Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The suspension of the Great Writ

On this day in 1865, just days after (Confederate) Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. at the hand of John Wilkes Booth.

On September 24, 1862, President Lincoln imposed martial law on those in rebellion, supporting the rebellion, resisting the military draft or encouraging others to resist the draft. The same proclamation also suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus for anyone held by military authority during the war.

It was because of King John's suspension of the Great Writ, that the Magna Carta, the inspiration for the Declaration of Indpendence, was signed at Runnymede in 1215. Thanks to the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, federal inmates have seen their right to file writs of habeas corpus restricted -- all in the name of national security.

Here is the text of President Lincoln's proclamation:

Proclamation Suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus



Whereas, it has become necessary to call into service not only volunteers but also portions of the militia of the States by draft in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection;

Now, therefore, be it ordered, first, that during the existing insurrection and as a necessary measure for suppressing the same, all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission:

Second. That the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority of by the sentence of any Court Martial or Military Commission.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this twenty fourth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the 87th.


By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

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