Civil Liberties from Lincoln to now

With the tragic bombing of the recent Boston marathon, there is talk of curtailing civil liberties in the U.S. Prominent people have called for the remaining bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant.

However Yahoo News has reported that:
“The White House announced Monday that the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will be tried in federal court for his alleged crimes. Press secretary Jay Carney flatly rebuffed demands from many Republicans that Tsarnaev be designated an “enemy combatant” in order to interrogate him without constitutional safeguards like access to a lawyer.” (By Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News | The Ticket – Mon, Apr 22, 2013,–politics.html)

Civil liberties were a consideration for Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War. His administration suspended the writ of habuis corpus and he was critized for doing so. In an excellent September 11, 2012 interview through C-SPAN, historian Elizabeth Leonard pointed out that Lincoln basically said, should I protect one law, and at the same time have the whole nation collapse? (

This was also a consideration when trying those involved in the conspiracy to murder Lincoln and other high ranking government officials. Eight, including Mary Surrratt, were tried in the summer of 1865 by a military tribunal. This has been critized from that time up to today but I believe it was entirely proper. As I point out in my book, at the time of the 16th President’s murder, the United States was still at war. The last battle of the Civil War was fought at Palmito Hills, Texas by southern troops who were unaware of Lee’s surrender more than a month earlier. It wasn’t until August of 1866 that President Johnson proclaimed the insurrection to be at an end in the last of the Secessionist states, Texas. There were other good reasons for the trial by military commission.

John Surratt was finally caught and brought to trial two years after Lincoln’s assassination, after being sheltered by Catholic officials and in Catholic institutions. Charles Chiniquy essentially said that, like what happened to him, there was a Catholic plan to pack the jury and tamper with justice and there is good evidence that happened with Surratt. In her book, The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln, Kate Clifford Larson declared: “much more evidence was introduced shedding light on the extensiveness of the conspiracy, as well as new details about Mary’s complicity in it. But despite the new evidence, John’s case ended in a mistrial – the civilian jury was packed with Southern sympathizers.” Yes, southern sympathizers – read Catholics.Elizabeth Leonard was a historical consultant of the Redford Lincoln film on Mary Surratt and she and I corresponded regarding this movie. Her input was apparently ignored by Redford and she does not have high regard for this film, a view I share.

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