Lincoln erroneously saw Unionist Clement Vallandigham as aiding the Confederacy when the former Ohio congressman was actually aiding the Union and preserving the integrity of the United States Constitution in his dissent on Lincoln’s unconstitutional acts. Joseph Holt, Lincoln’s Judge Advocate General, was a Kentuckian and Secretary of War during James Buchanan’s administration and warm to the Radical Republicans taking power. It was he who authorized the ill-fated Star of the West expedition to resupply Fort Sumter in early January, 1861, as well as later prosecuting former Ohio Congressman Vallandigham for alleged treason for his dissent. The latter is called a “Copperhead,” which was not a Southern supporter, but a Unionist who opposed Lincoln’s draconian methods.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
No Dissent in Lincolnian America
“In early 1863, a military commission prosecuted and convicted Clement Vallandigham, a former congressman, of treason. There is a consensus that this trial ranks among the most important in American history. The twentieth century’s leading scholars of the nation’s legal history, Lawrence Friedman, Kermit Hall and Melvin Urofsky, have all articulated that the Vallandigham trial and eventual Supreme Court determination in the case, is a rare landmark.
But in none of the treatise’s does Holt’s role as Vallandigham’s “prosecutor,” or the participating judge advocates emerge. Indeed, as recently as 2008, a well-researched study on Lincoln’s relationship to the Supreme Court only briefly notes Holt’s role in the entire process.
Melvin Urofsky summed up the Judge Advocate General’s role as, “simply informing the [Supreme Court] that it could inhibit neither Congress nor the President in prosecuting the War.” This is an oversimplification and the importance of Holt’s participation in Vallandigham’s trial is more than symbolic.
Holt, an officer in the War Department argued the case to Supreme Court, rather than the attorney general. This reflected how militarized the law had become and how politicized the Judge Advocate General’s Department was becoming.
[Gen. Burnside’s General Order 38 regarding treason contained] controversial prohibitions aimed at stifling dissent to the war. Most problematic was a section which stated: “The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with the view toward being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends.”
This part of the order conflicted with the Bill of Rights’ recognition of freedom of speech as an inalienable right. [Burnside] intended to ferret out the leaders of subversive organizations [as there were] already acts of public discontent within the Ohio Department . . .
[Burnside’s judge advocate aide Major James Cutts included] allegations [that] Vallandigham referred to the war as “wicked, cruel and unnecessary,” and that the war was “fought for the freedom of the blacks and enslavement of the whites.” [Vallandigham] had publicly accused the [Lincoln] administration of negotiating with the South in bad faith . . . [and] that Lincoln planned to “appoint military marshals in every district and restrain the people of their liberties, to deprive them of their rights and privileges.”
On his own, Lincoln arrived at a novel solution. If, he reasoned, Vallandigham aided the Confederacy, he should be expelled from the Union and reside with them. Holt approved of this course of action.”
(Law in War, War as Law: Brigadier General Joseph Holt and the Judge Advocate General’s Department in the Civil War and Early Reconstruction, 1861-1865, Joshua E. Kastenberg, Carolina Academic Press, 2011, excerpts, pp. 103-106; 110)