Ex Parte Bollman

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EX PARTE BOLLMAN (1807), a case in which the Supreme Court upheld its power to issue a writ of habeas corpus to review a commitment by an inferior federal court and upon hearing ordered the release of two petitioners held on charges of treason as participants in the Burr conspiracy. Justus Erich Bollman and Samuel Swartwout, by separate routes, had carried copies of a letter in cipher from Aaron Burr to General James Wilkinson at New Orleans. Wilkinson arrested them and sent them to Washington, D.C., where they were committed for trial by the circuit court for the District of Columbia. While the case was pending in the circuit court, President Thomas Jefferson attempted unsuccessfully to induce Congress to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. In holding that the evidence had been insufficient to support a charge of treason, Chief Justice John Marshall said for the Supreme Court, "There must be an actual assembling of men for the treasonable purpose, to constitute a levying of war." But, he added, if that be proved, then a conspirator, however remote from the scene of action, would be guilty. This dictum proved embarrassing when, a few months later, Marshall presided at the trial of Burr.


Chapin, Bradley. The American Law of Treason, Revolutionary and Early National Origins. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964.

Faulkner, Robert K. "John Marshall and the Burr Trial." Journal of American History 53 (1966).

McCaleb, Walter F. The Aaron Burr Conspiracy; and a New Light on Aaron Burr. New York: Argosy-Antiquarian, 1966.

CharlesFairman/a. r.

See alsoLevy ; Spanish Conspiracy ; Treason .