Civil Liberties and Civil War: The Great Emancipator as Civil Libertarian

23 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2008

See all articles by Paul Finkelman

Paul Finkelman

Gratz College; Albany Law School


This essay is a review of Mark E. Neely's The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (1991), and argues that Lincoln's abuse of civil liberties during the Civil War has been generally misunderstood and exaggerated. The article also shows that Lincoln was essentially a fried of civil liberties, just as he was an enemy of slavery. But, just as he had to tolerate some cooperation with slavery in the border slave states to win the Civil War, so too did he have to implement and support some deprivation of civil liberties. The article explains how the friction and abrasion (as Lincoln called it) that helped destroy slavery also threatened personal and civil liberties. The lesson of the Lincoln years, set out in Neely's book, is that war threatens individual liberties, even when the chief executive is sensitive to democracy and disinclined to be oppressive. When the chief executive cares less for freedom, or worse yet, is openly hostile to individuals and organizations dedicated to its preservation, the climate during wartime can become truly oppressive.

Keywords: civil liberties, civil war, emancipator

Suggested Citation

Finkelman, Paul, Civil Liberties and Civil War: The Great Emancipator as Civil Libertarian. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 91, No. 1353, 1993, Available at SSRN:

Paul Finkelman (Contact Author)

Gratz College ( email )

7605 Old York Road
Melrose Park, PA 19027
United States

Albany Law School

United States

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