Jennifer L. Weber has written a concise analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s expansion of presidential power for the New York Times Civil War blog. She argues that Lincoln’s infringement of civil liberties was both proportional to the situation and modest in comparison with actions taken by Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt:
Lincoln’s reputation is less marred because his accrual of power was equal to the threat facing the nation. His authority grew incrementally and his administration tended not to overreach. The obvious exceptions are a handful of high-profile cases involving politicians and newspapermen. Still, we should keep some perspective. [Mark] Neely concludes that most of the arrests and detainments involved people who were actually breaking the law, not those merely speaking out against the government.
By contrast, Wilson’s administration systematically pursued leftists, immigrants and political dissidents not because of their actions but because of their political beliefs. Roosevelt incarcerated an entire class of people based on their ethnicity. Like Wilson, Roosevelt’s action was methodical.