Top 5 Worst Incidences of Martial Law In the United States

I believe, wholeheartedly, that the United States is the best country in the world. Need proof? Check out our long history of success and prosperity. Now that I’ve got my flag-waving out of the way, let’s get into the juicy stuff. America’s prosperous history is marked with some truly hideous blemishes. These ugly periods largely coincide with declarations of martial law. Simply put, martial law is when a governor, Congress, or The President legally acknowledges shit has hit the fan. In these circumstances habeas corpus is suspended, the military steps in, and locally elected officials lose efficacy.


What’s that? Describing martial law as a legal declaration of shit hit the fan isn’t satisfactory? I wish I could explain more about the scope of martial law in the United States. The frightening part is that nobody really knows what martial law is. In Duncan v Kahanamoku (1946) the Supreme Court criticized the implementation of martial law in Hawaii. Writing about the case, Justice Hugo Black expressed his confusion: “The term martial law carries no precise meaning. The Constitution does not refer to ‘martial law'”. If the Supreme Court doesn’t know what martial law is, how can our elected officials responsibly declare it? When we enter a state of martial law, we are leaping from the precipice of known legal dictates into an abyss of tyrannical chaos. Since the Supreme Court can’t tell us what the hell martial law is, we have to look at a few of the worst examples in the United States. Here are my top five worst instances of martial law in United States history.

By D-Ray a contributing author to SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

5. Boston – 1774

In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British issued the Massachusetts Government Act. The intent of the Act was to nullify the existing colonial government in Massachusetts by replacing it with a royally appointed governor.  Every American knows how this story ends: the Revolutionaries waged war with the British and won their independence. The formation of The United States is a pretty nice silver lining to this anti-democratic act. For this reason, I’ll consider it the least terrible of the 5.

4. New Orleans – 1812

Prior to the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson implemented martial law in the area. An intervening judge demanded Jackson restore habeas corpus. In the most ballsy, Andrew Jackson-esque move, he had the judge arrested and continued with business as usual.

Related: Jurisdictional Creep

As President, Jackson showed the same contempt towards the legal system. In a separate incident, when Chief andrew_jackson_martial_lawJustice John Marshall delivered his ruling precluding the removal of Native Americans from their lands, Jackson said, “John Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it.”  Jackson ignored the Supreme Court and did as he pleased. While I should be disgusted by Jackson’s disregard for the law, I can’t help but respect his steel tenacity.

3. Tulsa – 1921

In an incredibly shameful turn of events, the Tulsa Municipal government was complicitous in the murder of over 300 black citizens.  Amidst the destruction and murder, the National Guard, with permission from local authorities, implemented martial law. They eventually restored peace but the damage was lasting. In this instance, martial law was absolutely necessary to restore law and order.  The Tulsa Race Riot is a unique case because the destruction leading up to martial law, not the implementation of martial law itself, was so deplorable.

2. The United States – 1863

In order to respond to increasing dissent in the Union during the Civil War, President Lincoln enacted martial law. The chief result of this was the suspension of due process and the establishment of military tribunals. It is unclear how many innocent people were deprived of justice during this period. In any case, the Supreme Court ruled Lincoln’s imposition of martial law to be unconstitutional in the 1866 case Ex Parte Milligan.civil_war_martial_law

Justice David Davis condemned the Lincoln Administration’s practices in the Court’s majority opinion. The Court gave martial law and Lincoln the finger saying, “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances.”  I can’t think of a more eloquent way of telling the government to leave due process the hell alone.

1. Colorado – 1914

After seeing ‘1914 Colorado’ in first place, I imagine many of you are puzzled. In fact, you’re probably thinking, “Hold on, dumbass,  how does a petty conflict in Colorado beat out the Civil War?” This is a fair question. Allow me to explain.

In the early 20th Century, labor conditions in American coal mines were deplorable. Miners were poorly compensated for long, difficult hours in hazardous environments. When the miners did return home, they returned to houses and towns owned by their employers. Miners were not allowed to leave the company owned towns without express permission from their employer.  On many levels, it is difficult to differentiate these feudalistic mining systems from slavery.

Also Read: A Brief History of Martial Law


Not surprisingly, miners in Colorado unionized and protested their abhorrent work conditions. Rather than acquiesce to basic demands like an 8 hour work day, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company enlisted the support of the Governor. Martial law was declared, the National Guard arrived, tensions escalated, and the standstill between workers and the State culminated in a violent boil. Two dozen people, including women and children, were killed in a lopsided event which would later be referred to as the Ludlow Massacre.

While habeas corpus during the Civil War was suspended for the preservation of The Union, the Ludlow Massacre happened because feudal corporate systems wanted to retain total power over their employees. There was no noble silver lining or justifiable purpose behind the Ludlow Massacre. For this reason, I consider it to be the most heinous.

My Plan For Martial Law

People can say whatever they want about the second amendment but there is no denying that a gun would have been useful in any of the five incidences listed above. For this reason, I keep my SKS sealed in a monovault outside my house. When chaos strikes and the next President Jackson suspends habeas corpus, I’ll be ready to go full Viet-Cong innawoods_sks_martial_law_planmode in the Rocky Mountains.

Even though I’m a solid hunter, food is going to be an issue. I have some MREs on deck but I could always use more. For now, I’ll just place unreasonably high confidence in my ability to consistently kill elk in the Zirkel Wilderness. When shit hits the fan, a little bit of hubris may not be such a bad thing.

Realistically, the most dangerous thing for me will probably be the harsh winters. My tent could use an upgrade but my sleeping bag is solid. Winters in the Zirkels are never a cake walk but as long as I don’t freeze to death I’ll be happy.  Let me know what you would do in the event of martial law. Disagree with my list? Tell me why in the comments.

About D-Ray:

D-Ray is a recent graduate of CU Boulder and currently enrolled in a law school on the East Coast. By day, he is a mild mannered content writer; by night, he banishes unruly drunks into the black purgatory of night as a bouncer. He is passionate about the Constitution and First Amendment Rights. 

Photos Courtesy of:
Matt Popovich
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23 comments… add one
  • Ray October 9, 2016, 9:08 am

    FIRST: Before you “grab that SKS and head for the woods”. Try sleeping outside for a year. If , like most people today you have never lived in the “bush” for more than a week, you have no clue what you are getting into or advocating. Sorry dude but your “bug out” fantasy will get you and others dead. Just remember that the most common cause of death for “mountain men” was starvation. AND: If you plan to “kill elk” and not humans I suggest a .300 win mag or 30:06. A 7.62X39 won’t get the job done.

    • D-Ray October 10, 2016, 2:17 am

      I elk hunt with a .308 winchester.

      • Shootit October 10, 2016, 10:12 am

        I hope you have a plan for November, December, January, February, and March. All your game will be below 7,500 ft for a reason along with everyone else in Colorado. I like you have hunted Elk many years in Colorado using horses to get way back into the mountains, up on ridges, camped above 10,000′, you name it only to find my secret spot covered with noisy orange critters. They are crazy and will walk all night to find me. They are worse than beer bugs. The mountains may even be worse than during Elk rifle season because there will be many with no experience(Zombies) wondering around. After last nights debate…. May God help us All!

        • D-Ray October 10, 2016, 2:33 pm

          You’re absolutely right, shootit. When things begin to deteriorate, we’ll have a lot of amateurish individuals wandering into the wilderness. Colorado’s population has exploded in the past five years. The more growth we continue to have, the more messy things will eventually get.

      • Ray October 10, 2016, 1:19 pm

        Nothing agin’ the SKS. I carried one for years. It’s just to light for deer let alone Elk. I just think that anything smaller than a 30.06 with a 180-200 Gr. core-lock is to light for a 1200+ pound animal. We have cow elk that size here in Kentucky ,and bulls that will run near a ton. If your elk are anywhere close to that size, the .308 seems awful light too.

        • D-Ray October 10, 2016, 2:10 pm

          Always safe going with the bigger caliber. With that being said, I brought down a very nice bull elk last season with a .308. Believe me, it gets the job done.

      • BamaMan October 13, 2016, 10:58 am

        .308 is a minimum for deer and elk.

    • Leslie October 23, 2016, 2:23 am

      My husband and I are old folks living in Arizona, and there won’t be any bugging out for us. We’ll shelter in place on our tiny farm, hoping our land will keep us fed, defending it with assorted surprises of which government bureaucrats (and city people in general) know nothing. Hint: bees can rout a small army. We’d like more information on how to fight back (we know the uses of Massive Passive Resistance) in our situation. Thank you.

  • irishdutchuncle October 10, 2016, 12:01 am

    Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abe Lincoln were safely dead, by the time of the Milligan ruling. either the Constitution is, or it isn’t a suicide pact. the founders, and the document are sufficiently flawed that IMHO, it should not occasion idolatry. my duty to the Deity and to Truth are higher than my duty to the Constitution.

    • Brian October 21, 2016, 8:11 am

      You are spot on God comes first in all things then the family is second in all things then the government and the like is last. And no capital g for them they don’t deserve it.

      • Charles October 21, 2016, 12:30 pm


    • irishdutchuncle December 28, 2016, 5:28 am

      … of course, the Constitution was pretty good, despite the founding fathers. (the last, best remaining shread being:
      the Electoral College. once that is gone, it’s really all over)

  • Joel Walbert October 10, 2016, 4:37 pm

    Let’s dispense with calling the War of 1861 a civil war. It was a war of aggression between two SEPARATE nations.

    • BamaMan October 13, 2016, 11:02 am

      So was the “Revolutionary War” only that we won and the British would have called it a civil war if they had one.

      But in a technical sense, the Revolutionary War was a “Civil War’ because two factions were fighting for control of what would be one government. A revolution is when a faction wishes to split apart and form their own government.

      • BamaMan October 13, 2016, 11:02 am

        won, not one.

      • D-Ray October 13, 2016, 11:23 am

        Agreed, BamaMan. To expound upon your point, revolution is a term used to legitimize a domestic conflict. We engaged in this strategy during the Cold War. When Soviet backed states experienced domestic turmoil, we labelled subversives ‘revolutionaries’ not ‘rebels’.

  • Joe Allen October 20, 2016, 9:40 pm

    Let’s not forget New Orleans, 2005. That’s when the federal government experimented with mass gun theft, when people needed their guns the most, and learned that it works. It’s important to look at things that happened recently because there is this sense that the government has changed somehow and wont’ do horrible things again. the phrase is “never again” but I believe they will come for our guns again. Maybe they will do it on a larger scale next time.

    On one hand, New Orleans woke people up to the possibility but on the other hand, it’s been 11 years, people are forgetting, but the government disaster planners are not forgetting.

  • Joe in Oly October 21, 2016, 1:04 pm

    Buy some land that is arable. Marshall Law will only be “enforced” in the cities and suburbs, so your land should be in a fairly remote location.You only need 5 acres to grow all the meat vegetables, fruit, firewood you will need to have your whole family survive the complete shutdown of the economy and law and order. Buy a second-hand motor home or trailer that you can eat/sleep in to survive; stock it with 1 year of food and survival items such as ammo and tools; have it ready to take to your land at the first hint of a crash. Share the preparations with you loved ones (some will think you crazy, but others will see it as an adventure).

    • D - Ray October 21, 2016, 6:22 pm

      Sounds like you have a very thorough contingency plan. Is your family supportive of all this?

      • Brian October 21, 2016, 11:11 pm

        If they aren’t now they will be when the SHTF and very appreciative when the time comes. God only know how many people and families are going to be caught with their pants down and loose every thing.

  • Jack Smith October 21, 2016, 6:04 pm

    You have #1` and #2 reversed. What Lincoln did was not “for the good of the Union”, it was to consolidate power in the federal gov’t at the expense of the states. Time to do away with the yankee myth that the War of Northern Aggression was about slavery, it was clearly over taxes and Lincoln threw slavery in as an issue to gain support for his war in the north. The southern states clearly had a legal right to secede, but as Lincoln said; “let them secede, but I’m still collecting the tariffs”. At that time there was no income tax, so the federal gov’t operated on money collected from tariffs. The South paid 87% of all the taxes (tariffs) but received less then 20% of the benefit….and that is why they chose to secede.

    • irishdutchuncle October 24, 2016, 11:03 am

      the south was receiving aid and comfort from the enemy of all humanity: England.
      they were poised to join the war on your side, except that they had banned Slavery in their empire 30 years or so before. That is one reason the Emancipation was ordered when it was. if the Brits had entered the war, we all might speaking English now…

  • Rod November 15, 2016, 4:48 pm

    Do you really think the way to address martial law is to become a mountain man?
    If you believe this you need to prepare. You need a nice bunker with modern amenities and solar power along with other alternatives for energy. A hydroponic garden would be nice, but you will need a two year supply of food in any event.

    FEMA camps will be for those engaging in an uprising against the system which I imagine will be many. In any event the republic will be over and I imagine there will be many ideas being floated about regardless of the outcome.

    If you’re not prepared then you will need community support. Survival skills may do in a pinch, but living like that… surviving just to survive without a goal or focus would be a bummer.


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