The peace party of 1863 has been denounced hastily rather than carefully studied. Its precise machinations are not fully known, but the ugly fact stands forth that a portion of the foreign population of the North was roused in 1863 to rebellion. The occasion was the beginning of the first draft under the new law, in July, 1863, and the scene of the rebellion was the City of New York. The opponents of conscription had already made inflammatory attacks on the Government. Conspicuous among them was Horatio Seymour, who had been elected Governor of New York in that wave of reaction in the autumn of 1862. Several New York papers joined the crusade. In Congress, the Government had already been threatened with civil war if the act was enforced. Nevertheless, the public drawing by lot began on the days announced. In New York the first drawing took place on Saturday, July 12th, and the lists were published in the Sunday papers. As might be expected, many of the men drawn were of foreign birth, and all day Sunday, the foreign quarter of New York was a cauldron boiling.
On Monday, the resumption of the drawing was the signal for revolt. A mob invaded one of the conscription offices, drove off the men in charge, and set fire to the building. In a short while, the streets were filled with dense crowds of foreignborn workmen shouting, "Down with the rich men," and singing, "We'll hang Horace Greeley on a sour apple tree." Houses of prominent citizens were attacked and set on fire, and several drafting offices were burned. Many negroes who were seized were either clubbed to death or hanged to lamp posts. Even an orphan asylum for colored children was burned. The office of the "Tribune" was raided, gutted, and set on fire. Finally a dispatch to Stanton, early in the night, reported that the mob had taken possession of the city.
The events of the next day were no less shocking. The city was almost stripped of soldiers, as all available reserves had already been hurried south when Lee was advancing toward Gettysburg. But such militia as could be mustered, with a small force of federal troops, fought the mob in the streets. Barricades were carried by storm; blood was freely shed. It was not, however, until the fourth day that the rebellion was finally quelled, chiefly by New York regiments, hurried north by Stanton--among them the famous Seventh--which swept the streets with cannon.
The aftermath of the New York riots was a correspondence between Lincoln and Seymour. The latter had demanded a suspension of the draft until the courts could decide on the constitutionality of the Conscription Act. Lincoln refused. With ten thousand troops now assembled in New York, the draft was resumed, and there was no further trouble.
The resistance to the Government in New York was but the most terrible episode in a protracted contention which involves, as Americans are beginning to see, one of the most fundamental and permanent questions of Lincoln's rule: how can the exercise of necessary war powers by the President be reconciled with the guarantees of liberty in the Constitution? It is unfortunate that Lincoln did not draw up a fully rounded statement of his own theory regarding this problem, instead of leaving it to be inferred from detached observations and from his actions. Apparently, he felt there was nothing to do but to follow the Roman precedent and, in a case of emergency, frankly permit the use of extraordinary power. We may attribute to him that point of view expressed by a distinguished Democrat of our own day: "Democracy has to learn how to use the dictator as a necessary war tool."* Whether Lincoln set a good model for democracy in this perilous business is still to be determined. His actions have been freely labeled usurpation. The first notorious instance occurred in 1861, during the troubles in Maryland, when he authorized military arrests of suspected persons. For the release of one of these, a certain Merryman, Chief Justice Taney issued a writ of habeas corpus**. Lincoln authorized his military representatives to disregard the writ. In 1862 he issued a proclamation suspending the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus in cases of persons charged with "discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting military drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice...." Such persons were to be tried by military commissions.
*President Edwin A. Alderman, of the University of Virginia.
** The Constitution permits the suspension of the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it," but fails to provide a method of suspension. Taney held that the power to suspend lay with Congress. Five years afterward, when Chase was Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, in ex parte Milligan, took the same view and further declared that even Congress could not deprive a citizen of his right to trial by jury so long as the local civil courts are in operation. The Confederate experience differed from the Federal inasmuch as Congress kept control of the power to suspend the writ. But both governments made use of such suspension to set up martial law in districts where the local courts were open but where, from one cause or another, the Administration had not confidence in their effectiveness. Under ex parte Milligan, both Presidents and both Congresses were guilty of usurpation. The mere layman waits for the next great hour of trial to learn whether this interpretation will stand. In the Milligan case the Chief Justice and three others dissented.
There can be little doubt that this proclamation caused something like a panic in many minds, filled them with the dread of military despotism, and contributed to the reaction against Lincoln in the autumn of 1862. Under this proclamation many arrests were made and many victims were sent to prison. So violent was the opposition that on March 3, 1863, Congress passed an act which attempted to bring the military and civil courts into cooperation, though it did not take away from the President all the dictatorial power which he had assumed. The act seems; however, to have had little general effect, and it was disregarded in the most celebrated of the cases of military arrest, that of Clement L. Vallandigham.