The 16th president prepares to suspend habeas corpus in September 1863
ALS signed “A. Lincoln,” one page, 5 x 8, Executive Mansion letterhead, dated by the president, “Sep 14,” 1863. Letter to Secretary of State William H. Seward. In full: “Please call the Cabinet for Eleven A. M. to-day.” In fine condition, with intersecting folds (vertical fold passing through the first letter of his last name), light creases to upper left and lower right corners, and two stray ink blots. Lincoln held this special meeting of the cabinet to discuss the suspension of habeas corpus in light of some judges releasing drafted men by writ. This meeting had important implications, as President Lincoln issued a proclamation on the following day, September 15, suspending the writ of habeas corpus throughout the Union in any case involving prisoners of war, spies, traitors, or any member of the military.
Although the Constitution specifies that suspension of habeas corpus is a Congressional power only to be used when ’in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it,’ Congress passed an act in March 1863 that authorized the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Once Lincoln exercised this power in September, the suspension remained in effect through the end of 1865. An especially notable example of this came when, after Lincoln’s assassination, the lawyers of conspirator Mary Surratt applied for and received a writ of habeas corpus from a District of Columbia court under the argument that a military tribunal had no jurisdiction over their client. Given the national suspension of habeas corpus, President Andrew Johnson was able to cancel the writ and Surratt was executed later that day. This Executive Mansion letterhead is uncommon and desirable as it was used for official, important communications, and this letter is of particular historical significance. Pre-certified PSA/DNA.
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