Etching of John Merryman from Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Baltimore City and County. Baltimore, MD: Regional Publishing Company, 1971, p. 884.

Ex Parte Merryman

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net

Introduction

Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself 
to go to pieces, lest that one be violated?

-- President Lincoln, in a message to a 
special session of Congress, July 4, 1861

John Merryman was born at "Hereford Farm" in Baltimore County on August 9, 1824, the son of Nicholas Rogers and Ann Marie (Gott) Merryman.  He was educated in the business world beginning in 1839 as an employee in Richard Norris' hardware store in Baltimore City.  A year later he moved to Guayama, Puerto Rico, to work for his uncle, Samuel N. Gott, in his counting room.  Merryman returned to Maryland in 1842 to manage a number of farms belonging to his uncle John Merryman.  It was at this time that Merryman became involved in the raising and breeding of Hereford cattle with stock which he imported from England.

In 1865 he branched out into the fertilizer business by establishing John Merryman & Co. of Baltimore City, fertilizer dealers.  Merryman's interest in cattle and farming remained constant throughout his life.  He was a lifetime member of the U.S. Agricultural Society and the National Agricultural Association.  He exhibited his cattle at numerous national fairs and won countless prizes and a widespread reputation for his stock.  He was also a member of the Maryland State Agricultural Society, serving as vice-president from 1852-1857 and president from 1857 to 1861.  This organization later became the Maryland State Agricultural and Mechanical Association, and John Merryman served as president from 1877 to 1881.

Prior to the Civil War, John Merryman was a 3rd lieutenant in the Baltimore County Troops.  By 1861 he was a 1st lieutenant in the Baltimore County Horse Guards.  Under orders from Governor Hicks, he aided in the destruction of several bridges north of Baltimore to prevent troops from Pennsylvania from marching through Baltimore and inciting riots.  On May 25, 1861, Merryman was arrested by U.S. troops, indicted for treason, and confined in Fort McHenry.  Through his lawyers Merryman petitioned Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for a writ of habeas corpus.  The writ was disobeyed by General Cadwallader, the arresting officer, under orders from President Lincoln even though Taney cited Cadwallader for contempt.  It was then that Taney, who had traveled to Baltimore to hear the case, ordered that Merryman was "improperly held" and had him released. Merryman was never tried for treason.  Taney, in a "test between that which personified law on the one side and that which represented the sudden and unlimited development of military force on the other," vindicated the writ of habeas corpus.

Merryman, a democrat, served as president of the Board of County Commissioners, Baltimore County, in 1857.  He was State Treasurer from 1870 to 1872 and served in the House of Delegates from Baltimore County from 1874 to 1876.

In 1844, John Merryman married Ann Louisa, daughter of Elijah Bosley Gittings.  John and Ann Louisa had eleven children:  Nicholas Bosley, John Jr., Elijah Gittings, David Buchanan, William Duvall, James McKenney, Roger B.T., Ann Gott, Bettie M., Louisa Gittings, and Laura Fendall.  The family resided on their farm, "Hayfields," in Baltimore County, and attended Sherwood Protestant Episcopal Church in Baltimore County where John Merryman served as register, treasurer, and vestryman over the years.  Merryman also owned a pew in St. Paul's Church, Baltimore City, at his death.

John Merryman died November 15, 1881, and it is interesting that his biographers noted that he believed "the most important class of workers is the farmer, who subdues the earth, and makes it fulfill its highest mission, of supporting man and developing his marvelous powers of mind and body."

Source: Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series) John Merryman.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

    Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.

Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront. 

9-12: Evaluate the Union's reasons for curbing wartime civil liberties. [Consider multiple perspectives] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Hayfields Farm Buildings, Worthington Valley, Cockeysville vicinity, Baltimore County, MD
    ALTERNATE TITLE: John Merryman Farm Buildings
    MEDIUM: Measured Drawing(s): 8; Photo(s): 23; Data Page(s): 5 plus cover page
    NOTE: This was the farm where Merryman was arrested. It is now a golf course.
    SOURCE: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  2. DESCRIPTION: Luther Littig vs. John Merryman, Ann L. Merryman, Richard Emory, Ann Emory, Henry Gittings, Elizabeth R. Gittings, Eleanor A. Bosley, Ann G. Merryman, Nicholas M.B. Emory, Anna Emory, Thomas L. Emory, and Richard Emory.  BA.  Trust estate under will of Nicholas M. Bosley -  Bellevue, Hayfields.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 27, 1848
    NOTES: Includes last will and testament of Nicholas M. Bosley, from whom John Merryman inherited Hayfields.
    SOURCE: CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers) 9366. Accession No: 17,898-9366. MSA S512-9283, 1/38/4/93. 
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  3. DESCRIPTION: [Nicholas R. Merryman and Ann Merryman]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1850
    SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) 1850 Slave Schedule, Baltimore County, District 1,  MSA SM 61-158, M 1504-3
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  4. DESCRIPTION: [John Merryman, Jr.]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1850
    SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) , 1850, Baltimore County, District 1 page 432, MSA SM 61-131, M 1484
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  5. DESCRIPTION: [John Merryman]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1860
    SOURCE: U.S. CENUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) John Merryman, 1860, Baltimore County, Cockeysville/District 8 pp. 488-489, MSA SM 61-196, M 7213-6
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  6. DESCRIPTION: [John Merryman]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1860
    SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) John Merryman, 1860 Slave Schedule, Baltimore County, Cockeysville/District 8 Page 93, MSA SM 61-228,  M 7229-4
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  7. See: Ex Parte Merryman case materials

  8. DESCRIPTION: Abraham Lincoln
    ARTIST: Adalbert John Volck (1828–1912)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Etching, 1861
    NOTE:  Lincoln's foot rests on a stack of books labeled “Constitution,” “Law,” and “Habeas Corpus.”
    SOURCE: CivilWar@Smithsonian
    REPOSITORY: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

  9. DESCRIPTION: Letter, D. Wilmot to [General Scott]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: April 20, 1861
    NOTES: "Rumor says the bridge across the Gunpowder is destroyed and also a bridge some six or eight miles out of the city...."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 565-566.

  10. DESCRIPTION: Letter, D. Wilmot to [General Scott]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: April 20, 1861
    NOTES: "Have just heard that the bridges between Ashland and Cockeysville and two or three nearer town are burned...."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 566.

  11. DESCRIPTION: Letter, J. Edgar Thomson, President, Pennsylvania Central Railroad to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: April 23, 1861
    NOTES: "Since I wrote my last of this date I have been informed that the Baltimoreans and Marylanders have destroyed the whole of the bridges of the Northern Central...."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 566.

  12. DESCRIPTION: Message to Governor Thomas Hicks from Senate of Maryland
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 3, 1861
    NOTES: "You will inform the Senate if you authorized, or consented to, the burning of the bridges on the Northern Central and Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia Railroad."
    SOURCE: Proceedings of the Senate
    April Special Session 1861, pp. 33-34.
    Archives of Maryland
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  13. DESCRIPTION: Report of Hon. George William Brown, Mayor of Baltimore acknowledging decision to destroy bridges to impede the movement of troops to Baltimore.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 9 (?), 1861
    NOTES: "In the report recently made to your honorable body by the board of police commissioners of the city of Baltimore it is stated that, in the great emergency which existed in this city ... it was suggested that the most feasible, if not the only practicable, mode of stopping for a time the approach of troops to Baltimore was to obstruct the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore and the Northern Central Railroads by disabling some of the bridges on both roads; and it is added that 'his honor the mayor stated to the board that his excellency the governor, with whom he had a few minutes before been in consultation, in the presence of several citizens, concurred in these views.'
    As this concurrence has since been explicitly denied by his Excellency Governor Hicks in an official communication addressed to the senate of Maryland on the 4th instant, which I have just seen, it is due to myself that I lay before you the grounds on which the statement was made to the board of police, on which they, as well as myself, acted."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 1 - Volume 2. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 12-15.

  14. DESCRIPTION: Register of Prisoners, John Merryman
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 25, 1861
    SOURCE: Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865. Microfilm No. 598. Roll 96. Volumes 305-310. Register of Prisoners and Ledger of Prisoners' Accounts, 1861-65: Fort McHenry, Md. Military Prison.
    REPOSITORY: National Archives 

  15. DESCRIPTION: Letter, General George Cadwalader to Colonel E. D. Townsend
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 27, 1861
    NOTES: "On the 25th instant Mr. John Merryman was arrested near Cockeysville.... I directed the offices ... who brought the prisoner [to Fort McHenry] to have more specific charges and specifications furnished against the accused with the names of witnesses.... I regret to say that I have not as yet been furnished with this information. I was yesterday evening served a writ of habeas corpus issued by the Hon. Roger B. Taney....
    From Enclosure No. 2: "This is to certify that Mr. John Merryman was arrested by orders of Colonel Yohe as first lieutenant of a secession company who have in their possession arms belonging to the United States Government for the purpose of using the same against the Government.... It can also be proven that the prisoner has been drilling with his company and has uttered and advanced secession doctrines."
    From Enclosure No. 3: "You are hereby commanded to be and appear before the Hon. Roger B. Taney ... and that you have with you the body of John Merryman."
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 574-576.

  16. DESCRIPTION: "Arrest of John Merryman, Esq., by the Military."  
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 27, 1861
    SOURCE: The Sun Collection, MSA SC 2852-1-105
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  17. DESCRIPTION: "Conflict of Civil and Military Powers. General Cadwallader refuses obedience to the writ of habeas corpus."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 27, 1861
    SOURCE: The South Collection, MSA SC 3768
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  18. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Assistant Adjutant-General E. D. Townsend to Maj. Gen. George G. Cadwalader
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 28, 1861
    NOTES: "The general-in-chief directs me to say under authority conferred upon him by the President of the United States ... that you will hold in secure confinement all persons implicated in treasonable practices unless you should become satisfied that the arrest in any particular case was made without sufficient evidence of guilt.... In returns to writs of habeas corpus by whomsoever issued you will most respectfully decline for the time to produce the prisoners but will say that when the present unhappy difficulties are at an end you will duly respond to the writs in question."
    SOURCE:
    United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 576-577.

  19. DESCRIPTION: Ex Parte John Merryman Before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
    DATE CREATED/PUBISHED:
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 1. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 577-585.

  20. DESCRIPTION: "Charge of Treason. Case of Mr. John Merryman. Writ of Habeas Corpus. General Cadwalader's Refusal to Obey. An Attachment of Contempt Issued."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 28, 1861
    SOURCE: The Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser Collection
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  21. DESCRIPTION: "United States Court.  Important Proceedings.  The Case of John Merryman, Esq."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 28, 1861
    SOURCE: The Sun Collection, MSA SC 2852-1-105
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  22. DESCRIPTION: "The Habeas Corpus Case:  Gen. Cadwallader Refuses To Allow The Process Of The Court To Be Served Upon Him."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 28, 1861
    SOURCE: The South Collection, MSA SC 3768-2-1
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  23. DESCRIPTION: "The Habeas Corpus Case of John Merryman, Esq."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 29, 1861
    SOURCE:
    The Sun Collection, MSA SC 2852-1-105
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  24. DESCRIPTION: "The Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 31, 1861
    SOURCE: The Sun Collection, MSA SC 2852-1-105
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  25. DESCRIPTION: "The Merryman Case:  Opinion of Chief Justice Taney."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 3, 1861
    SOURCE: The Sun Collection, MSA SC 2852-1-105
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  26. DESCRIPTION: "The Merryman Case:  Decision of Chief Justice Taney." 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 3, 1861
    SOURCE: The Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser Collection, MSA SC 4104-1-2
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  27. DESCRIPTION: "The Habeas Corpus Case."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 4, 1861
    SOURCE: The Baltimore American and Commerical Advertiser Collection, MSA SC 4104-1-2
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  28. DESCRIPTION: Reverdy Johnson to Abraham Lincoln (Merryman case)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 17, 1861
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress 

  29. DESCRIPTION: Abraham Lincoln, (Message to Congress, Handwritten Draft)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 4, 1861
    SOURCE: From The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  30. DESCRIPTION: Abraham Lincoln, [May-June 1861] (Message to Congress, July 4, 1861, First Printed Draft)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 4, 1861
    SOURCE: From The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  31. DESCRIPTION: "The Indictment for Treason Against John Merryman."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 11, 1861
    SOURCE: The Sun Collection, MSA SC 2852-1-105
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  32. DESCRIPTION: Extracts from the message of the Mayor of Baltimore
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 11, 1861
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 1 - Volume 2. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894): 15-20.

  33. DESCRIPTION: "Proceedings of the Courts:   The Indictment for Treason Against John Merryman."  
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 12, 1861
    SOURCE: The Baltimore American and Commerical Advertiser Collection, MSA SC 4104-1-2
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  34. DESCRIPTION: Letter, John A. Dix to William H. Seward
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 17, 1862
    NOTES: Includes report of political prisoners taken, released, and remaining since March 4, 1861, at Fort McHenry, Md.
    SOURCE: United States. War Dept., United States. Record and Pension Office., United States. War Records Office., et al. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Series 2 - Volume 2. (Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1897): 226-228

  35. DESCRIPTION: [John Merryman]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1880
    SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) John Merryman, 1880, Baltimore County, ED 240 Sheet 28 Line 1, MSA SM 61-307, M 4732
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  36. DESCRIPTION: "Death of John Merryman."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: November 16, 1881
    SOURCE: The Sun (Baltimore)
    REPOSITORY: From microfilm at Maryland State Law Library.

  37. DESCRIPTION: [Will of John Merryman]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1881
    SOURCE: BALTIMORE COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Wills, Original) John Merryman, 1881, Box 1541 [MSA  T 1764-3,  0/38/11/53]
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  38. DESCRIPTION: [Inventory of Estate of John Merryman]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1881
    SOURCE: BALTIMORE COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Inventories, Original) John Merryman, December 1881, Box 499, MSA T1205, 2/58/9/24
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  39. DESCRIPTION: John Merryman. Air-"Old Dan Tucker." 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: n. d.
    SOURCE: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  40. DESCRIPTION: There's life in the old land yet. By Jas. R. Randall, of Baltimore.   
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: n. d.
    SOURCE: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

See also:

Additional Media Resources

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine -- Official National Park Service site

Fort McHenry -- Site of Patriots of Fort McHenry

Additional Instructional Resources

Resources on Incorporating Primary Sources and Historic Sites in Classroom Instruction

The Civil War and Civil Liberties. Lesson plan concerning the loss of civil liberties in wartime

The President and War Powers: Lincoln and the Civil War. Lesson plan from the White House Historical Association. Includes links to text of Ex Parte Merryman

President Lincoln Maintains National Security: The Case of Maryland, 1861. In: American History and National Security: Supplemental Lessons for High School Courses, Ed.  John J. Patrick, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1989.

Secondary Resources

"Ex Parte Merryman:  Proceedings of Court Day, May 26, 1861."  Maryland Historical Magazine 56 (1961):  384-398.

"Merryman Family."  Maryland Historical Magazine 10 (1915):  176-185; 286-299. 

"The Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the War of the Rebellion." Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 3. (Sep., 1888), pp. 454-488. [JSTOR]

Adams, James Truslow ed.  Dictionary of American History.  5 vols.  New York:  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940. 

Brown, George William.  Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April, 1861:  A Study of War.  Baltimore, MD:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1887.  

Duncan, Richard R. "The Era of the Civil War: the Crisis of Loyalty" Chapter V-2. in Maryland, a History, pp. 333-360. Edited by Richard Walsh and William Fox, Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1974.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. "Roger B. Taney and the Sectional Crisis" The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 43, No. 4. (Nov., 1977), pp. 555-566. [JSTOR]

Kleinfeld, Joshua. "The union Lincoln made. (Political and Legal Aspects of Suspension of Writ of Habeus Corpus by President Lincoln during Civil War)." History Today (November 1, 1997).

Lewis, Walker.  Without Fear or Favor:   A Biography of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965. 

National Biographical Publishing Company. The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and District of Columbia. Baltimore, MD:  National Biographical Publishing Company, 1879. 

Neely, Mark E., Jr. The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Oxford University Press, 1992.

Papenfuse, Edward C., Earl Arnett, and Robert J. Brugger.  Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State. Baltimore, MD:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1999.   

Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Maryland. 3 vols. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press, 1967.

________. History of Baltimore City and County.  2 vols.  Baltimore, MD:  Regional Publishing Company, 1971.

Schoettler, Carl. "A time liberties weren't priority." Sun (Baltimore) November 27, 2001.

Steiner, Bernard C.  Life of Roger Brooke Taney, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  1922. Reprint, Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1970.

Swisher, Carl Brent.  Roger B. Taney.  New York:  The Macmillan Company, 1935.   

________.  The Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United StatesVol. V:  The Taney Period 1836-64. New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.  1974. 

Rehnquist, William H. All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

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