Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War
The Trials of John Merryman
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright
John Merryman, a Baltimore County farmer, was arrested by Union military authorities at 2:00 a.m. on May 25, 1861, on vague and imprecise charges of treason against the United States. Merryman was suspected of being a pro-secession militia officer who had burned railroad bridges...
1 "BALTIMORE IS TO BE THE BATTLEFIELD OF THE SOUTHERN REVOLUTION": The Baltimore Riot and the Formation of Lincoln’s Habeas Corpus Policy
When Abraham Lincoln received word on April 14, 1861, that Fort Sumter had fallen into Confederate hands, he set to work with his cabinet to formulate a policy that would sufficiently respond to the crisis. Seven Deep South states had already seceded from the Union. Now these so-called...
2 “A COLLISION OF CIVIL AND MILITARY AUTHORITY": The Arrest and Incarceration of John Merryman
The Merryman family had been present in Baltimore County since the middle of the seventeenth century. The Merryman clan grew and spread throughout the county during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, owning several significant estates such as “Merryman’s Lot,” “Merryman’s Beginning,” “Merryman’s Addition,” “Merryman’s Pasture,”...
3 "PROSECUTE YOUR BEST CASES—NOT THE WEAK AND DOUBTFUL": The Difficulty of Punishing Disloyalty in the Loyal States
John Merryman’s arrest was only one of many to come in Maryland during the Civil War. Union authorities quickly found that “arbitrary arrests” —which were in fact rarely arbitrary—were a useful tool for silencing dissent and stopping the spread of disloyalty in a region that often seemed to be...
4 "NECESSITY IS THE TYRANT’S PLEA": The Habeas Corpus Act, Part I: Congressional Reaction to Military Arrests and Tribunals
The habeas corpus issue plagued Congress for the duration of the war. While John Merryman still sat imprisoned at Fort McHenry, congressmen on both sides of the aisle debated the legitimacy of Lincoln’s suspensions of the writ. Democrats in both chambers berated Lincoln...
5 "THE GOVERNMENT MUST IN SOME WAY SUSTAIN YOU IN YOUR OFFICIAL ACTS": The Habeas Corpus Act, Part II: The Failure of Congress to Protect Those Waging War
The military arrest and trial of civilians was only one part of the habeas corpus problem that arose during the Civil War. Prior to the passage of the Habeas Corpus Act in March 1863, military officers and government officials who participated in the arrest of civilians were vulnerable...
EPILOGUE: “HABEAS CORPUS JOHN”
John Merryman’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus became a cause célèbre in both the northern states and the Confederacy. In Maryland, his case became a flashpoint of controversy and heated exchanges. Between April and August 1861, the Maryland legislature adopted resolutions...