Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Fall 1979

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Kent D. Richards

Second Committee Member

Burton Williams

Third Committee Member

Lawrence L. Lowther


At the outbreak of the Civil War the Federal military arrested certain people whose loyalty was suspect. One victim, John Merryman, attempted to free himself by petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus. However, President Lincoln authorized the military to suspend the writ in such cases. The matter came before Chief Justice Taney who disputed the president's authority to suspend the writ and ruled in Merryman's favor. This thesis recounts the history of the habeas corpus process in Anglo-American law and its inclusion in the Constitution, Merryman's role in the first hostilities, his arrest, and the attempt to free him. Also discussed are associated topics and events, the positions of the president and the chief justice in their conflict over the matter, and the implications of this constitutional crisis.