This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 another volume we shall show how these difficulties increased from day to day, and what sacrifices they entailed upon the American people, without, however, making them give up the great stake for which they were determined to play to the end. The most important question in internal politics, next to military and financial matters, is that of personal liberty. In the United States, as in England, this liberty, as we have already remarked, finds a guarantee in the habeas corpus—a law in pursuance of which every individual arrested by the agents of the executive power must be publicly brought before a judge, who can either confirm his arrest or order his release. This protective law is the true constitution of a free people—of those, at least, among whom, whatever their form of government, the most ardent passions acknowledge the supreme authority of the law, and where all citizens submit without murmuring to the institutions of the country. But when these institutions are themselves in jeopardy, when the laws are trampled under foot by a fraction of citizens who resort to violence, the application of the habeas corpus becomes impossible. The English do not hesitate to suspend it in such cases, where, in France, a state of siege is proclaimed, for in all countries the first duty of society is to defend itself against those who attack it. At the outset of the war the South had accomplices throughout the North, and especially among the border States, who occupied positions under the Federal administration. The government required extraordinary powers to strike some of them, and thus to check the treason which was creeping into every place. The guarantees secured by the Constitution to all citizens could not be invoked in behalf of those who were openly conspiring against it. The Constitution itself had, moreover, provided against such a contingency by an express reservation to the effect that ‘the habeas corpus should not be suspended except in cases of invasion or rebellion.’ The right to suspend, therefore, was unquestionable, but by whom should it be exercised? Was it by the President alone, or did he require the concurrence of Congress? The Constitution was silent upon this point. Congress not being in session, Mr. Lincoln resolved to act upon his own responsibility. This bold
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.