One hundred fifty years ago today the Fayetteville (NC) Observer published excerpts from the New York Commercial Advertiser and Richmond (VA) Dispatch to show how “it [was] criminal now again… to speak [ill] of” President Abraham Lincoln in northern states. As the Commercial Advertiser explained, a merchant had been arrested in New York City for “using seditious language, and making scandalous assertions in regard to the character of the President of the United States and some members of his family.” While at first “he claimed… to speak from personal knowledge,” the merchant later admitted that “his information was derived from Southern papers.” After “a reprimand and warning,” authorities let him leave the city. The excerpt from the Richmond (VA) Dispatch, however, focused on conditions in Washington DC. The Dispatch had heard shocking stories from those who had “just arrived here from Washington” and condemned the Lincoln administration for the way in which they apparently treated some southerners.
“…numbers of men and women are confined in the basement rooms of the Capital as suspected persons either from the South, or who sympathize with the South. The tyrant Lincoln has the citizens arrested without form of law, gives them no trial, and in some cases not even deigns to let them know the cause of their arrest. The despotism and terrorism of the worst days of the French Revolution did not exceed this.”
Some southerners in Washington were apparently so concerned that they sent letters to friends and family in Fayetteville “without signatures.” While “relatives of course knew from whom [the letters] came,” the Observer noted that “the writer… had not dared to sign his name.”