All the Laws but One? Reinterpreting the History of Civil Liberties during Wartime from a Classical Liberal Perspective

Friday, January 6, 2017: 4:10 PM
Director's Row H (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Robert Faith, University of Akron
For generations after the Civil War and into the twenty-first century, historians continue to debate many important questions arising from government suppression of civil liberties during wartime. Many historians engaged in this debate focus on the constitutionality and practical consequences of Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus on American citizens during the Civil War. Similarly, historians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries examine the curtailment of civil liberties during World War I under Woodrow Wilson, World War II under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the more recent Global War on Terror experience under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In surveying this extensive literature, one finds  an interesting asymmetry in historians’ relatively uncritical deference of civil liberties violations in earlier war experiences and harsh condemnation of abuses stemming from the Global War on Terror. For example, historians tend to exonerate Lincoln’s suppression of civil liberties during the Civil War, while discounting the influence of his precedent on future wars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In considering all of these historical examples, this paper will argue that an analysis of the tensions between government power and individual liberties from a classical liberal perspective yields a clearer understanding of the historical development of the fate of liberty during wartime.
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