Was Lincoln a despot?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2006

To the Editor:

In Eve Shapiro’s letter of the 11th she gives Webster’s definition of

‘despot’ as “a ruler with absolute power and authority; a person exercising power tyrannically (meaning to oppress).” Anyone who has objectively studied Abraham Lincoln’s actions during the War Between the States would be hard pressed to refute the fact that he was a despot.

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The late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist in his book “All The Laws But One” wrote that the Lincoln administration “chose to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, interfere with freedom of speech and of the press, and try suspected political criminals before military commissions.”

Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus occurred first in Maryland (May, 1861) resulting in a ruling by then U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney in Ex parte Merryman that the President had overstepped his

constitutional authority and only Congress could suspend habeas corpus.



He issued an arrest warrant for Chief Justice Taney!

The arrest warrant was given to the United States Marshal for the District

of Columbia, Mr. Lamon.

Lincoln gave the warrant to him, instructing Lamon

to “use his own discretion about making the arrest unless he should receive

further orders.

For some unknown reason the warrant was never served and

habeas corpus remained suspended.

During the war, in the northern states, the Lincoln administration closed down opposition newspapers and the U.S. military arrested some thirty-eight thousand people without benefit of the writ of habeas corpus (Columbia Law Review, XXI, 527-28, 1921). These people, some of whom were not charged with a crime, were held indefinitely, illegally and without the protection of the Constitution.

To an earlier letter that inferred Ms. Shapiro must believe “the ends justify the means” she responded, “the answer, perhaps, is “where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Well, Ms. Shapiro, I believe most would stand on the side of the Constitution as opposed to sitting on it as President

Lincoln did.

If one were to judge Lincoln by today’s values and standards (as they do our Confederate heroes) I think his place in history would change.

But since that isn’t fair let’s look at it a different way.

Imagine the political

firestorm if President Bush, or for that matter Nixon had responded to dissidents and opposition in the manner Abraham Lincoln did.

As for being a murderer, Mr. Lincoln definitely had blood on his hands.


directly but through those Yankee soldiers, acting with the power of his authority, who murdered thousands of southern civilians, not during the course of battle but during campaigns of terror and submission throughout the southland.

Benjamin Austin