| Harper’s Weekly, November 26, 1864, ‘Long Abraham Lincoln a Little Longer,’ by Frank Bellew, Sr.|
by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra
WHEN Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861, freedom of the press was the constitutionally guaranteed law of the land and a babel of conflicting editorial voices clamored from every news stand. The entire spectrum from rabid secessionist to intensely pro-Unionist sentiments was represented in New York’s daily papers. While Horace Greeley was shouting ‘On to Richmond!’ in the Tribune, Ben Wood was advocating accommodation with the Southern Confederacy in the Daily News. The New York World, a Democratic paper, skated close to the edge, but avoided outright disloyalty. It reprinted many items from Southern papers and stressed a peaceful solution to the war. Impartial news reporting was definitely not the order of the day; people chose their papers according to editorial partisanship. Besides the more general news sheets, there existed a wide variety of niche publications – trade, mechanical and agricultural papers, religious organs, foreign language papers, medical journals and lunatic-fringe tracts. Many of them likewise exhibited political biases.
| The South, June 14, 1861, masthead.|
The Lincoln administration has remained under fire both from contemporaries and from later historians and students of constitutional law for the past century and a half.
| The World, New York, early 1861 and late 1864 front pages.|
The outbreak of war in April 1861 changed the editorial landscape. Despite the vaunted First Amendment right:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,
| The World, New York, March 12, 1861, editorial.|
freedoms of speech and of the press were doomed as soon as Fort Sumter surrendered to Confederate troops. Angry mobs, North and South, threatened editors suspected of disloyalty and outright treason. Certain papers became the victims of government censorship. Three-fourths of the First Amendment was suspended until further notice!
| The World, New York, March 12, 1861, flag of the Confederate States of America|
A CASE in point was a pro-Secession paper published in Baltimore, Maryland by Thomas W. Hall, Jr., called simply The South. Hall, a prominent Baltimore attorney and later City Solicitor from 1878 to ’82, trusted the First Amendment to protect his right to publish ‘disloyal’ views. He was sadly mistaken.
| Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, August 31, 1861. ‘Tarring and feathering of Ambrose L. Kimball, editor of the Essex “Democrat,” Haverhill, Mass., a rebel-sympathising journal. — From a sketch by a correspondent.’|
Maryland, a slaveholding ‘border state’ was a classic example of the ‘brother against brother’ nature of civil wars. If Maryland had joined the Southern Confederacy, the federal capital at Washington, D.C. would have been completely behind enemy lines and one of the first efforts of the new administration was to secure Maryland for the Union. The state capital at Baltimore was a particular hotbed of southern sympathizers: City Marshal Kane had assembled an arsenal of weapons to combat coercion, the city council remained hostile to Lincoln and regiments of Confederate volunteers began to organize.
| The Baltimore Riot on April 19, 1861, various illustrations.|
As a key seaport, Baltimore occupied a strategic position to threaten Union interests by land and sea. In addition, the principal railroad lines linking Washington, D.C. with the rest of the Union passed through Baltimore. On April 19, 1861, a regiment of Massachusetts volunteers was changing trains in the city when a mob attacked the troops, killing two and wounding several. Seventeen-year-old Pvt. Luther C. Ladd had the melancholy distinction of becoming the first Union combat death of the Civil War. The soldiers eventually battled their way to the safety of a southbound train.
| Luther C. Ladd.|
One of Adalbert J. Volck’s earliest war etchings depicted the violence in his home town. Unlike engravings that appeared in the Northern press, his spirited view emphasizes the heroism of angry citizens repelling hated armed invaders with sword canes and stones. This intolerable state of affairs led to a federal military invasion of Maryland and widespread arrests of prominent politicians, law officers and journalists. Despite the unconstitutionality of these actions, Maryland stayed in the Union. Northern illustrated papers reveled in the discovery of Marshal Kane’s stash of weapons, federal troops occupying downtown Baltimore, and other scenes of the crisis.
| Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 13, 1861, ‘Entrance to the Provost-Marshal’s building, Holliday Street, Baltimore, guarded by canon to prevent the intrusion of the mob —,’ front page.|
If not a confirmed anti-federal before the Baltimore riots, Thomas W. Hall, Jr. was radicalized by the violence. He and several business associates were walking along the railroad tracks when his friend Robert W. Davis was shot and killed at his side by a stray Minie bullet, possibly fired by the panicked Massachusetts volunteers aboard the train taking them out of the city. On the editorial page of his paper, Hall repeatedly printed extracts from the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Rights of the People of Maryland and the Declaration of Independence, stressing freedom of the press, freedom from unwarrantable search and seizure, freedom from imprisonment without trial, the right to bear arms, and the subordination of military forces to the civil authorities. His worst fears would all be realized within a few months.
| The South, June 14, 1861, front page.|
Thomas Hall’s newspaper, The South, and its editor would likewise become casualties of the war. According to Col. Thomas J. Scharf’s The Chronicles of Baltimore (1874),
The South, a very able afternoon paper, “devoted to the South, Southern Rights and Secession,” issued the first number on Monday, April 22, 1861… From the first it became exceedingly popular, and was eagerly sought after by all classes of our citizens. The South flourished until Friday, September 13, 1861, when the printer announced in the afternoon edition on a half sheet, under a flaming head of the “Freedom of the Press,” that the “usual hour for the arrival of the editor, Thomas W. Hall, Jr., Esq., having passed this morning, an effort was made to gain admittance to his editorial room. This was easily accomplished, for on trying the door, it was found that the lock had been forced, and that all his papers and documents of value had been abstracted. The locks of Mr. Hall’s desk and private drawers had been picked with an expertness that would do no discredit to the most accomplished convict, and all the letters and scraps of papers contained in them carried off, as were also the full files of the Exchange and South, the files of the American, Clipper and Sun being left. Whilst looking on with wonder and amazement, the astounding intelligence was brought in that Thomas W. Hall, Jr., Esq., had been arrested ***** and it is only reasonable to suppose that he is now an inmate of the American Bastile [sic], formerly known as Ft. McHenry. As all communication between the editor and the printer of the South is forcibly cut off, the latter is constrained to announce to its numerous readers that its publication, for the present, must necessarily cease with the current number.” This was certainly, for the times, bold language of the printer. On Thursday, the 19th of September, The South, after a suspension of six days, was continued by Messrs. John M. Mills & Co., on a half sheet. On Thursday, the 13th of February, 1862, the paper was issued on a full sheet by Messrs. S.S. Mills & Bro., who continued to publish it until Monday, the 17th of February, 1862, when it was suppressed by the military authorities.
[Samuel S. Mills, of the printing firm of Mills and Colton, would also be arrested by U.S. troops.]
| The South, June 14, 1861, editorials.|
According to The War of the Rebellion; A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II – Volume II (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897), Major General George B. McClellan submitted to Secretary of War Simon Cameron a letter for his signature. This missive, delivered by Allan Pinkerton, chief of McClellan’s secret service, requested General John A. Dix to arrest seditious Baltimoreans, including members of the legislature. Dated September 11, 1861, McClellan’s cover letter stated that ‘it would seem necessary to arrest the parties named. I have indicated Fort Monroe as their first destination in order to get them away from Baltimore as quietly as possible…’
| The South, June 14, 1861, military ads.|
Secretary Cameron’s signed order directed General Dix to dispatch Pinkerton and his men to ‘take immediate charge of the arrests and examination of papers.’ The persons named in the order were Thomas Parkin Scott, Severn Teackle Wallis, Henry M. Warfield, Francis Key Howard, Thomas W. Hall, Jr. and Henry May. Dix was ordered to arrest these suspects ‘and to keep them in close custody, suffering no one to communicate with them, and to convey them at once to Fortress Monroe there to remain in close custody… The exigencies of the Government demand a prompt and successful execution of this order.’
| The South, June 14, 1861, song text.|
On September 27, Thomas Hall and a growing number of political prisoners were transferred from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, to Fort Lafayette, in New York Harbor. A cartoon in New York’s The Phunny Phellow for November 1861 shows ‘Uncle Sam caging the Rats who would undermine the Union” in Ft. Lafayette. On February 15, 1862, Hall was transferred once again, this time to Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. He and his fellow Baltimore secessionists, including George William Brown, the ex-mayor, two ex-police commissioners, Kane, the ex-city marshal of police, four ex-legislators, several merchants, and his fellow editor, F.K. Howard, of the Exchange, were quietly released from captivity on November 26, 1862, by order of the Adjutant-General’s Office at Washington.
| The South, June 14, 1861, ads.|
Note that none of the captives had ever faced the due process of law following their arrest – a proceeding eerily foreshadowing the ‘renditions’ and close confinement of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay 150 years later. The Lincoln administration defended its actions with regard to Thomas W. Hall, Jr., as
a military precautionary measure of great necessity for the preservation of the peace and maintenance of order in Maryland. His paper was openly and zealously advocating the cause of the insurrection and largely contributing to unsettle and excite the public mind. A mass of correspondence and manuscripts were found in Hall’s possession in prose and poetry, much of it intended for The South newspaper and all of intensely disloyal character.
| The Phunny Phellow, Vol. 3, No. 1, November 1861. ‘Fort Lafayette; Uncle Sam caging the Rats who would undermine the Union,’ front page.|
Hall’s fate illuminates the constitutional crisis of 1861: was the preservation of the Union a justification for the suspension of civil liberties, such as habeas corpus and freedom of the press? As a shrewd lawyer, Lincoln drew on the traditions of English and European law and believed that keeping the nation together transcended a strict construction of its constitution. This dangerous precedent has led to many abuses in the name of ‘emergency decrees,’ whereby liberty is traded for security and often never regained. Lincoln proved to be a benevolent despot in this respect. Perhaps the best proof of this is the huge corpus of violently anti-Lincoln cartoons and editorials that were allowed to circulate during his presidency. Personal attacks on Lincoln and his policies were not considered disloyal or treasonable. They were part of an established American tradition of lampooning current officeholders. Advocating secession and armed rebellion was a different matter. Unlike a sad majority of world governments throughout the ages, the U.S. and Canada do not punish dissent with torture and death. Despite charges of tyranny, Lincoln’s summary roundup of secessionist editors resulted in no maiming or execution of the culprits. After a year languishing in damp military dungeons, they were allowed to return home, sadder and wiser. The only man to be executed as a war criminal was Henry Wirtz, commandant of the infamous Camp Sumter (Andersonville) prison camp. In spite of public sentiment, Jefferson Davis was never ‘hung to a sour apple tree.’ Following the war, top Confederate statesmen and military leaders were able to resume their lives in an impoverished and ruined South. Thus we find Alexander H. Stephens, the only Vice President of the C.S.A. publishing a rather tame History of the United States in 1884. Antebellum congressmen gradually returned to Congress, despite frantic ‘waving the bloody shirt’ by their Republican opponents.
| Alexander H. Stephens, 1876, ‘History of the United States,’ frontispiece portrait and title page.|
As late as the election of 1864, when the fortunes of war had shifted to the Union side, cartoonists continued to lambast the Lincoln administration’s tyranny. In the London humor magazine Punch, John Tenniel’s ‘The Federal Phœnix’ depicted the reelected president as a human-headed eagle, rising from the ashes of ‘Commerce,’ ‘United States Constitution,’ ‘Free Press,’ ‘Credit,’ ‘Habeas Corpus’ and ‘State Rights.’ In Comic News, fellow-Brit Matthew Somerville Morgan showed Lincoln as a ravening stage vampire, menacingly intoning, ‘Columbia, thou art mine; with thy blood I will renew my lease of life — Ah! Ah!’ as he hovers over a shrinking female figure. Although many of these vicious drawings undoubtedly hurt Lincoln deeply, his well-developed senses of humor and justice prevented him from suppressing all dissent. Comic journals like Vanity Fair took pot shots at many administration foes as well, such as ‘Copperhead’ ex-mayor Fernando Wood and his wobbly successor George Opdyke. Had Lincoln quashed the majority of political cartoons, we would have lost the affectionate ‘Long Abraham Lincoln a Little Longer’ by Frank Bellew in Harper’s Weekly, following his reelection.
| Punch, December 3, 1864, ‘The Federal Phœnix’ by John Tenniel.|
| Comic News, November 26, 1864, ‘The Vampire’ by Matt Morgan. ‘Abe: ‘Columbia, thou art mine; with thy blood I will renew my lease of life — Ah! Ah!’|
| Vanity Fair, Vol. 6, No. 134, July 19, 1862. ‘Fernando Wood in his famous role of Oliver Cromwell,’ front page.|
| Vanity Fair, Vol. 6, No. 137, August 9, 1862, ‘George Opdyke: Mayor of New-York, and First Recruiting-Sergeant to the Union,’ front page.|