Arresting the Board of Police Commissioners
Above all the entanglements which developed into the sectionalism of the United States of America in the early 1860's, none could have endeared compromise if the central government, bound by the prescribed laws of its Constitution disintegrated before the rest of the world. As seven seceded states affixed four more stars to what now became a symbol of their national emblem, all else was frivolous, if the laws of the land were permitted to vaporize before the eyes of the general public.
By late April of 1861, Washington City, an area of land surrounded by both Virginia to the south, seceding after President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to raise an army against her sister states, and Maryland to the north, teetering with mixed sympathies, the federal government had to act fast to prevent itself from being surrounded by those who posed the threat to end the Republic.
The Confederate sympathizers ran rampant in the city of Baltimore, having already proved their aggression towards federal troops moving through their city; and continued to harbor active resentment with open defiance towards those who threatened their civil liberties.
On the 24th day of June 1861, Lieutenant General Winfield Scott wrote to Major General Nathaniel Banks, commanding the Department of Annapolis regarding a communication received from a "Mr. Snethen," prominently of the city of Baltimore having relayed many important facts regarding the Unionists within the city limits, to the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron. It had been deemed essential that federal troops be moved at once to that city, seize and securely hold four members of the Baltimore City Police Board; Charles Howard, William H. Gatchell, John W. Davis and Charles D. Hinks; together with the Chief of Police, George P. Kane. In lieu of this arrest of the city officials, it was considered vital to appoint a provost marshal over the city to superintend the laws of Baltimore as prescribed by the Maryland General Assembly.
Three days later, pursuant to these orders, Banks had Mr. George P. Kane arrested and Colonel John R. Kenly of the First Maryland Regiment duly sworn as the provost marshal immediately entering into his municipal duties. Issuing a proclamation to the people of the city upon Kane's arrest, the department commander enlightened its citizens that the government desired to support the public authority, however finding individuals in command of unlawful combinations of men, armed, ready and willing to subvert against the authority they had sworn to protect, would not be permitted to continued unpunished. Should Baltimore find itself a loyal citizen to execute its laws impartially and in good faith to the United States Government, the military department would render to him willing obedience. Until then the city of Baltimore was to be superintended by the strong arm of the federal army.
Colonel Kenly, then organized a force of four hundred soldiers to serve as Baltimore City's police force. Police headquarters, shortly after the arrest and vacated by the officers appointed by that board, resembled a concealed arsenal secreted in such places and with such skill as to forbid the thought of them being held for anything less than unlawful purposes.
From Fort McHenry, Major General Banks' second proclamation to the people of Baltimore, announced the further arrest that completed the list the United States War Department provided the department commander. These men had openly protested against the suspension of their function in the city itself; yet continued to meet in secret. Placing a military contingent inside the city limits to learn of the intention of these men; they seized six 6 pound cannon, two 4 pound iron cannon, three hundred thirty two muskets, pistols and a large stockpile of small arms ammunition. The resolutions passed by the members of the police commission, yielded to what they considered an illegal military take over of the civil authority. The army's view of what their official duty and obligations were; happened to be inconsistent with the right of the officers and men of the police force which answered to none other than the board of commissioners, now suspended.
In plea of their case, Mr. Charles Howard, Mr. William H. Gatchell, Mr. John W. Davis, and Mayor George William Brown filed a report before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis regarding the wrongful arrest of the police board and their hold without charge inside the walls of Fort McHenry. A second memorial sent to the Federal House of Representatives and Senate, claimed that only Maryland had the authority to remove such officers appointed by the General Assembly and can not be removed from office by any other authority. Both Howard and Davis' term of office was due to expire in March of 1862, while Gatchell and Hinks continued on two years longer. To the civil authority of Baltimore, Major General Banks had no standing to order suspension.
The memorials succeeded in getting past the House of Representatives who resolved themselves on the 24th of July 1861 that President Abraham Lincoln, communicate immediately regarding the grounds and reason, with provided evidence to the disloyalties of the Baltimore Police Commission, leading to their arrest and detainment inside Fort McHenry. Obliged to respond, President Lincoln simply informed Congress that in regards to the grounds, reason and evidence beyond the arrest, he determined the responsibility to answer them with an explanation was incompatible with the public interest and refused to disclose upon those grounds.
With his interpretation of the United States Constitution to suspend habeas corpus on the 27th of April, the state of emergency the Chief Executive concluded upon, left the police commissioners of Baltimore no leg to stand on. Until he saw necessary, not Congress, nor the Supreme Court, had the authority to appeal the plea of a speedy trial; and Fort McHenry continued to remain a holding tank for citizens of Maryland considered hostile towards the central government.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org