The idea that martial law could be imposed by Trump to rerun the election is currently topical (see In what way would invoking martial law help Trump overturn the election?).

In the interview where Michael Flynn suggested that Trump should impose martial law in swing states to enforce a rerun of the presidential election he claimed that this had been done plenty of times before (that is, martial law had been used, not necessarily to manage elections).

He claims that martial law has been used 64 times previously. I presume in the history of the USA.

Is he right that the USA has imposed martial law 64 times? And what were the circumstances of those previous cases?

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    Not really a bad question, but I'm worried about it being too broad, I mean there's en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_law_in_the_United_States Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 13:35
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    @fizz I was hoping to get answers putting Flynn's call in some context. Perhaps I should add something about whether any of the historic cases are currently relevant.
    – matt_black
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 13:37
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    Noting the admirable answer from @Fizz: since the individual governors etc. would appear not to be sympathetic to the current Washington administration's viewpoint, how many times has the federal government imposed martial law on (areas of) the USA? Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 21:47
  • Are we qualifying this as martial law imposed on the general civilian population within the territory of the US? One could argue that every military base is under martial law, as were areas occupied by the US army. Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 23:10

2 Answers 2


The closest thing relevant might be Phenix City in 1954. According to Wikipedia, martial law was imposed to dismantle the local crime syndicate that was also in control of the local authorities. While elections were not re-run in Phenix (as Flynn suggests be done now), they were held under military supervision on that occasion:

Ahead of the 1954 elections for the Attorney General of Alabama, Phenix City resident and lawyer Albert Patterson ran a campaign for the Democratic Party nomination on a platform of ridding the city of crime.[6] Despite voting irregularities, he won the primary election, but was assassinated by shooting shortly afterwards on June 18, 1954, near his offices in Phenix City.[6] Patterson's murder caused unrest in Phenix City, with the Citizen's Betterment Association informing Governor Gordon Persons that the city was on the verge of anarchy. [...]

On July 22, 1954, after liaising with US President Dwight Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Governor Persons proclaimed limited martial law in the city, allowing the national guard to take over law enforcement duties in Russell County.[18][6] It was reported that the national guard, armed with machine guns, shotguns and carbines, entered the sheriff's office and police department to disarm local law enforcement and confiscate their badges.[21] [Major General Walter J.] Hanna [Adjutant General of the Alabama National Guard] voided all weapons permits, and by July 23, the troops had confiscated 40 pistols and a submachine gun from the citizenry.[21]


Two weeks after the implementation of martial law, the mayor of Phenix City was jailed for neglecting his duties, and the city was administered by a group of military personnel chosen by Hanna.[18] In November 1954, when order in the city had been restored, the first free elections in decades were held, with armed guardsmen at each ballot box and supervising the count.[24] Having stabilized the situation, martial law was rescinded on 17 January 1955, and the city returned to civilian control.[25][26]


With the state Attorney General Si Garrett having checked himself into a mental hospital after being twice questioned over election fraud, the investigation into Patterson's murder and other major crimes in the city was carried out by acting Attorney General Bernard Sykes Jr. with a staff of civilian investigators and attorneys.[27][28][29] Under Sykes' direction, a grand jury issued more than 2,500 subpoenas and returned 759 indictments on more than 150 individuals, which was then a record for any grand jury in Alabama. All but two of those indicted were subsequently found guilty.[18]

Russell County's chief deputy sheriff, Albert Fuller; the Phenix City circuit solicitor (analogous to a district attorney), Walter Jones; and the state attorney general, Garrett, were all indicted for Patterson's murder.[26][28] Fuller was found guilty and sentenced for life; Jones was acquitted; and Garrett, who remained in hospital, was never brought to trial.[27][28] One of the key eyewitnesses to the murder was stabbed to death after testifying in open court.[30]

During his election campaign, Patterson had claimed it might take ten years to rid Phenix City of its lawlessness. His death and the subsequent imposition of martial law had meant it was accomplished in just seven months.[28] In 1974, the New York Times described the campaign as highly successful and stated that it had led to 20 years of relatively-low crime in Phenix City.[31] The incident was then the only instance of martial law being declared in a US city since the Reconstruction era that was not for reasons of civil unrest or natural disaster.[18]

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    It should be noted that the governor of Alabama declared martial law, not the US government or the US president. That does have some bearing on the original question.
    – tj1000
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 5:12
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    Just because I initially thought the answer had misspelled it (until the quote), the name actually is spelled that way and has been since the 1890's, but no one knows why. Wikipedia
    – Bobson
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 15:58

The Brennan Center for Justice complied a list of declarations of martial law in the United States in August 2020.

Guide to Declarations of Martial Law in the United States

The guide states that martial law has been declared 68 times in the history of the US.

The reasons stated in the guide are as follows:

  • War or Invasion (2)
  • Domestic War or Insurrection (7)
  • Riot or Civil Unrest (11)
  • Labor Dispute (29)
  • Natural Disaster (4)
  • Other (15)

None of these declarations has been used to enforce a re-run of any election in the United States. Snopes gave a "Mixed" rating to Flynn's claim, noting that:

Flynn did not get the exact numbers right in remarks he made to Newsmax but was close. Also, martial law has not been used in order to rerun a U.S. election before, despite what Flynn's remarks may have implied.

From the list, it is also worth noting that martial law has never been declared in the 21st century. The latest declaration of martial law was on June 14, 1963 "in response to the Cambridge riot of 1963".

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    And probably using it again even to address labor disputes (the most common case of past use apparently) would not be incredibly popular either... although those disputes themselves were pretty martial to begin with, e.g. the West Virginia Coal Wars. Somewhat related q here politics.stackexchange.com/questions/53706/… Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 13:43
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    ... and one on Skeptics skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/47282/… Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 13:49
  • The Brenan center might not be entirely correct because there was a case somewhat related to elections Phenix City (1954) albeit not to re-running them. Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 14:04
  • @Fizz That is interesting; probably missed by the Brennan Center. It appears that the list does not contain any entry of Alabama declaring martial law.
    – Panda
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 14:11
  • It's possible that the Brennan Center chose not to count it because it was a "state of qualified martial rule" (emphasis mine). No idea what the distinction actually is, but it raises the question of how many other similar instances they didn't include. Or, they may have just missed it rather than deliberately not counting it.
    – Bobson
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 16:11

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