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President Abraham Lincoln's handwritten draft of his Special Message to Congress, July 4, 1861

John Merryman, a Confederate sympathizer arrested in Maryland, challenged President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, presiding over a circuit court, ordered Merryman’s release and stated that only Congress, not the president, could take such an action. Lincoln’s message to Congress defended his decision and requested congressional authorization and funding.

I decided that we have a case of rebellion, and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension…of the writ of habeas corpus, which I authorized to be made. Now it is insisted that Congress, and not the executive, is vested with this power—But the Constitution itself, is silent as to which, or who, is to exercise the power…

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

President Abraham Lincoln's handwritten draft of his Special Message to Congress, July 4, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln's handwritten draft of his Special Message to Congress, July 4, 1861 I decided that we have a case of rebellion, and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension…of the writ of habeas corpus, which I authorized to be made. Now it is insisted that Congress, and not the executive, is vested with this power—But the Constitution itself, is silent as to which, or who, is to exercise the power…

Response to Rebellion - 2

A writ of habeas corpus is a legal order enabling an individual to seek release from unlawful detention. The Constitution allows Congress to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for public safety in times of rebellion or invasion. Congress was not in session when Confederate forces initiated the Civil War in April 1861 by attacking U.S. troops stationed at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Acting quickly against the insurrection, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. He later asked Congress to approve his controversial action.