Give Me Liberty or …?

Today’s Knowledge:
What Would Lincoln Do?

“Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal
weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong
for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to
maintain its own existence?”
–Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1861

America’s Civil War began April 12, 1861. Immediately, one
of President Lincoln’s most pressing concerns was how to
protect the capital, located perilously between Maryland
and Virginia. Both states were thinking hard about

On April 19, secessionists in Baltimore tried to prevent
federal troops from passing through the city. A riot
ensued. Bridges were burned. Shots were fired. The next
week, on April 27, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus,
authorizing his commanding general “to arrest, and detain,
without resort to the ordinary processes and forms of law,
such individuals as he might deem dangerous to the public
safety.” For the rest of the war, military officers could
arrest U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely without
presenting evidence against them.

Let Me Go!

Lincoln soon faced legal challenge. On May 25, federal
troops under General George Cadwalader arrested John
Merryman of Baltimore, charged him with aiding
secessionists, and imprisoned him at Maryland’s Fort
McHenry. Merryman immediately petitioned Roger Brooke
Taney, chief justice of the Supreme Court, for a writ of
habeas corpus compelling Cadwalader to bring Merryman
before the court for a hearing.

Taney–a southern gentleman notorious for his
slavery-supporting opinion in the Dred Scott case–issued
the writ on May 27. Cadwalader, however, refused to comply,
noting that President Lincoln had empowered him to suspend
habeas corpus in the interest of public safety.

While Merryman waited in jail, Taney wrote an opinion, Ex
Parte Merryman, condemning Lincoln’s suspension of habeas
corpus as unconstitutional. He pointed out that the clause
authorizing suspensions shows up in the Constitution’s
first article, which is “devoted to the Legislative
Department of the United States, and has not the slightest
reference to the Executive Department.” Reasoning that the
power to suspend habeas corpus belongs to Congress, Taney
argued Lincoln had usurped legislative and judicial power
in a single stroke.

No, We Will Not Let You Go!

Lincoln presented two counterarguments when he addressed a
special session of Congress on July 4. First, without
responding directly to Taney’s opinion (which he ignored
for the duration of the war), Lincoln pointed out that, in
times of crisis, the president might need to defend the
nation before the Congress could even assemble. In fact,
Congress had been out of session when the crisis began.

Next, in responding to the charge that “one who is sworn to
‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ should not
himself violate them,” Lincoln asked a question that still
echoes in debates about civil liberties and national
security: “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and
the government itself to go to pieces, lest that one be

In 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act, effectively
endorsing Lincoln’s earlier suspension of the “Great Writ.”
People have debated whether Lincoln’s decision was
necessary and appropriate ever since.

Steve Sampson
Updated December 29, 2005


Want to learn more?

Ruffle through Abraham Lincoln’s papers
at the Library of Congress:


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Trying Day

I got all ready to go to the airport for the trip to PS this morning. All packed, only running five minutes late. Checked in for my flight via the web, naturally.

We got started, and were about two miles into the 50 mile trip to the airport. I decided to make sure I had my license and boarding pass in a handy pocket. Boarding pass: check. Drivers license: not check. My frigging drivers license has gone missing. I tell Bob to pull over so we don’t get any farther from home. I dig through my purse, dig through the car, pat myself down, and come to the conclusion that there is no drivers license to be found.

We turned around and went back home, where we went through everything. No DL. I tried to cancel, there are no numbers anywhere for something like that. The ticket sales woman on the phone said that since I checked in, the only way for them to know I was not going to fly was to not be on the plane when it took off. Stupid. But it was a refundable ticket, so I’ll try and rebook for tomorrow.

Some hours later I’m back from DMV, with a temporary license. I hope Alaska will let me on with a temporary drivers license. No picture, so it should be interesting.


Later that same day …
No flights left SMF to PSP this week. Crap. Southworst it is.

Um, one more update: I found my damned license. It was in the copy machine. Sheesh.

Unconscious Mutterings
I say … and you think … ?

1. Virus::
2. Poop::
3. Smart::
4. Agent::
5. Wrap::
6. Brass::
7. Waste of time::
8. Suspicious::
9. 360::
10. Dummy::

Now here’s what I did:
I say … and you think … ?

1. Virus:: trojan
2. Poop:: fruit
3. Smart::aleck
4. Agent::99
5. Wrap::dress
6. Brass::monkey
7. Waste of time::waste of space
8. Suspicious::behavior
9. 360::degrees
10. Dummy::big

Bar Joke, sort of

A man enters a bar and orders a drink.

The bar has a robot bartender.
The robot serves him a perfectly prepared cocktail, and then
asks him, “What’s your IQ?”

The man replies “150” and the robot proceeds to make
conversation about global warming factors, quantum physics
and spirituality, biomimicry, environmental
interconnectedness, string theory, nano-technology, and etc

The customer is very impressed and thinks, “This is really

He decides to test the robot. He walks out of the bar, turns
around, and comes back in for another drink. Again, the
robot serves him the perfectly prepared drink and asks
him, “What’s your IQ?”

The man responds, “about a 100.” Immediately the robot
starts talking, but this time, about football, NASCAR,
baseball, supermodels, favorite fast foods, guns, etc Really
impressed, the man leaves the bar and decides to give the
robot one more test. He heads out and returns, the robot
serves him and asks, “What’s your IQ?”

The man replies, “Er, 50, I think.”

And the robot says… real slowly…

“So…………… ya gonna vote For Bush again?”