The press was essentially free at the North, entirely so at the South, where no journals were suppressed as some had been in the Union. As the Southern papers had little news-gathering enterprise and borrowed a large part of their news from the Northern press, they did not offend the Confederate generals as the Union generals were offended by the publication of estimates of the strength of armies or shrewd guesses of projected movements. Sometimes the Richmond journals, upon request of General Lee or of the Secretary of War, refrained from publishing intelligence that might benefit the enemy, but no compulsion was employed. The right of public meeting was fully exercised in both sections, but the gatherings for free discussion were much more common at the North.
Southerners believed that the Federal government had degenerated into a military despotism. At the same time the general belief at the North was that the Confederate government was a tyranny which crushed all opposition. The bases for both these beliefs are apparent. Theoretically liberty seemed surer at the South than at the North, but practically the reverse was true. Few men either in the Union or in the Confederacy had actual need of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus; but all able-bodied men at the South, who were not too old, were touched by the universal exaction of military service and all who had property were affected by the impressment of it at an arbitrary price fixed by the government. The Federal government may be called a dictatorship. Congress and the people surrendered certain of their powers and rights to a trusted man. The Confederacy was a grand socialized