Author: Jim Flook

a seasonal Park Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park and a PhD candidate at the University of Florida. He specializes in legal and constitutional history and the American Civil War era. His dissertation concerns the use of constitutional rhetoric in public policy debates in the North during the Civil War

Jefferson Davis’s Imprisonment

Union cavalrymen arrested former Confederate president Jefferson Davis near Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10, 1865. Davis was taken into custody as a suspect in the assassination of United States president Abraham Lincoln, but his arrest and two-year imprisonment at Fort Monroe in Virginia raised significant questions about the political course of Reconstruction (1865–1877). Debate over Davis’s fate tended to divide between those who favored a severe punishment of the former Confederate political leaders and those who favored a more conciliatory approach. When investigators failed to establish a link between Davis and the Lincoln assassins, the U.S. government charged him instead with treason. U.S. president Andrew Johnson’s impeachment hearings delayed the trial, however, and in the end the government granted Davis amnesty.


Civil Liberties in Virginia during the Civil War

Virginians willingly sacrificed various civil liberties during the American Civil War (1861–1865) in hopes that a victory would establish greater security and liberty in the future. During the course of the war, Virginians interacted with three governments: the Virginia state government, the Confederate government, and the United States government. All curtailed the freedoms protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, subsequently, Article 1, section 9 of the Confederate Constitution, including the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and redress (petition). Civil liberties have also traditionally included concerns among white Southerners over their ability to reasonably do as they please without government interference. Although historians would, for many years, claim that the Confederacy did not curtail rights in the fashion of the U.S. government, there were, in fact, many such instances. Both the Virginia General Assembly and the Confederate Congress passed drafts and restricted property rights. Travel also was restricted. The Confederate Congress declared martial law, prohibited the sale of alcohol, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. An entire Habeas Corpus Commission was established whose commissioners could arrest any Confederate citizen and question his or her loyalty. Although there were protests, mostly directed at the Confederate government, most Virginia citizens accepted these limits on their freedoms as the price of military victory.