Habeas Corpus Act of 1863 12 Stat. 755 (1863)

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HABEAS CORPUS ACT OF 1863 12 Stat. 755 (1863)

Justice, before the civil war and reconstruction, was overwhelmingly state justice. Under the Constitution's Article III, implemented in the judiciary act of 1789, few litigants qualified for federal jurisdiction. The 1863 Habeas Corpus law lessened this imbalance at least for federal officials who, enforcing executive orders or statutes, were defendants in state courts. After legitimizing abraham lincoln'shabeas corpus suspensions since 1861 and authorizing future suspensions, Congress, in the Habeas Corpus Act, indemnified federal officials who had been found guilty in state courts of wrongs against civilians. Further, the law authorized a federal officer facing a state court proceeding to remove the case to a federal court. United States attorneys would act for the defendant if the state proceeding were prejudiced against him and if the defendant had been carrying out orders in a proper manner. Though federal proceedings were to flow from state rules, blacks could testify even adversely to whites, and all court officers and jurors were sworn to the test oath. In extending these protections to its officials, the nation bridged, for them at least, ancient interstices in the dual system of courts. Congress exacted a price from the executive, however, by requiring relevant Cabinet department heads to report to federal judges on civilians arrested by soldiers for allegedly violating draft, internal security, emancipation, or trade-control policies. In the habeas corpus act of 1867, Congress further expanded the classes of protected persons who could resort to federal justice.

Harold M. Hyman


Duker, William F. 1980 A Constitutional History of Habeas Corpus. Pages 126–224. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.