Posts Tagged ‘1861’

I had to run to the doctor’s office tonight.  The back of my leg (just above the calf muscle) has been giving me fits for a couple days and, since I couldn’t diagnose it, I figured I’d get a second (well, actually a first) opinion.  It turned into a big nothing…a bit of tendonitis.  I’ve been walking more and riding my bike more, so a bit of fatigue behind the knee should be expected.  Of course, this has nothing to do with history except to lay down a proper excuse as to why I’m keeping Today’s History Lesson brief.

We talked about the Revenue-Marine yesterday and its use to assist in the proper collection of tariffs.  Let’s continue in that vein today.

In August of 1861, the American Civil War was just a couple of months old, and again, the government was feeling cash-strapped.  President Lincoln, in the Oval Office since March, had a Commander-in-Chief’s-eye view of the final collapse of the Union and beginning of hostilities between U.S. forces and those from the C.S. (Confederate States).

When he first took the Oath, he was already thinking about the costs of returning the “wayward” South to the Union.  Some of his earliest discussions with his Cabinet involved the concept of an income tax should war break out.  Today, income tax is a part of our existance, but in Civil War times, it was a new burden to lay on the citizens.  But unlike today (if I may editorialize a bit), at least Congress and the President did some things right when it passed, on August 5, 1861, the first income tax legislation in the form of the Revenue Act of 1861:

  • It was small.  The tax rate was 3%.
  • It was flat.  The 3% rate was assessed across the board.
  • It had provisions for the poorest of citizens.  The tax was only levied on those making more than $800 a year.

The Revenue Act was in force for a year, when it was replaced by the Revenue Act of 1862.  The new Act introduced the graduated rates we know so well today (3% on incomes greater than $600/yr, 5% on those greater than $10,000/yr).  It also added a termination provision…the Act would cease in 1866.

If only our tax laws were remotely similar to those from Lincoln’s day…

Recommended Reading: Lincoln

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I’m no law expert, and as you read Today’s History Lesson, you’ll figure that out.  We’re going to talk (for just a minute or two) about habeas corpus.  It’s probably one of the most important rights given to the individual to protect him or her from government power.  And it’s probably good to visit the topic, simply because it’s been in the news for some time as it pertains to the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay.

“Habeas corpus” in Latin means something along the lines of “you must have the body” or “you shall produce the body”.  It’s a legal action better known as a “writ” (hence, a “writ of habeas corpus”).  If a person believes he or she is being held prisoner without just cause, that person can invoke habeas corpus.  The court will then summon (with an order) those holding the person, demanding that the prisoner be brought to the court.  In addition, those holding the prisoner must bring evidence that they are holding the prisoner lawfully.  Failing to do so, the prisoner is to be released from custody.

Essentially, habeas corpus is the guarantee that anyone held in custody by the law will receive a day in court.  If such a right were not in force, one could be incarcerated and held indefinitely without ever getting to state one’s case.  In the U.S. Constitution, part of Article 1, Section 9 reads, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Again, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure it’s that part after “unless…” that has caused so much recent debate.

I believe the Bush Administration used that clause as a way to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay for long periods of time without trial, which brought its lawyers into sharp debate with other lawyers.  There was great disagreement over the matter of giving the protections of U.S. citizens to enemy combatants.  I don’t know all the particulars, but in mid 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Administration was, indeed, violating the rights of the prisoners there and those being held had a right to seek writs of habeas corpus.

Maybe some of you readers that know more than I will chime in and clarify some of the muddle.

Anyways…I’m almost to end of the lesson, and I’ve yet to say anything historical, so let’s go for it.  On April 27, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln suspended, for the first time, habeas corpus in the state of Maryland and in parts of other states.  Lincoln’s justification was obvious.  The Civil War had just begun, the Union had lost Fort Sumter two weeks prior, and Maryland was full of Confederate sympathizers who were happy to aid the southern army in its efforts to overthrow the nation’s northern capital.

So Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and gave his Generals power to lock up suspected sympathizers.

Recommended Reading: Lincoln – One of the best biographies about the Civil War President available.

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Without doubt, there are others who have done a far better job writing about the importance of the 2008 elections than I ever could.  They’ve talked about the incredible voter turnout.  They have spoken eloquently concerning the call, by the American people, for a change in leadership and a new direction.  And, of course, they’ve highlighted the historical significance of America electing its first African-American President.  I wouldn’t, for a moment, try to match words with any of them.

But since we’re on the subject, let’s talk briefly about another elected President…Jefferson.  No, not Thomas Jefferson.  And no, not the President of the United States.  On November 6, 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected as the first (and only) President of the Confederate States of America.

As a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, he believed that each state had the right to secede from the Union, though he strongly opposed the action.  But the ears of his fellow Southerners were to his words as stone, and the Union dissolved.  Davis’ home state seceded in January of 1861, and Davis resigned from the Senate and returned home, where he joined the army.

When the southern “states” held their Constitutional convention in February of the same year, Davis was named the provisional President of the Confederate States, a position that would become official with the returns from the election held on this day in 1861.

By then, the Civil War was in full swing but, just four years later, the Confederate government would dissolve under the pressure from the Northern armies, the sacking and subsequent capture of the Confederate capital, and the surrender of General Lee.  Jefferson Davis’ 6-year term as President would end about 2 years early, and that time would be mostly spent in jail, reflecting on his tenure as one of the two leaders of the Divided States of America.

Recommended reading: April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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