How much power should a president have to limit civil liberties during wartime? Did President Lincoln exercise his power appropriately in this regard? Why or why not?

A President should only exercise the power to limit civil liberties of American citizens that the Constitution of the United States provides. President Lincoln exercised his power based on article 1, section 9 of the Constitution, as he deemed the civil war a national emergency. However, it is important to consider his actions and those of other presidents during wartime to determine if any limitation of civil liberties is ever truly warranted.

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As you write your response to this question, you need to center your analysis on the American Constitution. Every President’s powers, whether in peacetime or wartime, are defined by the Constitution. Therefore, each action of the President regarding civil liberties of American citizens must be weighed according to what is or is not allowed in the Constitution.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln temporarily suspended or halted the Writ of Habeas Corpus for Southerners who supported the secession or rebellion of Southern states against the United States of America. President Lincoln allowed many Southerners to be arrested and held for long periods of time. According to article 1, section 9 of the Constitution, President Lincoln did have the authority to do such, as he deemed the Civil War a national emergency. Most historians and politicians would define a bloody civil war as a national emergency, as the conflict threatened the lives of every citizen and the existence of the present nation. Additionally, there has only been one civil war in this nation, so many people argue that Lincoln’s actions helped prevent an everlasting division of the nation.

However, consider why some people argue that President Lincoln used his authority incorrectly. Some Americans feel that Lincoln’s actions could be a threatening precedent for future presidents to detain American citizens, based on their own perception of threat and emergency. For example, President Roosevelt permitted Americans of Japanese descent to be detained in America in relocation/internment camps during World War II, as they were perceived to be a threat to citizens on American soil, based solely on their heritage. These Japanese Americans lost everything, including their civil liberties, during the war.

So, when you answer the question, keep in mind the historical precedent set by many presidents during wartime, including the modern example of the Patriot Act. Presidents have extraordinary responsibility to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, but they also have a tremendous obligation to protect the civil liberties of every American citizen, no matter their heritage.

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