The Merryman Habeas Corpus Case.
We greatly regret that our limited space precludes the possibility of our publishing the opinion of Chief Justice Taney in the habeas corpus case. Merryman, it will be remembered, was arrested by General Cadwalader, at the request of General Kiem of Pennsylvania, on some charge, nobody knows what, and confined in Fort M'Henry. Application was made to Judge Taney for a writ of habeas corpus, ordering Gen. Cadwalader to bring his prisoner before him (Justice Taney) and show why he was detained. Instead of obeying this writ, Cadwalader replied that he had been authorized by the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus at his discretion. Judge Taney, in delivering his response to this refusal of General Cadwalader gives a history of the origin of the habeas corpus, and the jealous care with which it has been guarded in both the United States and the mother country. He shows that in Great Britain Parliament alone can suspend the execution of the writ, and that in the United States power is given only by the Constitution, to Congress to decide when the public exigencies require that so important a step shall be taken as to annul this great safeguard of the liberty of the citizen. In undertaking, therefore, to set aside, or authorize his military commanders to set aside, the writ of habeas corpus, the President has assumed a power not conferred upon him by the Constitution, and one which Queen Victoria herself dare not exercise. And the reason for withholding this power from the Executive is very evident. Our ancestors seeing the constant effort made by their sovereigns to violate this great right of the subject or citizen, and the excuses always ready when they desired to visit their vengeance upon an offensive person, had taken the precaution to provide that the legislature only should be the tribunal to decide when the public exigency required its suspension.
Every American citizen should thank Judge Taney for stepping forth at this time and endeavoring to save the country from Executive usurpation. The country is waging an expensive war to maintain the constitution, and they will not look complacently on the violation of the Constitution by the President and his Generals. Our ancestors fought for centuries to engraft the habeas corpus upon the British constitution, and it is the highest and noblest and most cherished legacy we have inherited from the land [unknown line] Presidents and military commanders, and it will not be long before the benefit of trial by jury falls, and we shall soon be as much under a depotism as the unfortunate people of Venetia or Poland.
Save the Union; save the Constitution; depose rebellion; but save that without which neither the Union nor the Constitution is worth saving. If the habeas corpus may be set aside at the will of the Executive; if men may be shut up for weeks or months in fortresses without any charge being preferred against them, then no man is safe, and liberty is but a name.