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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 15. Opposition to the Administration

The eclipse of constitutional rights enjoyed in time of peace and the supremacy of the war powers became the chief issue in politics. “The Constitution as it is, and the Union as it was” became the slogan of the opposition. In New York the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, with S. F. B. Morse as president, was active in the publication of pamphlets criticizing the measures of the administration. Its objects were to popularize the principles of constitutional liberty “to the end that usurpation may be prevented, that arbitrary and unconstitutional measures may be checked, that the Constitution may be preserved, that the Union may be restored, and that the blessings of free institutions and public order may be kept by ourselves and be transmitted to our Posterity.” Among the contributors to its pamphlets were Morse, Samuel J. Tilden, and George Ticknor Curtis. Likewise, in the defence of the administration, the Loyal Publication Society was organized, and among the writers for its publications were Francis Lieber, Robert Dale Owen, and Peter Cooper. Much of the literature in criticism of the government has been lost. Of that which survives, D. A. Mahoney’s Prisoner of State (1863), the recital by an Iowa editor of his own imprisonment and that of others, is illustrative. The author’s theme is summarized in the following sentence from the dedication:

  • To you, then, far beyond and above all others of the monsters which have been begotten by the demon of fanaticism which is causing our country to be desolated, belongs the distinction of connecting your name with this work, not only to live in the memory of the deeds which you have caused to be committed, but to be kept forever present in the American mind whenever it recurs in time to come to that period in American history when the Constitution of the United States was first abrogated, when the Government of the Union was subverted, and when the rights and liberties of the American People were trampled like dust beneath the feet of a person clothed in a little brief authority which is used to subvert and destroy that which it should preserve, protect and defend, and who uses as the heel of his depotism, you, Edwin M. Stanton.
  • More widely known was the case of Clement L. Vallandingham. A member of Congress and actively engaged in campaigning against the administration in 1863, he was arrested by military authority, tried by court martial, and sentenced to imprisonment. The sentence was commuted by President Lincoln to exile within the Confederate lines. The episode led to the writing of Edward Everett Hale’s short story, A Man Without a Country (1863), of which five hundred thousand copies were sold within thirteen years.