American Bastile

Would anyone believe that “just voicing your opinion” could land you in prison? Would anyone believe that you could be sleeping soundly in your bed only to be invaded by the local Marshal and his deputies without a warrant? Would anyone believe that you could be transported hundreds of miles away from your home with just the clothes on your back? Want to take a guess as to what country this happened in? The Soviet Union? Nazi, Germany? Guess what, folks? This happened already right here in the United States during Lincoln’s regime.

American Bastile written by John A. Marshall, originally published in 1881 and reprinted by the Crown Rights Book Co., describes (in 767 pages) the false arrests of innocent citizens during Lincoln’s dictatorship, and their ordeal in the different prisons around the North.

Were these citizens from the South? Actually, they came from the “loyal” states, and they were Democrats. These innocent citizens were judges, lawyers, doctors, U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, farmers, ministers, women, editors, state legislators, merchants, colonels, captains, professors, etc. There is a high probability that those mentioned in the book are only a sampling of those falsely arrested during Lincoln’s reign of terror.

As is the usual pattern, these false arrests occurred by surprise for the most part, usually in the middle of the night or the early morning hours such as 4 or 5 a.m. In two cases, a lawyer was participating in a trial when he was falsely arrested, and a minister was conducting a religious service, when he was also falsely arrested.

Most of the prisoners were never told of the charges against them, never knew who their accusers were, when asked about their authority to arrest, there was none, no trials except occasionally a prisoner would be brought in front of a “military commission” which was, of course, illegal. They were imprisoned without knowing what they had done wrong, and when they were eventually released months or years later, they still did not know.

Just voicing an objection to Lincoln’s administration, supporting the Constitution of the United States, voicing an opinion against the illegal draft, refusing to pray for Lincoln, discouraging enlistments, etc. could land you in prison.

Detectives and spies were placed by the Lincoln administration at religious services and conventions held by Democrats, reading local newspapers which supported the Democrats’ viewpoints, etc., and they reported their findings to the proper authorities. This they did, and false arrests ensued.

At one point, the whole Maryland legislature was imprisoned at Fort McHenry as well as the Mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Brown, and a Maryland U.S. Representative, Mr. May. One such Maryland legislator was Frank Key Howard, Esq., the grandson of Francis Scott Key. He was awakened around midnight when several armed men entered his home, and searched the premises. He demanded to see the warrant and the nature of the accusation, but none was given.

Another unfortunate citizen, who was falsely arrested, was Senator James W. Wall from Burlington, New Jersey. On September 11, 1861, the Marshal informed him that he had a warrant for his arrest, and when Mr. Wall asked him “at what suit?," the Marshal responded by saying “at the suit of the government." Senator Wall, in turn, replied “I do not owe the Government anything." He, too, demanded to see the affidivit and to know the nature of the accusation, but none was given. When Mr. Wall refused to be the Marshal’s prisoner, several deputies entered the room at which point, Mr. Wall seized the Marshal by the throat and hurled him across the room. More deputies came forward, and Mr. Wall struck one of them. He was eventually assaulted by four deputies, and was taken to Belder’s Hotel. Shortly thereafter, he boarded the train which eventually took him to Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor.

Senator Wall’s only crime was that he denounced the war and unconstitutional violations of citizens’ rights. Additionally, he was never able to find out the grounds of his arrest. Upon discharge from the prison and returning home, he was greeted by about a thousand persons at the train depot, whereby he gave an eloquent speech regarding the cruel injustice he had experienced as well as constitutional rights.

Furthermore, Senator Wall denounced the proposal of the Emancipation policy to “purchase” slaves from the State of Missouri by the Federal government, and also denounced the “Bill of Indemnity” which basically would protect the president and his subordinates from any legal consequences of their unconstitutional and arbitrary acts.

By the way, “purchasing” slaves is still slavery, is it not? Where in the Constitution of the United States does it give the general government the authority to purchase slaves? It is nowhere to be found in Article 1, Section 8, which is the section that grants Congress certain enumerated powers and none other.

William Hewitt Carlin, son of Governor Carlin of Illinois, was a lawyer, post-master under President Buchanan, state senator of Illinois, and clerk of the Circuit Court of Greene County, Illinois, was also falsely arrested without ever knowing the charges against him, and additionally, he was a personal friend of Lincoln, even though they were political enemies. No charges were ever filed against him, and he died in prison.

Robert Elliott from Freedom, Maine, who was a member of the Maine Legislator, and also a member of the Governor’s Council, was falsely arrested around midnight on September 7, 1861, at his home by Marshal Charles Clark and a dozen deputies. Mr. Elliott claimed that not one of these men resided in his county. He, too, was not told of any charges other than his arrest was ordered by Secretary of War Simon Cameron. About two months later, he was discharged from Fort Lafayette in NY harbor without ever learning of the nature of the accusation. On August 16, 1863, his two barns were set on fire, and after building another barn, this, too, was set on fire on December 31, 1866 while he was in Boston to arrange for its sale.

Cyrus Sargent, a merchant, originally from Yarmouth, Maine, who lived in New Orleans and in Arkansas conducting business, returned to Maine upon hearing of his wife’s death. He attended a convention at Portland, Maine, sponsored by the Democrats, and he was asked the sentiment of the Southern people to which he replied “the people of the South felt that the war was forced upon them, and all they asked was that the Government should be administered according to the Constitution, and not as Abraham Lincoln said it should be….”

When Mr. Sargent left Portland for Boston, he was attacked by four men on the train at the South Berwick, Maine, junction while reading a newspaper. He demanded to know by what authority he was attacked, and the Marshal produced a paper, but refused to let him see it. Mr. Sargent then asked the Marshal to read it to him, but this was refused, too. He was transferred to Fort Lafayette, and never knew the nature of the charges against him.

It is interesting to note that Lincoln’s first vice president Hannibal Hamlin, once a Democrat, was born in Paris, Maine. He was a former Maine Legislator, U.S. Representative, and U.S. Senator representing Maine. I have to wonder what steps he took, if any, when at least two Maine citizens were falsely arrested under Lincoln’s administration?

May 24, 2004

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