Suspension of Civil Liberties in Maryland: 
The Case of Richard Bennett Carmichael

Introduction

"... if you have unquestionable proof that Judge Carmichael has uttered treasonable language in his charge to the grand jury... 
arrest him and bring him to Fort McHenry."

Richard Bennett CarmichaelDuring the Civil War, Judge Richard Bennett Carmichael was a presiding circuit court judge for Kent, Queen Anne, Caroline, and Talbot counties. In November 1861, federal officials arrested three men charged with interfering with the election process after they heckled Unionists at a rally. Opposed to the arbitrary arrests and abuse of civil liberties, Carmichael instructed grand juries to indict the persons who made or abetted such arrests. As a result, Secretary of State William Seward ordered Judge Carmichael's arrest. On May 27, 1862, Federal troops entered Carmichael's courtroom in Easton where he was pistol whipped and dragged from the Talbot County Circuit Court bench. 

Instantly this Officer with his revolver drawn pushed on Judge Carmichael and seized him by the breast of his coat. The other officer closed in also. I could not then see Judge Carmichael, but could see they were surging and pulling at him. I saw three pistols snapped at him in the scuffle. In dragging him from his seat the person of the Judge was again concealed from me for some short time. I saw however the officers in front of him striking at him with the barrels of the revolvers. In a short time the Judge covered with blood was dragged from his seat and platform. I soon after left courtroom. Several citizens meantime had been struck with the barrels of the revolvers by the deputies above named. I saw no citizen display a weapon of any sort or offer the least shadow of opposition or resistance. 

Taken to Fort McHenry, Judge Carmichael spent six months in various Union prisons without a trial and was unconditionally released on December 4, 1862. 

After the war, Judge Carmichael served in the Maryland House of Delegates and preside over the Maryland Constitutional Convention of 1867. He died October 21, 1884.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

    Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.

Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront. 

9-12: Evaluate the Union's reasons for curbing wartime civil liberties. [Consider multiple perspectives]  

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Richard Bennett Carmichael
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 
    SOURCE: J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day. Vol. 3. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press, 1967.
    RESPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  2. DESCRIPTION: Fort McHenry
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    SOURCE: J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day. Vol. 3. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press, 1967.
    RESPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  3. DESCRIPTION: Letter, William H. Seward to John A. Dix
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 3, 1861
    NOTES: "It seems to me that that functionary should be arrested even in  his court if need be and sent to Fort Lafayette. You may proceed accordingly."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 2. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1897): 85

  4. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Major General John A. Dix to Governor Augustus W. Bradford
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 10, 1862
    NOTES: "Hon. R. B. Carmichael has for many months been one of the prime movers of disaffection and disloyalty on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was the author of a treasonable memorial to the legislature, published and circulated under his own signature while holding a place on the bench. His charges to the grand juries in his district have been inflammatory and insulting to the Federal Government.... It was proposed months ago to arrest him and send him to Fort Lafayette. Though he deserves it I prefer to have him sent into the Confederate States to be turned over to the insurgents with whom he sympathizes and whose cause he is doing all in his power to promote. He is unworthy of the protection of a Government which he is laboring to subvert and he ought not to enjoy its privileges."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 2. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1897): 213

  5. DESCRIPTION: Letter, John A. Dix to H. H. Goldsborough (p. 576, p. 577)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 23, 1862
    NOTES: "I am disposed however, to defer to your judgment, and if you have unquestionable proof that Judge Carmichael has uttered treasonable language in his charge to the grand jury and that the officers of the court have been so biased and are so controlled by the disloyalty of the judge as to render a fair trial hopeless, then the deputy provost-marshall, Mr. McPhail, is authorized on consultation with you to arrest him and bring him to Fort McHenry."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 576-577.

  6. DESCRIPTION: Docket entry, Talbot County Circuit Court, indicating that the activities of the court have been interrupted because of the arrest of Judge Richard Bennett Carmichael
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 27, 1862
    SOURCE: TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Minutes) [MSA C1892, 1-43-4-6]
    RESPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  7. DESCRIPTION: Letter J. L. McPhail to W. W. Morris
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 27, 1862
    NOTES: "You will receive the Hon. Judge R. B. Carmichael .... The charges will be sent in the morning."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 600.

  8. DESCRIPTION: Register of prisoner, R. Carmichael
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 28, 1862
    SOURCE: Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865. Microfilm No. 598. Roll 96. Volumes 305-310. Register of Prisoners and Ledger of Prisoners' Accounts, 1861-65: Fort McHenry, Md. Military Prison.
    REPOSITORY: National Archives 

  9. DESCRIPTION: "An Exciting Scene at Easton. Arrest of Judge Carmichael and Others on The Charge of Treason."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 29, 1862
    SOURCE: The Maryland Newsheet Collection
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  10. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Col. Samuel Hambleton and James Lloyd to James A. Pearce providing a detailed account of Carmichael's arrest.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 29, 1862
    SOURCE: TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Minutes) [MSA C1892, 1-43-4-6]
    RESPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  11. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Thomas H. Hicks to Abraham Lincoln,  (Release of suspected conspirators)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 30, 1862
    NOTE: Thomas H. Hicks was the governor of Maryland, 1858-1862. 
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  12. DESCRIPTION: Letter, William Wilkins Glenn to unknown correspondent
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 31, 1862
    NOTES: Includes statement from Judge Carmichael
    SOURCE: Bayly Ellen Marks and Mark Norton Schatz, Between North and South: A Maryland Journalist Views the Civil War: The Narrative of William Wilkins Glenn, 1861-1869. London: Associated University Presses, 1976.
    REPOSITORY: Original letter in the collections of the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore

  13. DESCRIPTION: Letter, George Vickers to William Price,  (Arrests in Maryland)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 3, 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  14. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Samuel Hambleton to James A. Pearce,  (Statement regarding arrest of Judge Richard Carmichael)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 9, 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  15. DESCRIPTION: Letter, William Price to William H. Seward (Arrest of Judge Richard Carmichael)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 9, 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  16. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Abraham Lincoln to John W. Crisfield,  (Arrest of Judge Richard Carmichael)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 26, 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  17. DESCRIPTION: Letter, A. Minor to Abraham Lincoln, (Arrest of Richard B. Carmichael)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  18. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Richard B. Carmichael to Abraham Lincoln,  (Seeks release from prison)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 22, 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  19. DESCRIPTION: Letter, James A. Pearce to Abraham Lincoln, (Arrest of Judge Richard B. Carmichael)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: August 8, 1862
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  20. DESCRIPTION: Letter John A. Dix to Augustus W. Bradford
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 10, 1862
    NOTES: "Hon. R. B. Carmichael has for many months been on of the prime movers of disaffection and disloyalty on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was the author of a treasonable memorial to the legislature, published and circulated under his own signature while holding a place on the bench. His charges to the grand juries in his district have been inflammatory and insulting to the Federal Government. He has caused military officers to be indicted and has charged grand juries that it was their duty to find bills against all persons who had given information on which arrests had been made by order of the Government...."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 2. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1897): 213

See also: 

Secondary Resources

Neely, Mark E., Jr. The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Oxford University Press, 1992.

Preston, Dickson J. Talbot County: A History. Centreville: Tidewater Publishers, 1983.

Rehnquist, William H. All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Scharf, J. Thomas History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day. Vol. 3. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press, 1967.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.

 

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