Habeas Corpus Suspension Act

Tuesday, March 3, 1863

Representative Thaddeus Stevens introduced the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act in December 1862. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Habeas Corpus Suspension Act authorizes the president of the United States to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which normally enforces the right of a prisoner's case to be examined by a judge to determine if their detainment is lawful. Six months after the act, on September 15, 1863, President Lincoln suspends habeas corpus throughout the Union for any cases relating to prisoners of war, spies, traitors, or Union soldiers. It allows for extended detainment of prisoners without jury trials. At the end of the war, President Andrew Johnson uses the act to overturn a writ of habeas corpus issued in the case of Mary Surratt, who is implicated in the assassination of Lincoln and later executed despite the continuing legal questions over her arrest and conviction. After the war, the suspension gradually resides in the North and South, as various provisions expire or are repealed or replaced.

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