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All the Laws but One: Civil Liberties in Wartime Paperback – January 4, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767329
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In the first hectic days of the American Civil War, the future of the Union was in doubt. Troops traveling to defend Washington were waylaid by mobs in Maryland. In the midst of this crisis, Abraham Lincoln sought to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to permit the military to detain those who were interfering with the prosecution of the war. When the Supreme Court limited his ability to do so, Lincoln complained that the Court was allowing "all the laws, but one, go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated." Eventually, civil liberties were curtailed for the duration of the Civil War--as they would be again in World Wars I and II.

That Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist's analysis of civil liberties in wartime is entitled All the Laws but One hints where he comes down on the subject. Rehnquist acknowledges and criticizes the excesses of civil liberties violations in wartime--during World War I, for example, editorial cartoonists critical of the government were prosecuted for sedition. But he defends the need to curtail some liberties in emergency situations--including, surprisingly, some instances of the evacuation and relocation of Japanese Americans that took place during World War II. Rehnquist's style can be disjointed at times--as when cursory biographical information of key players seems to have been tacked on to fill out the otherwise slim volume--but the historical analysis of martial law and other Civil War controversies, which comprises the overwhelming majority of the book, remains fascinating. --Ted Frank --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this lively account, Chief Justice Rehnquist tests the Roman maxim inter arma silent leges (in time of war the laws are silent) against American history and discusses the judiciary's response to government's wartime lawlessness. He begins with the Civil War, when the Lincoln administration "chose to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, interfere with freedom of speech and of the press, and try suspected political criminals before military commissions." Lincoln's defense of these practices gave the book its title, "Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces, lest that one be violated?" The tension between individual liberties and wartime necessities runs throughout the work as Rehnquist discusses several celebrated Civil War habeas corpus cases (Ex Parte Merryman and Ex Parte Milligan); political dissent during WWI; the internment of Japanese-Americans; and Hawaii's military government during WWII. Rehnquist reaches the considered conclusion that "the most important task is achieving a proper balance between freedom and order. In wartime, reason and history both suggest that this balance shifts to some degree in favor of order?in favor of the government's ability to deal with conditions that threaten the national well-being." Nevertheless, since the Civil War, courts have tamed the government's power to restrict civil liberties in wartime. Rehnquist is a diligent scholar and a compelling storyteller, who guides his readers to a consideration of abstract moral and legal issues in the light of specific historical circumstances.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Really excellent book, would recommend for anyone wanting to read up on the history of the laws, really good read.
J. Kearney
This is not a lively account, but it is accurate, well thought out and makes for interesting reading, having added strength of authority by nature of its author.
Seth J. Frantzman
Chief Justice William Rehnquist's "All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime" is one of those books that doesn't live up to its potential.
A. Courie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 20, 1998
Format: Hardcover
ALL THE LAWS BUT ONE: CIVIL LIBERTIES IN WARTIME, William H. Rehnquist. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. 256 pp. ISBN 0679446613. price $26.00.
Reviewed by Jon Roland, President, Constitution Society. Email:
This is a treatise on the conflict between constitutional compliance and the doctrine of necessity, particularly during wartime. The title is from Lincoln's message of July 4, 1861, to Congress, justifying his proclamation of April 27, 1861, suspending the Habeas Corpus Act adopted by the First Congress, and following his defiance of the order of Chief Justice Taney in Ex Parte Merriman. Lincoln argued that although the qualified prohibition of suspension of habeas corpus in Article I Section 9 Clause 2 was grouped with the powers and prohibitions of Congress, the Constitution was silent concerning which branch could legally exercise the implied authority to suspend it, and asserted that in an emergency when Congress was not in session the president had that authority. He said that the writ of habeas corpus, which had been fashioned "with such extreme tenderness of the citizens' liberty," if strictly enforced as interpreted by Justice Taney would allow "all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated." The original charges against Merriman were for treason and other offenses for involvement in the burning of bridges north of and leading to Baltimore, Maryland, but Merriman was arrested by federal troops, charged in a military court, and held at Fort McHenry. Due to delays by Taney and others in prosecuting the case against him, Merriman was released on bail in the summer of 1861 and never tried.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jeffery Steele on February 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
"All the Laws but One" was published in 1998, but it somewhat anticipates the contentious post 9-11 question of how far the U.S. government be allowed to curtail civil liberties to protect public safety. The book's primary value is that it allows a glimpse into the mind of someone who will be deciding the answer to that question.
Contrary to some reviewers' comments here, Chief Justice Rehnquist's position on the matter is more to the middle than one might expect. While he believes in a balancing tension between liberty and order, and that the scales quite naturally tip towards order in wartime, he is also critical of some executive decisions that rashly peeled away civil liberties under the guise of wartime necessity.
More than three-quarters of this book focuses on executive power, and the judiciary's response to the use of that power, during the U.S. Civil War. The rest of the book looks mainly at the curtailment of civil liberties during WW1 and WW2. Rehnquist rarely considers at any length, however, the proper judicial response to the scaling back of civil liberties when war has not been declared, but a clear threat exists.
The book is highly sensible in its viewpoints. Unfortunately, Rehnquist is not a natural writer and his account often gets bogged down in his prose. His history of events sometimes feels tacked on to his analysis of the legal cases. If the author was not the Chief Justice, and the subject matter not of such compelling contemporary relevance, there would be little reason to bother with this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Clip326 on May 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Chief Justice Rehnquist has now written 3 books, all of which I have read. I actually don't find them too controversial, although some of the internet reviewers seem to. I do find all of Rehnquist's books, especially this one, to be great reviews of the relevants cases and controversies about a given topic. He is especially thorough in this book, tracing the suppression of civil liberties in the Civil War, World War I and World War II. He covers numerous cases during the Civil War (McCardle, Milligan), as well as an extensive look at Johns Wilkes Booth's murder of President Lincoln and its aftermath.
Supreme Court justices do not often publicly announce their philosophies outside of their opinions. Although Rehnquist seems to be objective for the most part, this book is still a fascinating look into the mind of one of most influential justices of the past quarter century.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By H. Monroe on April 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
I rated this book at 4 stars, but probably would have given it 3.5 if I had that option. It is a good book -- better than average -- but is less than it could have been.

Rehnquist examines the suspension of the writ of habeus corpus during three periods of war in American history: the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Roughly 2/3 of the book is given to the Civil War issues, and one senses that the other two sections were added primarily to fill out the work. Rehnquist does a fine job of setting up the relevant historical background of each of these eras and of outlining the opposing viewpoints considered in the Supreme Court cases that resulted. At times, it is difficult to discern Rehnquist's own opinion regarding the events and decisions he describes. In the end, however, he stakes out a moderate position, acknowledging that at times the government had justifiable reason for exercising a Constitutional option to suspend habeus corpus while also arguing that in many of these instances authorities had overstepped their bounds.

The main criticism of the work is its cursory nature. What Rehnquist gives the reader is good. One only wishes he had given us more.
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