On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began with the Battle at Fort Sumner. Though the Battle of Fort Sumner was the first significant Civil War event of April 1861, it would not be the last. There were additional April 1861 and 1862 events that would play a pivotal role not only in the conflict itself, but in the lives of modern day Americans. Here are three of those events:
1. Insurrection Declared, Habeas Corpus Suspended
On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln declared insurrection without Congress’ approval and requested 75,000 volunteers to enlist in military service for a 90-day period. He did this under the auspices of the 1795 Militia Act.
In addition, on April 27, 1861, he suspended Habeas Corpus and ordered Gen. Winfield Scott to find and arrest Southern sympathizers. His decision to declare insurrection and suspend Habeas Corpus had significant implications both for the Civil War conflict itself and modern day Americans. The Writ of Habeas Corpus is designed to prevent the unlawful imprisonment of Americans. When Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus, he made it possible to arrest and imprison those who opposed his agenda.
The act of Lincoln declaring insurrection and suspending Habeas Corpus without Congress’ approval was significant to the Civil War because it allowed Lincoln to use Federal troops in an effort to quell the Confederate uprising and further the agenda of his political party. At the time of the declaration, Congress was severely divided on the issues at hand. As such, it was unlikely that Congress would have unanimously approved a declaration of war or suspension of Habeas Corpus. Therefore, Lincoln’s actions were seen by some as an imperialistic abuse of presidential power and insulting to both Congress and the Supreme Court.
Lincoln’s decision also becomes significant to modern day Americans when looked at within the context of legislation that came during the post-Civil War period. Two pieces of legislation in particular are the 1878 Possee Comitatus Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The acts work in tandem with the Insurrection Act of 1807 and are designed to define and limit the president’s role in suspending Habeas Corpus and deploying federal troops domestically.
2. Blockade of Confederate Ports
On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln called for the blockade of all Confederate ports. That action was significant to the Civil War effort in two ways. First, it was Lincoln’s attempt at keeping the Confederates from obtaining much-needed supplies. Second, up until that point, the Constitution gave the power to declare war to Congress and not the president. By declaring the blockade, Lincoln declared war without having to deal with a divided Congress.
Lincoln’s actions that day became significant to modern Americans because it led, in part, to the creation of the War Powers Resolution Act of 1973. That act clearly defines the roles of both the president and Congress when it comes to deploying American troops and declaring war.
3. Conscription Act
On April 16, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act. The Conscription Act was a precursor to the modern military draft. It required all healthy Caucasian males between the ages of 18 to 35 to enlist in the army for a period of three years.
The significance of this decision was twofold. First, it was important to the conflict because it allowed the Confederates to continue war efforts. Second, it was significant for modern Americans because the draft remains a method used by the government in times of war.
Civil War Military Home, “Conscription (Military Draft) in the Civil War” Civil War Military Home
University of Chicago Press “An Interview with Daniel Farber” University of Chicago Press
Library of Congress, “War Powers” Library of Congress
Stephen I. Vladeck, “Emergency Power and the Militia Acts” Yale Law Journal
Online Etymology Dictionary, “The American Civil War – Habeas Corpus” Online Etymology Dictionary
Doug Linder, “War and Treaty Powers” Exploring Constitutional Law