Monday, January 29, 2007

"... what aren't they willing to play games with?"

Author Takes On Civil Liberties Of 1812
January 29, 2007
By JULIE SHAPIRO, Courant Staff Writer

NEW BRITAIN -- Matthew Warshauer is not entirely happy that his first book - a study of Andrew Jackson's suspension of civil liberties in wartime - has gotten national attention.

On the one hand, he was excited to read the 5,000-word review in last week's New Yorker that calls his book "lucid and well-researched." On the other hand, Warshauer understands that his book's popularity is tied to post-Sept. 11 civil liberties violations.

"The timing for my book couldn't be better," said Warshauer, a professor at Central Connecticut State University. "But I'd rather sell a few less books and give a few less talks and have the world not be quite so scary."

Warshauer's book, "Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law," focuses on Jackson's decisions during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. The well-trained British outnumbered the Americans, and Jackson's victory made him a national hero.

But during the battle and its aftermath, Jackson seized emergency powers to suspend the right of habeas corpus - the right of a prisoner to have a judge review his or her case - and threw anyone who objected in jail.

"It was the very first time civil liberties were suspended in United States," Warshauer said.

The key precedent is not just that Jackson declared martial law, but that he got away with it, Warshauer said. President James Madison didn't want to confront Jackson, a popular war hero, and Jackson received only a fine for his actions - a fine that Congress later reversed.

"I've been really interested in the degree to which nationalism influences politics," Warshauer said. When he started working on the book as his dissertation more than 10 years ago, he had no idea how relevant it would become after Sept. 11, 2001.

"We're facing the same thing right now," Warshauer said, referring to the possible habeas corpus violations in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp, which the Bush administration has defended as permissible during time of war. "In my view, it's completely unconstitutional," Warshauer said.

As a student of Jackson and current events, Warshauer has learned that "you can violate the Constitution when broad nationalism exists," he said. Warshauer is preoccupied by the status of rights in today's society. "This is what this nation is truly founded on - the idea of civil liberty," Warshauer said. "If they're willing to play games with that, what aren't they willing to play games with?"

Julie Shapiro can be reached at



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