A couple days ago on the Colbert Report, Steven Colbert interviewed American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Director Anthony Romero. In the interview, Romero said that Bush was the “very worst President for civil liberties,” and later that he was “the worst President in 8 long years.” Perhaps he meant “for 8 long years,” since he was the only President in the past 8 years, so Romero’s statement really didn’t make sense. (Sorry this is up a few days late – I lost me entire draft that I wrote the 1st time, and that took a few hours to do.) Anyway, watch the video, and I’ll discuss his statements below.
So, what do I think about Romero’s statements? I think his high school American history teacher would be ashamed of him.
Now, I’m not arguing that President Bush has been a champion of civil liberties. I think he overstepped his powers, and I think the Republican Party (and some of the Democratic Party) stood by and let him. And now, the Republican Party is paying for it, and this country will be paying for it for years to come. Still, I don’t think that Bush did it just for fun. He had legitimate reasons, but I think he went too far at times. Anyway, let’s look at 4 Presidents who I think did much worse for civil liberties than Bush has:
Why John Adams? The Alien and Sedition Acts, that’s why:
First, we have the Alien Friends Act (officially titled “An Act Concerning Aliens”) (we’re going to leave the Naturalization Act out of this discussion since it isn’t relevant, but technically was the first one to be passed). Let’s take a look at the first 2 sections of the bill:
An Act concerning Aliens.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time during the continnuance of this act, to order all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States, within such time as shall be expressed in such order, which order shall be served on such alien by delivering him a copy thereof, or leaving the same at his usual abode, and returned to the office of the Secretary of State, by the marshal or other person to whom the same shall be directed. And in case any alien, so ordered to depart, shall be found at large within the United States after the time limited in such order for his departure, and not having obtained a license from the President to reside therein, or having obtained such license shall not have conformed thereto, every such alien shall, on conviction thereof, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three years, and shall never after be admitted to become a citizen of the United States. Provided always, and be it further enacted, that if any alien so ordered to depart shall prove to the satisfaction of the President, by evidence to be taken before such person or persons as the President shall direct, who are for that purpose hereby authorized to administer oaths, that no injury or danger to the United States will arise from suffering such alien to reside therein, the President may grant a license to such alien to remain within the United States for such time as he shall judge proper, and at such place as he may designate. And the president may also require of such alien to enter into a bond to the United States, in such penal sum as he may direct, with one or more sufficient sureties to the satisfaction of the person authorized by the President to take the same, conditioned for the good behavior of such alien during his residence in the United States, and not violating his license, which license the President may revoke, whenever he shall think proper.
SEC 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, whenever he may deem it necessary for the public safety, to order to be removed out of the territory thereof, any alien who may or shall be in prison in pursuance of this act; and to cause to be arrested and sent out of the United States such of those aliens as shall have been ordered to depart therefrom and shall not have obtained a license as aforesaid, in all cases where, in the opinion of the President, the public safety requires a speedy removal. And if any alien so removed or sent out of the United States by the President shall voluntarily return thereto, unless by permission of the President of the United States, such alien on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned so long as, in the opinion of the President, the public safety may require.
APPROVED, June 25, 1798.
Alright, now we have the Alien Enemies Act (officially titled “An Act Respecting Alien Enemies”):
An Act Respecting Alien Enemies
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion shall be perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States, by any foreign nation or government, and the President of the United States shall make public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed, as alien enemies. And the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized, in any event, as aforesaid, by his proclamation thereof, or other public act, to direct the conduct to be observed, on the part of the United States, towards the aliens who shall become liable, as aforesaid; the manner and degree of the restraint to which they shall be subject, and in what cases, and upon what security their residence shall be permitted, and to provide for the removal of those, who, not being permitted to reside within the United States, shall refuse or neglect to depart therefrom; and to establish any other regulations which shall be found necessary in the premises and for the public safety: Provided, that aliens resident within the United States, who shall become liable as enemies, in the manner aforesaid, and who shall not be chargeable with actual hostility, or other crime against the public safety, shall be allowed, for the recovery, disposal, and removal of their goods and effects, and for their departure, the full time which is, or shall be stipulated by any treaty, where any shall have been between the United States, and the hostile nation or government, of which they shall be natives, citizens, denizens or subjects: and where no such treaty shall have existed, the President of the United States may ascertain and declare such reasonable time as may be consistent with the public safety, and according to the dictates of humanity and national hospitality.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That after any proclamation shall be made as aforesaid, it shall be the duty of the several courts of the United States, and of each state, having criminal jurisdiction, and of the several judges and justices of the courts of the United States, and they shall be, and are hereby respectively, authorized upon complaint, against any alien or alien enemies, as aforesaid, who shall be resident and at large within such jurisdiction or district, to the danger of the public peace or safety, and contrary to the tenor or intent of such proclamation, or other regulations which the President of the United States shall and may establish in the premises, to cause such alien or aliens to be duly apprehended and convened before such court, judge or justice; and after a full examination and hearing on such complaint. and sufficient cause therefor appearing, shall and may order such alien or aliens to be removed out of the territory of the United States, or to give sureties of their good behaviour, or to be otherwise restrained, conformably to the proclamation or regulations which shall and may be established as aforesaid, and may imprison, or otherwise secure such alien or aliens, until the order which shall and may be made, as aforesaid, shall be performed.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the marshal of the district in which any alien enemy shall be apprehended, who by the President of the United States, or by order of any court, judge or justice, as aforesaid, shall be required to depart, and to be removed, as aforesaid, to provide therefor, and to execute such order, by himself or his deputy, or other discreet person or persons to be employed by him, by causing a removal of such alien out of the territory of the United States; and for such removal the marshal shall have the warrant of the President of the United States, or of the court, judge or justice ordering the same, as the case may be.
APPROVED, July 6, 1798.
And lastly we have the Sedition Act (officially entitled “An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States”):
An Act in addition to the act, entitled “An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States.”
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be ho]den to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.
SEC. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in Republication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.
APPROVED, July 14, 1798.
Alright, CLEARLY the things that Bush has done against civil rights (as outlined in the interview above – things like Guantanamo, wiretapping, etc…) weren’t as bad as what Adams did. If Bush were to follow what Adams had done, we’d be deporting Iraqis and Afghans left and right. We’d probably be deporting the French and Germans who are speaking out against the war too. And I’m guessing that CBS and Dan Rather would be in jail for around 2 years and would be paying around $2,000 for that false report that CBS did a few years ago.
Now, on to our next civil rights violating President:
President Lincoln had 18,000 rebel leaders arrested and held in military prisons without trials. Let’s look at the specific case of Maryland cavalry Lieutenant John Merryman (he assisted in kicking Union troops out of the area after a riot broke out as the Union forces were changing trains at a station) in the case Ex parte Merryman, 17 F. Cas. 144 (1861):
Lincoln wrote a letter to General Winfield Scott on April 27, 1861, allowing Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus within the vicinity of the “military line”. Originally, this was kept a secret, but by May of 1861, several members of the Maryland legislature had been arrested without grounds or stated charges.
Merryman said that this was illegal and took his case to the U.S. Circuit Court, and the judge at the time was Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. Taney sided against Lincoln, but Lincoln decided that he would just ignore the ruling. It is then rumored that Lincoln may have quickly issued and then retracted an arrest warrant for Taney, but the historical accurateness of this claim is disputed. Anyway, several other cases similar to the Merryman case went before federal judges, but Lincoln ignored all of them. Eventually Congress suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
Now, compare this to Bush. Bush hasn’t arrested 18,000 American citizens, and he hasn’t ignored nearly as many court rulings as Lincoln had either.
On to the next President:
President Wilson signed into law the following 2 bills: the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Let’s take a look at those real quick. First, we have an excerpt from the Espionage Act of 1917:
Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies and whoever when the United States is at war, shall wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, to the injury of the service or of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both.
If two or more persons conspire to violate the provisions of section two or three of this title, and one or more of such persons does any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be punished as in said sections provided in the case of the doing of the act the accomplishment of which is the object of such conspiracy. Except as above provided conspiracies to commit offences under this title shall be punished as provided by section thirty-seven of the Act to codify, revise, and amend the penal laws of the United States approved March fourth, nineteen hundred and nine.
And here’s an excerpt from the Sedition Act of 1918:
Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements, or say or do anything except by way of bona fide and not disloyal advice to an investor or investors, with intent to obstruct the sale by the United States of bonds or other securities of the United States or the making of loans by or to the United States, and whoever when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause, or incite or attempt to incite, insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct or attempt to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, or shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any language intended to incite, provoke, or encourage resistance to the United States, or to promote the cause of its enemies, or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully by utterance, writing, printing, publication, or language spoken, urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production in this country of any thing or things, product or products, necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war in which the United States may be engaged, with intent by such curtailment to cripple or hinder the United States in the prosecution of war, and whoever shall willfully advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated, and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or the imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both: Provided, That any employee or official of the United States Government who commits any disloyal act or utters any unpatriotic or disloyal language, or who, in an abusive and violent manner criticizes the Army or Navy or the flag of the United States shall be at once dismissed from the service..
When the United States is at war, the Postmaster General may, upon evidence satisfactory to him that any person or concern is using the mails in violation of any of the provisions of this Act, instruct the postmaster at any post office at which mail is received addressed to such person or concern to return to the postmaster at the office at which they were originally mailed all letters or other matter so addressed, with the words “Mail to this address undeliverable under Espionage Act” plainly written or stamped upon the outside thereof, and all such letters or other matter so returned to such postmasters shall be by them returned to the senders thereof under such regulations as the Postmaster General may prescribe.
Under these acts, a man was put on trial over his statements about not wanting to buy Liberty Bonds. In addition to that, over 50 American newspapers had their mailing privileges stripped, and all German-language or German-American newspapers had their mailing privileges removed.
In addition to these 2 acts, Wilson also allowed the American Protective League to assist law enforcement agencies. The APL was formed by Chicago businessman A.M. Briggs, under the permission of U.S. Attorney General Thomas Gregory. The group was given government-issued badges and they officially “organized with the Approval and operating under the direction of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation.” The APL was a group of 250,000 people spread across 600 cities who helped crack down on those who were believed to be helping the Germans or opposing the U.S. government. The group illegally detained U.S. citizens who were members of labor and pacifist movements.
Again, this is nothing close to what George Bush has done. If Bush were following the epionage and sedition acts, CBS executives and Dan Rather would have been fined and put in jail for running that false story about President Bush’s Air National Guard service. Instead, Rather kept his job (for a while) without any criminal charges being filed. Clearly Wilson was worse than Bush when it comes to civil liberties.
And that leads us to our last liberty looter:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Perhaps the most infamous (probably because it’s the most recent) violation of civil liberties was FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which was the executive order for the internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals. Here’s a copy of Executive Order 9066:
Executive Order No. 9066
Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas
Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.
I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area hereinabove authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.
I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.
This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House,
February 19, 1942.
Under that order, somewhere around 120,000 people were held in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 62% of which were American citizens. Compare this to Bush, who has held around 800 people in Guantanamo. And those people weren’t even American citizens!
The point that I’m trying to make in all of this is NOT that I justify Bush’s actions. I think he has overstepped his Constitutional bounds, with the wiretapping and his signing statements. But to say that he’s the WORST President for civil liberties is just insulting to American history. I would be ashamed to be Romero’s American history teacher right now, because clearly, he has forgotten some very important parts. Looking back 20 or so years from now, the history books will be kinder to Bush. I don’t think he’s anywhere near perfect, but he’s certainly hasn’t violated civil liberties as much as the 4 Presidents that I’ve just listed.