truce and deposited him there.
The action allowed him to support General Burnside. It also minimized violation of civil liberties necessitated by the war. The Chicago Times was a newspaper critical of Lincoln. Its missives were frequently close to the edge of Burnside’s General Order. Lincoln was urged to suppress the Chicago Times which he declined to do.
Lincoln in declining to act against the Chicago Times responded this way, “I fear you do not comprehend the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go 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.”
The Vallandigham decision needed to be explained to the citizenry or it would be corrosive to the Union. Here is what Lincoln wrote. The Constitution specifically provides for the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus “in cases of rebellion or insurrection”.
Vallandigham was not arrested for his criticism of the administration. Rather, “… he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it.”
“Long experience has shown that armies cannot be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death… Must I shoot a simple minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair on the head of a wiley agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend into a meeting, and there working upon his feelings, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy, that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptable government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert.”
Our handling of covid; the Declaration of Emergency in New Hampshire is an action against the common rights of the citizens. The successive Executive Orders compound the error. Abraham Lincoln was no Chris Sununu. It is long past time to lift the Declaration of Emergency. Excellency, let my people go.