If Abraham Lincoln was known as the Great Emancipator, he was also the only president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Indeed, Lincoln's record on the Constitution and individual rights has fueled a century of debate, from charges that Democrats were singled out for harrassment to Gore Vidal's depiction of Lincoln as an "absolute dictator." Now, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fate of Liberty, one of America's leading authorities on Lincoln wades straight into this controversy, showing just who was jailed and why, even as he explores the whole range of Lincoln's constitutional policies.
Mark Neely depicts Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus as a well-intentioned attempt to deal with a floodtide of unforeseen events: the threat to Washington as Maryland flirted with secession, disintegrating public order in the border states, corruption among military contractors, the occupation of hostile Confederate territory, contraband trade with the South, and the outcry against the first draft in U.S. history. Drawing on letters from prisoners, records of military courts and federal prisons, memoirs, and federal archives, he paints a vivid picture of how Lincoln responded to these problems, how his policies were actually executed, and the virulent political debates that followed. Lincoln emerges from this account with this legendary statesmanship intact--mindful of political realities and prone to temper the sentences of military courts, concerned not with persecuting his opponents but with prosecuting the war efficiently. In addition, Neely explores the abuses of power under the regime of martial law: the routine torture of suspected deserters, widespread antisemitism among Union generals and officials, the common practice of seizing civilian hostages. He finds that though the system of military justice was flawed, it suffered less from merciless zeal, or political partisanship, than from inefficiency and the friction and complexities of modern war.
Informed by a deep understanding of a unique period in American history, this incisive book takes a comprehensive look at the issues of civil liberties during Lincoln's administration, placing them firmly in the political context of the time. Written with keen insight and an intimate grasp of the original sources, The Fate of Liberty offers a vivid picture of the crises and chaos of a nation at war with itself, changing our understanding of this president and his most controversial policies.
"An impressive work, finely written and carefully presented. An important contribution that will serve the undergraduate as well as [the] scholar."--Professor Dennis M. Shannon, Alabama University - Montgomery
"Excellent book--very informative, and appropriate for today's times as well as for the last century. I think it 'must' reading for students taking a course on the Civil War, and it would be apprpriate reading for several other courses."--Robert Langran, Villanova University
"In this Pulitzer Prize-winning study, Mark Neely makes a major contribution to th[e] revision of the analysis of the nature of war behind the lines....A refreshing historical revision of the inner workings of the Union effort, which all too often is presented as if it had been a well-oiled machine....It is to be hoped that this book will stimulate others to look at the impact of the war on civilians in more detailled ways."-Michael Fellman, Canadian Review
of American Studies
"At last, some 125 years after the end of the Civil War, we have a more accurate and honest understanding of the Lincoln administration and civil liberties. After years of painstaking archival research Mark Neely presents a compelling argument that history should be left to those who do research and not to novelists, literary critics, or thos with political axes to grind, like the 'lost cause' partisan who wrote American Bastile. Neely's book, which
is the best scholarly examination of this issue ever written, will rehabilitate Lincoln's reputation on civil liberties....Extremely convincing."--Paul Finkleman, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
"By far the best book on the subject.....Masterful."--Gabor S. Boritt, Illinois Issues
"Intriguing....Neely has refined the debate with exhaustive and impressive research. He has supplied detail and restored context to discussions of civil liberties during the Civil War. His questions are good ones. His answers are striking....The first book-length study of civil liberties during the Lincoln administrations. It will set a standard."--Francis N. Stites, Civil War History
"A thorough and meticulously documented study....Highlighted by more than thirty pages of well-researched endnotes, a comprehensive index, and an index of 'prisoners of state.' Highly recommended."--Choice
"An in-depth summary of how Lincoln and his administration handled civil rights in the deepest crisis the nation has ever endured....A chilling reminder that personal liberty always hangs in tremulous balance when the nation is tangled in desperate crisis."--The Grand Rapids Press
"An important book....[Neely's] research is broad and deep, not only in range of the usual primary materials but in a massive amount of sources in the National Archives on specific cases, hitherto unused."--Indiana Magazine of History
"[An] excellent study of civil liberties in the North during the Civil War....Neely writes in clear, straightforward prose....An impressive and valuable addition to the literature of the Civil War."--The Journal of American History
"Neely's welcome book on civil liberties under Lincoln advances us beyond this sketchy profile to detail the workings of Lincoln's internal security system Neely reviews voluminous military court and federal prison records that have not heretofore received systematic attention, encompasses the perspectives of president and cabinet as well as those of hundreds of officials in the field, and refines the terminology and conclusions of the old authority, James G.
Randall's Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln (1926). The result is a balanced and compelling account that fully acknowledges and explores repressive practices, but repeatedly emphasizes the limits observed by Lincoln and the wartime bureaucracy."--American Historical Review
"Throroughly researched and well written--the best treatment by far of the subject."--Norman B. Ferris, Middle Tennessee State University