Civil liberties in the Shenandoah, January 1864

Posted on January 26, 2014 by


Or, perhaps I should say… Civil liberties as reported on this day… 150 years ago, (and, this goes hand-in-hand, in that respect, with yesterday’s post) when the Staunton Spectator ran a piece (p. 2, column 3) previously (probably on Jan. 21) carried in the Richmond Whig:


What brought this on?

It was a matter of civil liberties under… not Lincoln… but the Confederacy.

In page 2, column 1, there was further explanation, in the following editorial:

In these times we hear some strange sentiments uttered. Some seem disposed to dispense with the chart furnished by our wise fathers, and to entrust, in the term of revolution, the ark of our liberty to the waves without any thing to enable them to direct its course to prevent it from being engulphed in the Charybdis of despotism. – “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” And in times of revelation and trial the friends of liberty are called upon to exercise internal vigilance. We were surprised to find the following sentence in an editorial article in the “Richmond Enquirer” of the 21st inst.

“Habeas corpus is the criminal’s writ, good men have very little use for it, and can dispense with it altogether by obeying the laws and devoting their whole time and energy to the defence of their country.”

Was the Constitution of Virginia adopted for the special protection of criminals? Did the framers of that instrument consider “Habeas Corpus as the criminal’s writ? The first sentence of the fifteenth section of the 50th article of the Constitution of Virginia reads as follows:

“The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not, in any case, be suspended.”

Is the constitution of Virginia to be trampled to dust? Shall the Juggernaut of military power crush beneath its ponderous wheels all individual and personal rights?

The 13th section of the “Virginia Bill of rights” says, “that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.”

We have been under the impression that we have been expending our treasure and spilling the life’s blood of thousands of our best citizens to preserve the inestimable boon of liberty, and have been so unsophisticated as to believe that the way to preserve intact the right of each individual. There can be no liberty for the county when individual personal rights are disregarded and trampled in the dust. Our motto Is ‘Liberty and Independence; for independence without liberty is not worth the price we are paying.’

Deprive our people of liberty and they will no longer have an incentive to exertion.

Their energies will be relaxed, and their patriotism will wither as flowers beneath the Somoon’s breath.

For more information about civil liberties in Virginia during the Civil War, see this piece from the Encyclopedia Virginia.