« AnteriorContinuar »
seizure of private property.” The departments at Washington, the army and the navy, all places of responsi. bility and trust under the Government, and all departments of civil and political activity in the Northern States, were found to be largely filled by persons in active sympathy with the secession movement, and ready at all times to give it all the aid and comfort in their power. Upon the advent of the new Administration, and when active measures began to be taken for the suppression of the rebellion, the Government found its plans betrayed and its movements thwarted at every turn. Prominent presses and politicians, moreover, throughout the country, began, by active hostility, to indicate their sympathy with those who sought, under cover of oppo. sition to the Administration, to overthrow the Government, and it became speedily manifest that there was suf. ficient of treasonable sentiment throughout the North to paralyze the authorities in their efforts, aided only by the ordinary machinery of the law, to crush the secession movement. Under these circumstances, it was deemed necessary to resort to the exercise of the extraordinary powers with which, in extraordinary emergencies, the Constitution had clothed the Government. That instrument had provided that “the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus should not be suspended, unless when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety might require it.” By necessary implication, whenever, in such cases either of rebellion or invasion, the public safety did require it, the privilege of that writ might be suspended; and, from the very necessity of the case, the Government which was charged with the care of the public safety, was empowered to judge when the contingency should occur. The only question that remained was, which department of the Government was to meet this responsibility. If the act was one of legislation, it could only be performed by Congress and the President; if it was in its nature executive, then it might be performed, the emergency requiring it, by the President alone. The pressing emer. gency of the case, moreover, went far towards dictating the decision. Congress had adjourned on the 4th of March, and could not be again assembled for some months; and infinite and, perhaps fatal mischief might be done during the interval, if the Northern allies of the rebellion were allowed with impunity to prosecute their plans. Under the influence of these considerations, the President, in his proclamation of the 3d of May, 1861, directing the commander of the forces of the United States on the Florida coast to permit no person to exercise any authority upon the islands of Key West, the Tortugas, and Santa Rosa, which might be inconsistent with the authority of the United States, also authorized him, “if he should find it necessary, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and to remove from the vicinity of the United States fortresses all dangerous or suspected persons.” This was the first act of the Administration in that direction; but it was very soon found necessary to resort to the exercise of the same powers in other sections of the country. On the 25th of May, John Merryman, a resident of Hayfield, in Baltimore County, Maryland, known by the Government to be in communication with the rebels, and to be giving them aid and comfort, was arrested and imprisoned in Fort McHenry, then commanded by General Cadwallader. On the same day he forwarded a petition to Roger B. Taney, Chief-Justice of the United States, reciting the circumstances of his arrest, and praying for the issue of the writ of habeas corpus. The writ was forthwith issued, and General Cadwallader was ordered to bring the body of Merryman before the Chief-Justice on the 27th. On that day Colonel Lee preSented a written communication from General Cadwallader, stating that Merryman had been arrested and committed to his custody by officers acting under the authority of the United States, charged with various acts of treason: with holding a commission as lieutenant in a company avowing its purpose of armed hostility against the Government, and with having made often and unre. Served declarations of his association with this armeu
force, and of his readiness to co-operate with those engaged in the present rebellion against the Government of the United States. The General added, that he was “duly authorized by the President of the United States to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for the public safety;” and that, while he fully appreciated the delicacy of the trust, he was also instructed “that, in times of civil strife, errors, if any, should be on the side of safety to the country.” The commanding General accordingly declined to obey the writ, whereupon an attachment was forthwith issued against him for contempt of court, made returnable at noon on the next day. On that day, the marshal charged with serving the attachment made return that he was not admitted within the fortress, and had consequently been unable to serve the writ. The Chief-Justice, thereupon, read an opinion that the President could not suspend the writ of habeas corpus, nor authorize any military officer to do so, and that a military officer had no right to arrest any person, not subject to the rules and articles of war, for an offence against the laws of the United States, except in aid of the judicial authority, and subject to its control. The Chief Justice stated further, that the marshal had the power to summon out the posse comitatus to enforce the service of the writ, but as it was apparent that it would be resisted by a force notoriously superior, the Court could do nothing further in the premises. On the 12th of May, another writ was issued by Judge Giles, of Baltimore, to Major Morris, of the United States Artillery, at Fort McHenry, who, in a letter dated the 14th, refused to obey the writ, because, at the time it was issued, and for two weeks previous, the City of Baltimore had been completely under the control of the rebel authorities, United States soldiers had been murdered in the streets, the intention to capture that fort had been openly proclaimed, and the legislature of the State was at that moment debating the question of making war upon the Government of the United States. All this, in his judgment, constituted a case of rebellion, and afford
ed sufficient legal cause for suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Similar cases arose, and were disposed of in a similar manner, in other sections of the country. The Governor of Virginia had proposed to Mr. G. Heincken, of New York, the agent of the New York and Virginia Steamship Company, payment for two steamers of that line, the Yorktown and Jamestown, which he had seized for the rebel service, an acceptance of which proffer, Mr. Heincken was informed, would be treated as an act of treason to the Government; and on his application, Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State, gave him the following reasons for this decision :
An insurrection has broken out in several of the States of this Union, including Virginia, designed to overthrow the Government of the United States. The executive authorities of that State are parties to that insurrection, and so are public enemies. Their action in seizing or buying vessels to be employed in executing that design, is not merely without authority of law, but is treason. It is treason for any person to givo aid and comfort to public enemies. To sell vessels to them which it is their purpose to use as ships of war, is to give them aid and comfort. To receive money from them in payment for vessels which they have seized for those purposes, would be to attempt to convert the unlawful seizure into a sale, and would subject the party so offending to the pains and penalties of treason, and the Government would not hesitate to bring the offender to punishment.
These acts and decisions of the Government were vehemently assailed by the party opponents of the Administration, and led to the most violent and intemperate assaults upon the Government in many of the public prints. Some of these journals were refused the privilege of the public mails, the Government not holding itself under any obligation to aid in circulating assaults upon its own authority, and stringent restrictions were placed upon the transmission of intelligence by telegraph. On the 5th of July, 1862, Attorney-General Bates trans. mitted to the President an elaborate opinion, prepared at his request, upon his power to make arrests of persons known to have criminal complicity with the insurgents, or against whom there is probable cause for suspicion of such criminal complicity, and also upon his right to refuse to obey a writ of habeas corpus in case of such arrests. The Attorney-General discussed the subject at considerable length, and reached a conclusion favorable to the action of the Government. From that time forward the Government exerted, with vigor and energy, all the power thus placed in its hands to prevent the rebellion from receiving aid from those in sympathy with its objects in the Northern States. A large number of persons, believed to be in complicity with the insurgents, were placed in arrest, but were released upon taking an oath of allegiance to the United States Baltimore continued for some time to be the head-quarters of conspiracies and movements of various kinds in aid of the rebellion, and the arrests were consequently more numerous there than elsewhere Indeed, very strenuous efforts were made throughout the summer to induce some action on the part of the legislature which would place the State in alliance with the Rebel Confederacy, and it was confidently believed that an ordinance looking to this end would be passed at the extra session which was convened for the 17th of September; but on the 16th, nine secession members of the House of Delegates, with the officers of both houses, were arrested by General McClellan, then in command of the army, who expressed his full approbation of the proceedings, and the session was not held. The President at the time gave the following statement of his views in regard to these arrests:—
The public safety renders it necessary that the grounds of these arrests should at present be withheld, but at the proper time they will be made public. Of one thing the people of Maryland may rest assured, that no arrest has been made, or will be made, not based on substantial and un mistakable complicity with those in armed rebellion against the Government of the United States. In no case has an arrest been made on mere suspicion, or through personal or partisan animosities; but in all cases the Government is in possession of tangible and unmistakable evidence, which will, when made public, be satisfactory to every loyal citizen.
Arrests continued to be made under authority of the State Department, not without complaint, certainly, from large numbers of the people, but with the general acqui.