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American Legal History

In what ways did the use of martial law in early America provoke enduring questions for the restriction of civil liberty in wartime?

Martial law incorporates an impermanent substitution of military authority for civilian rule and is generally invoked in a natural disaster, rebellion, or war. Both the president and the Congress have the power within convinced constrictions to impose martial law since both can be in charge of the military. Additionally, the governor of each state across the country has the power to set martial law within the state’s borders. Martial law in America has been imposed during the war or in times of riots such as the 1920 Lexington riots or Omaha race riots of 1919. In early America, local leaders declared martial law to safeguard themselves from mob violence. When it is in effect, the military commander of a country or an area has unlimited authority to make and enforce laws. It is important to note that it is justified when the civilian rule has become ineffective, absent, or ceased to function. Additionally, martial law suspends all existing laws, civil authority, and the ordinary administration of justice(Meyler, 2018). Martial law evolved gradually in early America under a dense cloud of ambiguity and confusion. Until the difficult period between 1830 to 1860, most commentators and jurists tended to equate martial with military law and held that it applied entirely to armed forces members. However, after 1830, when Americans started to feel the pressures of leading a continental empire in addition to domestic conflict and found themselves in the circumstances needing a resort to the power of the military as the only available means of preserving constitutional and social order, the idea of martial law took on a different turn. In early America, the use of martial law provoked enduring questions for the restraint of civil freedom in the time of war.

To clear the confusion surrounding martial law, the report at hand looks at how the civil war was restricted by martial law in early America. The domestic activities of the military in the United States sometimes help civilian authorities with “non-law enforcement” functions. Martial law has been invoked in the United States only rarely. On the other hand, the concept was well known by the nation’s founders in early America. Although the British Parliament had long barred martial law, it had been imposed in Virginia and Boston during the American Revolution, restricting civil freedom for the citizens. Additionally, the great English legal scholar William Blackstone, on whom the nation’s founders relied significantly, described the concept as “no law, but as something pampered instead of being allowed as law.” In early America, the Congresses passed several laws paving the way for deploying federal troops and state militias in emergencies – however, to enforce the rule rather than displace it (Meyler, 2018). It is important to note that martial law was first invoked in early America during the War of 1812 by General Andrew Jackson in New Orleans. On the other hand, despite the heroic defense of Jackson against Britons, the imposing of martial law to replace the civilian authority, which continued even after the war was officially brought to an end, was highly criticized as not necessary. One justice disagreed strongly during wartime in early America was that under martial law, every American, rather than put their feet up under the shield of fixed and known laws as to their life, property, and freedom, exists with a rope tied on their knecks subject to be hanged by the military under the martial law.

To what extent was Reconstruction a legal success?

Reconstruction was a critical chapter in civil rights history in America. Although several failures characterized it, significant landmarks in civil rights for African-Americans were realized during that time. The amendments of the Reconstruction that Congress passed between 1865 and 1870 put slavery to an end, gave African-Americans equal protection under the American Constitution, and gave them suffrage. Jim Crow laws and racist violence eroded the constitutional rights mentioned above. However, black Americans still started to take part in politics, and these amendments formed a legal structure for more substantive equality in the time of civil rights of the 1950s and 1960s. According to Donald R. Shaffer, a historian, the gains in the Reconstruction era for black Americans were not eroded completely. The independence of black churches and the authorization of African-American marriage and family by the American government were a source of strength during the time of Jim Crow (Holloway, 1335). Reconstruction was never disremembered among the African-Americans and remained a source of encouragement. The sharecropping structure gave the African-Americans a significant amount of liberty compared to slavery. Reconstruction was an era in the United States comprised of many accomplishments, goals, and leaders. Although like everything in life, it did end, the resulting outcome of the Reconstruction era has been labeled a legal success.

The Reconstruction period is termed as a legal success in that it restored America as a unified country. By 1877, all of the previous Confederate states had pledged their loyalty to the government of the United States, acknowledged the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and drafted new constitutions. The Reconstruction period was established when the country was broken since it had just come out of the Civil War. As people say, it came at a time when Americans were “putting the pieces back.” In other words, they were trying to unite the nation again. However, it was not easy since massive death was still fresh in their minds. On top of that, Reconstruction settled federalism versus states’ rights debate, a significant problem in America since the 1790s. Reconstruction was a trial to create political and social revolution despite the opposition of much of the white South and economic collapse. Under the conditions mentioned above, the accomplishments of the era were extraordinary. As mentioned earlier, it enabled the African-Americans to take part in all levels of the government. The State governments were somehow successful when it came to solving social issues. For instance, the governments mentioned above financed public school systems open to all Americans. The black Americans established institutions denied to them during slavery: families, churches, and schools. On top of that, there was some redistribution of land because of the breakup of the plantation system. The reconstruction era resulted in passing of the fourteenth and fifteenth Amendments that helped black Americans attain full civil rights in the 20th century (Holloway, n.d). Although the Reconstruction era was followed by loss of ground, it enabled the blacks to carve out a measure of independence in the Southern society. However, it is essential to note that it was at least a step to legal success, but it helped the government and other involved parties to agree that everybody born in the United States was a citizen; thus, they were guaranteed equal treatment by the law.

Work Cited

Holloway, Vanessa. Black Rights in the Reconstruction Era. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Meyler, Bernadette. “Originalism and a Forgotten Conflict over Martial Law.” Nw. UL Rev. 113 (2018): 1335.


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