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From "The Crisis" Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, March 11, 1863

From "The Crisis" Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, March 11, 1863


The Complete Overthrow of the Public Liberties

This is the darkest hour since the outbreak of the rebellion. Congress, by the act passed yesterday authorizing the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus throughout the whole extent of the country, has consummated its series of measures for laying the country prostrate and helpless at the feet of one man. It was not enough that Mr. Lincoln has been invested with the purse and the sword; that, with an immense power to raise or manufacture money, he has unrestricted command of the services of every able-bodied man of the country. Congress has thought it necessary to give the finishing stroke to its establishment of military despotism, by removing all checks on the abuse of the enormous monetary and military power with which they have clothed the President. What assurance has the country that we shall ever have another Presidential election? None whatsoever, except what may be found in the confidence, reasonable or unreasonable, reposed in the rectitude and patriotism of Mr. Lincoln. If any person, in any part of the country, shall think it his duty to resist unconstitutional encroachments on the rights of citizens, Mr. Lincoln is authorized by what purports to be a law, to snatch up that individual and immure him in one of the government's bastilles as long as he shall see fit, and there is no power anywhere in the nation to call him to account. He can send one of his countless provost-marshals into the house of a Governor of a State, or any other citizen, in the dead of night, drag him from his bed, hustle him away under the cover of darkness, plunge him in a distant and unknown dungeon, and allow his friends to know no more of the whereabouts of his body than they would of the habitation of his soul, if, instead of imprisoning, the provost-marshal had murdered him. With this tremendous power over the liberty of every citizen whom he may suspect, or who he may choose to imprison without suspecting, the President is as absolute a despot as the Sultan of Turkey. All the guarantees of liberty are broken down; we all lie at the feet of one man, dependent on his caprice for every hour's exemption from a bastille. If he wills it, the State Governments may continue in the discharge of their functions; but if he wills it, every one of them that does not become his submissive and subservient tool can be at once suspended by the imprisonment of its officers. Considering the enormous power conferred on the President by the Finance and Conscription Bills, a reasonable jealousy would have erected additional safeguards against its abuse. Instead of that, Congress has thrown down all the old barriers and left us absolutely without shelter in the greatest violence of the tempest.

So far as the detestable act passed yesterday is an act of indemnity to shield the President from the legal consequences of past exertions of arbitrary power, it is a confession that he, his secretaries, provost-marshals, and other minions have been acting in violation of the law. It annuls all laws passed by the State Legislatures for the protection of their citizens against kidnapping; it provides for taking all suits for damages out of the State courts and transferring them to the Federal tribunals, and before those tribunals that fact that the injury complained of was done under color of executive authority is declared to be a full and complete defense. It even inflicts penalties on persons coming before the courts for redress of injuries, by declaring that if they are not successful the defendant shall recover double costs. So that the aggrieved party must take the risk of this penalty for venturing to ascertain, in a court of justice, where his oppressor was or was not acting under the authority of the President. To this alarming pass have matters come, that not only does every citizen hold his liberty at the mercy of one man, but he is liable to be punished for inquiring whether the person arresting him really possessed, or only falsely pretended to possess, that man's authority!

The attempt to disguise the odious character of this detestable act by a sham provision in its second section is an insult to the intelligence of the people. "The Secretary of State and the Secretary of War," so it reads, "are directed, as soon as may be practible," to furnish to the judges of the courts lists of the names of the persons arrested, that they may be presented to a grand jury for indictment. And who is to judge this practicability? Why, the Secretaries themselves, or the President for them. They will furnish such lists whenever it suits their pleasure, and not before. There is not only no penalty for neglecting to do this altogether, but the main purpose of the act is to protect these officers, and all persons acting under their directions, against all legal penalties for all arrests wherever made, and all detentions in prison, however long protracted.

The ninety days during which Congress has now been in session are the last ninety days of American freedom. Our liberties had previously been curtailed and abridged by executive encroachments, but the courts remained open for redress of wrongs. But this Congress has rendered their overthrow complete, by first putting the purse and the sword in the hands of the President and then assuring him of complete impunity in all abuses of this enormous, this dangerous this tremendous power.:cd: a legal precident for future Presidents to use to their advantage with the whim of Congress "E Pluribus Unium"

Posted By: Joe Elia
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