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Abraham Lincoln and Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus

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The writ of Habeas corpus is an integral part of our nation as witnessed by its inclusion in the Constitution in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 (Suspension Clause), which states "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion of public Safety may require it." A Writ of Habeas Corpus is a legal action that keeps people from being incarcerated without due process of law; in other words, a legitimate charge actually being levied upon them to keep them in prison. If no charge is substantiated, the detainee can petition the court to release them. The writ came originally from English law and was thought to be an integral part of basic human freedoms by our founding fathers as evidenced in its location in the Constitution.

President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus in Maryland just fifteen days after the start of the Civil War. He did this for several reasons; rioting was occurring in Maryland, the state in which Washington D.C. sits, by the many Southern sympathizers in Maryland ; Maryland was a border slave state and its succession from the Union would leave Washington surrounded by the Confederacy; the local militia was of concern to Lincoln- would they attack the capital or interfere with troop movements towards the capital ; and he was attempting to deal with the 'Copperheads' as the peace democrats were called. Lincoln also had concerns over the number of Southern sympathizers throughout the Union who could cause great upheaval and take the focus of troops from the battlefields and make the Union garrison troops in the Northern cities to guard against uprisings by these sympathizers. He authorized the military to arrest and detain anyone suspected of aiding the South. Lincoln's suspension of the writ was challenged in court and was overturned by the Circuit Court in Maryland. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney, presided over the hearing and ruled that Lincoln's action were un-Constitutional (Ex parte Merryman C.C.D. MD. 1861). The president ignored Taney's ruling. Congress tried to legitimize what the president had done by introducing a bill in support of the President's actions. This bill was defeated by the Democrat filibustering and killed before the vote. Chief Justice Taney argued that Article I. where Habeas Corpus is discussed, dealt strictly with legislative powers, not executive powers and the President therefore had no legal or Constitutional basis for the suspension. President Lincoln's suspension was lauded by other Republicans who felt that only the President could act quickly enough to forestall total anarchy. All the various arguments presented became moot when, in March 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act that endorsed the actions that President Lincoln had taken.

The actions taken by President Lincoln were extraordinary and probably did cross



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