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Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War) Paperback – November 7, 2011
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In Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War, Jonathan White reveals how the arrest and prosecution of this little-known Baltimore farmer had a lasting impact on the Lincoln administration and Congress as they struggled to develop policies to deal with both northern traitors and southern rebels. His work sheds significant new light on several perennially controversial legal and constitutional issues in American history, including the nature and extent of presidential war powers, the development of national policies for dealing with disloyalty and treason, and the protection of civil liberties in wartime.
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In just 121 pages of text, this book gives not only the full story of John Merryman's cases - criminal and civil - but also demonstrates the importance of the stand-off between Taney and President Lincoln, which provided the basis for Lincoln and the Army's subsequent abuses of civil rights in the North, including arbitrary military arrests of journalists, public officials, judges, candidates for office, and even ministers; and in some cases the trial of civilians before military commissions, which were little more than kangaroo courts, in Northern states where the civil courts were open and functioning. It is a fascinating story with broad implications even today, and Professor White has given the reader a most accessible account; however, for those who wish more detail, he has provided that in 40 pages of detailed end notes and a comprehensive bibliography. The book is that exceedingly rare accomplishment - scholarly yet reader-friendly, interesting in itself and also likely to instill a desire to learn more about this crucial period in our nation's history. Even a lawyer, such as myself, will not be disappointed by a history professor's treatment of the legal issues involved, and the interrelationship of law and politics as they came together in Merryman's case.
You have the option of another book on this topic, but I recommend that you not waste your time: Jonathan White has written the book, both literally and figuratively, on the Merryman case.
This book delves into the details of what exactly John Merryman did and his journey through the court system, and then White uses that case as a prism to examine the problems of trying and dealing with disloyalty in the North throughout the war. It goes into the struggles Lincoln and Congress had with the habeas corpus issue, as well as the problem of using military tribunals tied up with that.
This book is especially important because the issues Lincoln and Congress faced during the Civil War have reappeared in the context of the War on Terror. We must deal with denying habeas corpus to enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay and trying those enemy combatants via military tribunal, which raise the same Constitutional problems that Lincoln and the North's actions raised. How much power does the President possess in a crisis? To what extent should civil liberties be circumscribed in times of war? These are perennially troubling questions that our nation will continue to face, and this book provides new insight into those issues through the prism of the Civil War.
I would heartily recommend it to any person interested in the Civil War or civil liberties issues in general. The topics are engaging, and the book is well written, so combined with an original perspective what more could you want?
Would recommend to anyone who cares about American History, especially civil war. Very interesting research and stories.