Lincoln's Long Shadow: Recreating the Legal Debate over Habeas Corpus, 1861-1863

Bautz, Peter, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Nicoletti, Cynthia, School of Law, University of Virginia

In 1861, the United States of America plunged into civil war. In the early days of the war, Abraham Lincoln suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus – a suspension which lasted the rest of the war and which was ratified by Congress in 1863. Roger Taney, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, issued a circuit court opinion finding Lincoln’s actions unlawful in Ex parte Merryman. The suspension of habeas corpus and Taney’s decision in Merryman spawned a heated debate between Northern lawyers over the lawfulness of presidential suspension of habeas corpus. A careful analysis of the understudied lawyers who engaged in this debate reveals that law mattered a great deal in the Civil War-era and that law was not merely a fig leaf for the political views of individual lawyers.

MA (Master of Arts)
U.S. Civil War, Legal History, Habeas Corpus
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