150th anniversary of suspension of habeas corpus

Every once in a while The First Gay President likes to associate himself with Pres. Lincoln.  Perhaps this is from his connection with Illinois?  Perhaps because he has delusions of grandeur?  Perhaps it’s because he would like to suspend habeas corpus? (Perhaps in his third or fourth term?) On the other hand, in 2009 Obama granted habeas corpus to terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay.  It’s a puzzle.

I am thinking about this because 150 years ago today, in the throes of the Civil War, Pres. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.

The Latin literally is “let you have a/the body”, in other words, in order to imprison or hold a person beyond a certain period of time, the state has to have proof of sufficient grounds for imprisonment and people can present proof against imprisonment. This is in the Constitution (Article I, Sec. 9, c.), which also includes the possibility that habeas corpus could be suspended: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

The situation apparently required the suspension of habeas corpus several times during the Civil War and during Reconstruction.

In any event, on 24 September 1862, during the Civil War, Lincoln did just that, with a proclamation that contrasts with the Emancipation Proclamation he issued the same month:



Whereas, it has become necessary to call into service not only volunteers but also portions of the militia of the States by draft in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection;

Now, therefore, be it ordered, first, that during the existing insurrection and as a necessary measure for suppressing the same, all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission:

Second. That the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority of by the sentence of any Court Martial or Military Commission.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this twenty fourth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the 87th.


By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Perhaps habeas corpus will be suspended again if the campaign doesn’t go well (i.e. rebellion).

Stranger things have happened in the world’s troubled history.

And if he doesn’t want to employ the military to do this, there is another way…

Click HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Andrew says:

    In the final analysis, the rulers of any given nation are a reflection of the populace. By looking at Pres. Obama, we are looking at ourselves. About 50 percent of catholics will vote for him again, and about 70 percent of Hispanics (nearly all of whom are catholic). Basic principles of morality and justice notwithstanding. It doesn’t look good.

  2. Jon says:

    Is it a sin to despise this man if I CORDIALLY despise him? (and I don’t mean Abraham Lincoln)

  3. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for the fascinating post! To read “all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law” makes me realize how little know of the details of law respecting ‘conscientious objection’ during the Civil War and otherwise in American history (was this unprecedented?).

    Among the things I don’t know: what did the Confederacy do about ‘conscientious objectors’, and did the CSA ever suspend ‘habeas corpus’?

    And, before their attempt to secede, did the Governments of ‘slave states’ ever, after the Dred Scott decision, (try) to enact any analogous subjections or suspensions to those helping the ‘Underground Railway’?

  4. Phil_NL says:

    @Venerator Sti Lot

    The legal component of the confederacy (at the ‘national’ level) was pretty much an empty shell, they never even got around to creating a functioning supreme court. Shelby Foote describes the succesive atterney generals as having little to do.

    Still, wikipedia on the matter quotes Mark Neelay who concludes that in effect, a confederate citizen was at least as worse off as a union one. And even if we apply some pinches of salt regarding wikipedia, there has been virtually no war fought, ever, that didn’t trample on a good number of civil liberties, usually starting with a draft.

    @Fr. Z: it looks like posting on certain threads is disabled unintentionally. The 6th (latest) version of urgent prayer requests, for example.

  5. robtbrown says:

    If memory serves (not from having been present), an appeals court ruled against the suspension, but Lincoln ignored the decision.

  6. Phil_NL says:


    Yes, just did a little bit of research on the matter. Chief justice Taney – sitting as a district court judge, the matter didn’t reach SCOTUS – threw out the detention of a Baltimore troublemaker (Maryland sitting on the fence between the two sides) on the grounds that Congress, rather than the president, had the right to suspend Habeas Corpus. Lincoln ignored it, but freed most people held a few months later. And then reintroduced a suspension to deal with draft troubles – that was the proclamation cited in the original entry. Congress validated that in 1863.

  7. Jon says:


    Fascinating web page that answers your question: http://www.etymonline.com/cw/habeas.htm

  8. Johnno says:

    Having an internal large scale police force and the ability to jail Americans without evidence, including kill them, will come in handy for the Government once all Americans wake up to the facts that they are being robbed!

    Which presidential candidate will save their people?

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    Anything that old reprobate Benjamin F. (“Spoons”) Butler was involved in had to be a bad idea.
    Have you seen his obituary from the Nashville American? They obviously didn’t believe in “de mortuis nil nisi bonum”.

  10. Me says:

    Civil War?

    Oh, you must mean the war of northern . . .

  11. Phil_NL says:

    @An AmericanMother: do you have a link to that obit?

  12. AnAmericanMother says:

    Here ya go: http://archive.theamericanview.com/index.php?id=1542
    My original link has disappeared, this version looks mostly complete so far as I can remember.

    It’s probably safe for work, but definitely not for church!

  13. Phil_NL says:

    thanks! ;)

  14. crusadermaximus says:

    Habeus Corpus has already been suspended by means of the PATRIOT Act and the NDAA (which allows the President to arrest any citizen indefinitely without trial).

    Judge Andrew Napolitano has excellent books on these matters.

  15. PostCatholic says:

    I award the tinfoil miter and lappets to this conspiracy theory thread.

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