Oppression of Maryland's Civil Liberties
The split sympathies over politics governing the execution of the American Civil War had been widely known throughout the border states; the no man's land between the two sections of the country and the iron grip of control the federal government exercised in maintaining order in the rear while they closed on the front. Often times, however, in the operations perpetuating law and order behind the lines; department commanders stepped beyond the line between policy enforcement and policy setting.
On April 26, 1864 from his headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, Major General Lew Wallace issued General Orders No. 30 which personally authorized appointed care takers as the department commander saw fit, to seize and control all properties, mortgages, stocks, bonds and securities held by disloyal citizens of Maryland having either joined the rebel army or rendered their support to the rebel armies against the United States.
To more effectually carry out these provisions, General Orders No. 33 issued six days later ordered all presidents and directors, and all other authorized agents of the banks, insurance companies, railroads, turnpikes, ferries, manufacturing companies, and stock companies, to provide under oath a list of all persons and their addresses to the department quartermaster, who have in the past year elected to reside or have lived within the states then in rebellion, while holding these capital assets within the counties of Maryland.
At the end of May, the Attorney General of the United States, Edward Bates, having received many complaints from the start responded with concern that the district commander was assuming a very large power over persons and property purely of a civil nature. Its enforcement thus would entangle the government in never ending lawsuits once peace was restored; and since there was no law to justify the order as a whole, all persons involved in enforcing such an order would likewise sit on the receiving end of the judicial wrath.
The orders themselves represented a higher misrepresentation of power, in that without a law governing the orders' enforcement; it would likely lay excuse for the enemies of the government to claim the President has dispensed with all civil law setting himself up as above the law and seeking to engross all out power in the hands of the military.
Mr. Bates felt it wise to remind the major general that on January 8, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln ordered that the Attorney General be charged with the superintendence and direction of all proceedings in the seizure and confiscation of rebel property accordingly by act of Congress on the 17th of July. After discussion with the President on the issue of General Orders No. 30 and 33, it was asked of the issuing headquarters to reply with explanation at the earliest convenience.
That answer came but five days later as Wallace stated that he found thousands of Marylanders, who have owned large properties of which the revenues were still being drawn. These estates and properties drawing interest became the source of constant communications between the property holders and their agents. More objectionable became the financial means of supporting the rebels they were so inclined to join.
This arrangement irked the department commander. These very men carried swords and muskets aimed at killing the United States soldier, using every faculty of mind and body to ruin the government while living fat from federal monies within his own lines.
General Wallace believed after reading the Congressional Acts of 1861 and 1862 carefully, this became a state of affairs inadmissible by the laws of war and inconsistent with the Congressional Acts themselves. He admitted he felt that his own orders were assumptions of large power over persons, contracts, and civil properties, but at the same time, his action, in his opinion was necessary.
Certainly it was his right to stop contraband goods as well as stopping monies from going to the rebels. He clearly felt his orders were not contradictory to the acts of Congress nor were they to the orders of the President of the United States. All the rents, interests, dividends on stock, profits of farming and hires on black slaves were being paid to his quartermaster, a bonded officer who had no authority to convert, use or dispose; he merely confiscated to deprive the enemy of its usages. The two orders were not simply to cripple active enemies, but to assist the government law officers by discovery of properties liable for confiscation.
Addressing the Attorney General's urgency in the abstention of executing such orders, he pardoned himself for issuing them out of a sense of duty which governed him and then apologized to him for declining from acceding to his request.
The seizure of one such estate belonged to Brigadier General George H. Steuart, valued at a quarter million dollars along the banks of South River, Maryland. The revocation Wallace felt that Bates was asking for would be to return to a wretched traitor his means of support, by which he was able to devote himself at elegant leisure to his accursed work. He had hoped the attorney general would accept the orders as auxiliaries to his own labors and placed his own military deputies under the direction of the Attorney General of the United States.
Dissatisfied with the crafty maneuvering of Major General Lew Wallace, President Abraham Lincoln stepped in directing the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, to write his department commander informing him that the orders transcend the power vested in him as a major general and commander of a department. The power, the President admonished, belongs to him and a subordinate officer exercises it only at the command of the Chief Executive. It therefore became the recommendation of the President of the United States to revoke the orders entirely.
Pursuit of such a course of action against civil property was entirely abandoned the day Abraham Lincoln drove home his point on the subject. No implicit language or suggestions were going to free the general from his commander in chief's resolution. The officers in his armies would continue to enforce the policy and save the government the embarrassment by not making it.
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