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June 12, 1863: Lincoln fires back on civil liberties

Jun. 12, 2013 - 04:47PM   |  
President Lincoln and Union generals are seen in a photograph taken after the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
President Lincoln and Union generals are seen in a photograph taken after the Battle of Antietam in 1862. (National Archives)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Abraham Lincoln fired back at critics today who say the White House has overstepped presidential powers by curtailing basic civil liberties in the name of national security.

“I can no more be persuaded that the government can constitutionally take no strong measure in time of rebellion, because it can be shown that the same could not be lawfully taken in time of peace, than I can be persuaded that a particular drug is not good medicine for a sick man, because it can be shown to not be good food for a well one,” Lincoln argued in an open letter released today.

Since the War Between the States began two years ago, the U.S. government has suspended habeas corpus, a Constitutional safeguard which protects against false imprisonment, allowing the military to apprehend suspected sympathizers of enemy combatants and detain them indefinitely without due process.

Curbs on the press, free speech and peaceful protest have also been implemented. Meanwhile, the advent of military tribunals — thousands since the war began — also has put Lincoln on the defensive. Democrats in New York accuse him of a “gigantic and monstrous heresy put forth in your plea for absolute power.”

“It undoubtedly was a well pondered reliance with [the Southern rebels] that in their own unrestricted effort to destroy Union, Constitution, and law, all together, the government would, in great degree, be restrained by the same Constitution and law, from arresting their progress,” writes Lincoln.

“Yet, thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the guaranteed rights of individuals, I was slow to adopt the strong measures, which by degrees I have been forced to regard as being within the exceptions of the Constitution, and as indispensable to the public safety.”

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