ex parte Merryman

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Merryman, Ex Parte. The Merryman case, 17 Federal Cases 144 (Circuit Court Md. 1861) (No. 9487), raised fundamental questions regarding military authority over civilians and the president's emergency powers in wartime. Upon his arrest and detention during the Civil War by Union military officials in May 1861, John Merryman, a civilian Confederate sympathizer in Maryland, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney issued the writ, challenging President Abraham Lincoln's suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Following the president's order, the commanding officer refused to bring Merryman before a civil court. Outraged, Taney issued a forceful opinion denying the president's power to suspend the privilege and insisting that Article I of the U.S. Constitution granted the power to suspend habeas corpus to Congress alone. Lincoln, however, ordered the army not to obey Taney's writ, later asserting that the president and Congress shared the power to suspend habeas corpus.
[See also Civil‐Military Relations: Civilian Control of the Military; Commander in Chief, President as; Habeas Corpus Act (1863); Martial Law; Milligan, Ex Parte.]


James G. Randall , Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, 1926.
Mark E. Neely, Jr. , The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, 1991.

Mary J. Farmer

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EX PARTE MERRYMAN, Federal Cases No. 9487 (1861), involved President Abraham Lincoln's exercise of extraordinary war powers, specifically his right to suspend habeas corpus. John Merryman, a Baltimore County secessionist, was imprisoned in Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor by military order on 25 May 1861. The commanding officer refused to comply with a writ of habeas corpus issued by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, on the grounds that he had been authorized by the president to suspend the writ. Taney wrote an opinion, widely denounced in the North, that the writ could be suspended constitutionally only by Congress, not by the president. Lincoln did not alter his policy.


Swisher, Carl Brent. Roger B. Taney. New York: Macmillan, 1935.

Warren, Charles. The Supreme Court in United States History. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924. Rev. ed. Littleton, Colo.: F. B. Rothman, 1987.

Shira M.Diner

Ransom E.NobleJr.

See alsoHabeas Corpus, Writ of .

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ex parte Merryman, case decided in 1861 by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney sitting as a federal circuit judge in Baltimore. John Merryman, a citizen of Maryland, was imprisoned by the U.S. army on suspicion of favoring the Confederacy. He obtained a writ of habeas corpus. The commanding general refused to respect this action, alleging that President Lincoln had authorized him to suspend the writ. Taney held that Article 1, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution gave to Congress alone the power to suspend the writ in case of rebellion or invasion and that consequently the President's action had been without warrant and represented a threat to the liberties of all Americans. Lincoln, however, continued to adhere to the same practice throughout the Civil War. Congress ratified the suspension in 1863.

See H. S. Commager, ed., Documents of American History (8th ed. 1968).