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The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties Paperback – August 20, 1992

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195080322 ISBN-10: 0195080327 Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews


"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

About the Author

Mark E. Neely is McCabe-Greer Professor of the History of the Civil War Era at Penn State University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 20, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195080327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195080322
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ross Nordeen on December 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Neely gives an excellent and detailed review of how civil liberties suffered during the War Between the States. The right of habeas corpus is Neely's main concern, but trials by military commissons and international law are covered among other topics.
If you're not a Civil War buff, this book may seem pretty dry. For example, a lot of space is devoted to evaluating the various claims of how many military prisoners there were. While this is important historical data, it made my eyes glaze over and prompted me to skim several sections of the book.
Given the post-9/11 discussions of military tribunals and other curtailments of the Bill of Rights, this book is more relevant than ever.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book gives an excellent look into the policies of the Lincoln administration and the effects of these policies on civil liberties in the United States. A common misconception regarding this subject is that the majority of those arrested as a result of the suspension of habeas corpus were political enemies of Lincoln. This book, however, demonstrates how many of the arrests were not based upon politics, but upon how the crimes committed affected the war effort. Most attention in the past has focused on a few famous cases such as Clement Vallandingham, but this book shows that this case was an exception to the rule.
A must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War or Abraham Lincoln. Neely also writes in a clear prose that clearly explains his points and allows the reader to understand what he is talking about even without having an extensive knowledge of Lincoln or the Civil War.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James Gallen VINE VOICE on October 4, 2012
Format: Paperback
"The Fate of Liberty" involves an aspect of the Civil War rarely addressed, that of the state of civil liberties. The turmoil existing in Border and Northern states led President Lincoln and many military commanders to suspend normal legal procedures through the imposition of martial law and suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, the procedure under which prisoners have the right to compel their wardens to prove a legal basis for the incarceration. The unprecedented circumstances forced men to do what they would not otherwise do. Did it make sense to protect the right to free speech of the encouragers of draft resistance while the soldiers faced enemy shot? Must a saboteur roam free until he does his damage? Were mere political enemies locked up to stifle opposition? What was the status of slaves and who could decide their use and ownership and when? These are among the questions author Mark Neely raises and attempts to answer.

This book is researched in great detail. Recitations of incidents and tabulations of numbers of arrests, convictions, and denials of rights are mindboggling. As much as the detail amazes the reader, it becomes a bit boring. A reader who is really interested in civil liberties under Union jurisdiction will find this book to be fascinating. For the traditional Civil War buff it is likely to be overly detailed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mark E. Neely, Jr. is a historian who was director of The Lincoln Museum in Indiana for twenty years, and is currently Professor of Civil War History at Pennsylvania State University; this book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. He wrote in the Introduction to this 1991 book, "Rather than continue the fruitless debate over the constitutionality of Lincoln's acts, this book will examine instead the practical impact on civil liberties of the policies Lincoln developed to save the Union... Without ignoring what Lincoln and other major political protagonists of the day said, this book will focus on what they in fact did."

He argues that "Lincoln did not question (General) Fremont's imposition of martial law. He did not object in principle to the execution of civilian prisoners by the military in a loyal state; he insisted only on his prerogative to review the cases first." (Pg. 34-35) He admits, "Missouri proved from start to finish to be a sorry blemish on the administration's record. It became a nightmare for American civil liberties. What a different story this book would tell if Missouri and its thousands of political prisoners could be left out." (Pg. 52)

He observes, "one can see the way conscription worked to make war harder on noncombatants. Many Americans would not have chosen any action, for or against the Union, had it not been for the threat of enrollment and eventual conscription." (Pg. 170)

He contends, "Lincoln was not searching so much for order and community as for usable arguments and instruments. That is not to say that his constitutional thinking was nakedly opportunistic or embarrassingly shallow, but only that he changed his mind from time to time and that he did not characteristically reach first for a copy of the U.S.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert on December 5, 2014
Format: Paperback
Neely is an unabashedly pro-Lincolnite, as would seem proper for the Director of the Lincoln Museum. He continuously gives Lincoln a free pass for the unconstitutional actions of his administration. Detailing that many of the proclamations and letters were not written by Lincoln, but by his subordinates in the Military and in particular Secretaries Seward and Stanton. He even notes that Lincoln often delegated these actions to his subordinates. But he discounts Lincoln's responsibilities for the actions. Last I checked the President is the power and thus responsible for what his subordinates do, with or without Lincoln's delegated authority. Furthermore, Neely allows Lincoln great latitude because the results justified the means, despite the unconstitutionality of the actions taken. This discredits the Constitution as a legal and binding document of U.S. law, and may lead to the actions that go against our Constitution by the current Obama administration, who justifies violation of the Constitution because it is right (in his opinion).
At the same time, I was enlightened by much of Neely's book facts and interpretations of those facts. I especially noted that Neely sees the Emancipation Proclamation as political and not humanitarian. By making the War about anti-slavery instead of Southern independence, Lincoln was able to keep Great Britain from militarily coming to the aid of the South.
Overall, Neely does a very good job of researching and listing facts, many obscure and definitely not taught in history courses, however his conclusions display a decidedly pro-Lincoln stance.
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