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What Is Martial Law? History In the U.S. & Example

Last updated 05/02/2023 by

SuperMoney Team

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Summary:
Martial law is a state of emergency where military forces or a government take control of a city or country, suspending civil law and placing the military or governing body in charge. In this article, we will discuss the meaning of martial law, how it works, and its history in the U.S., as well as provide an example.

What Is martial law?

Martial law is a temporary state of emergency in which a military force or government takes control of a city, state, or country, suspending civil law and enforcing their own set of rules. It is often declared during times of natural disasters, civil unrest, or national security threats.
Martial law allows the military or governing body to take over control of essential services, such as law enforcement, transportation, and healthcare. It also gives them the power to restrict the movement and activities of citizens, such as imposing curfews or enforcing mandatory evacuations.

Understanding martial law

Martial law is usually declared when a government or military force believes that the existing laws and structures are insufficient to maintain order or protect the public. In some cases, it is a necessary response to a crisis, but it can also be abused and used as a tool for repression and control.
Under martial law, the military or government can take actions that would normally be considered unconstitutional or illegal. This includes arresting citizens without due process, censoring the media, and using excessive force to maintain control.
When martial law is declared, civil liberties—such as the right to free movement, free speech, protection from unreasonable searches, and habeas corpus laws—may be suspended.

History of martial law in the U.S.

Martial law has been declared several times throughout U.S. history.
Some notable examples include:
  • The Civil War: Abraham Lincoln declared martial law in several states during the Civil War, allowing the military to arrest and detain anyone suspected of supporting the Confederacy.
  • World War II: President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared martial law in Hawaii after the attack on Pearl Harbor, giving the military control over the islands.
  • Los Angeles Riots: In 1992, following the acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King, California Governor Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency and martial law in Los Angeles.
  • Hurricane Katrina: After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, martial law was declared, allowing the military to take over control of the city.

Example of martial law

One example of martial law occurred in the Philippines in 1972 when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to suppress political opposition and maintain control of the country. Under martial law, Marcos suspended the constitution, censored the media, and arrested political opponents without trial. Martial law in the Philippines lasted for 14 years, and during that time, human rights abuses were widespread.

States of emergency vs. martial law

States of emergency are often confused with martial law, but they are not the same thing. A state of emergency allows the government to bypass certain laws to respond to a crisis, while martial law suspends the law altogether. A state of emergency may include curfews and evacuation orders, but it does not allow for the military to take control of civilian government operations.

Key takeaways

  • Martial law is a temporary state of emergency in which a military force or government takes control of a city, state, or country, suspending civil law and enforcing their own set of rules.
  • It is usually declared during times of natural disasters, civil unrest, or national security threats.
  • Under martial law, the military or government can take actions that would normally be considered unconstitutional or illegal.
  • Martial law has been declared several times throughout U.S. history, including during the Civil War, World War II, and in response to natural disasters and civil unrest.
  • It has also been declared in other countries, often as a tool for repression and control.

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