The suspension of habeas corpus by Abraham Lincoln was one of the most controversial decisions in American history. A decision that has been argued about for years, and will continue to be argued about for more years to come. The question is, did he have the constitutional power to suspend it?
The Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863 granted Lincoln the power to suspend habeas corpus, or deny arrestees a hearing before trial. This was done in order to combat rebellion against the Union and enforce federal law where it had been broken by Southern states. It suspended all appeals so that any person charged with treasonous activities could be tried and punished without delay.
Lincoln believed that he needed to suspend this right in order for his government to work properly. He felt that if people were not held accountable when they broke laws, then there would be anarchy throughout America. And while many disagree about whether suspending habeas corpus is right or wrong, only time will tell for sure how history views his decision on this matter .
Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in February 1861. Lincoln invoked the power of his office to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus as he was afraid that Southern States, such as Virginia and North Carolina would secede from the Union and it would become difficult for him to enforce Federal law if there were no Kentucky or Missouri Compromise between free states and slave-holding states. This is because any citizen can file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of someone being unlawfully detained; therefore enforcing federal law could be cumbersome without this legal document which binds authorities not to detain anyone arbitrarily (without sufficient cause). He also did so because Congress had already adjourned sine die, meaning they left Washington DC before reaching a decision on Reconstruction which would have provided constitutional justification for his actions.
He finally suspended Habeas Corpus because he felt that it was necessary to do so in order to preserve the Union and enforce federal law, but also knew that this action had a major impact on civil liberties. He was concerned about Northern States such as Pennsylvania or New Jersey seceding from the Union if they saw how much power he wielded by suspending Habeas Corpus without congressional authorization- one of their primary complaints at the time. It can be argued whether Lincoln should’ve suspended habeas corpus during peacetime, but considering what we now know about slavery and its effects across all facets of society today- including economics, politics, health care and education- it is hard to understand why we would want to continue with this practice today.
You can click the link below for an interactive quizlet about Habeas Corpus:
[QUIZLET] “Habeas Corpus” // habeus corpus (n.) Latin phrase meaning ”to have the body”; a writ directed by a court of law at some person who has illegally imprisoned or detained someone, ordering that they be brought before the court and released if not found guilty.// [ENGLISH DICTIONARY] -oxforddictionaries.com/definition/habeas-corpus)
The reason Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus was because he felt it necessary in order to preserve Union and enforce federal