Page:Suspension of Habeas Corpus during the War of the Rebellion.djvu/1

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

THERE are several writs of habeas corpus known among lawyers, and they are used for various purposes. But when people speak of the writ of habeas corpus without more, they mean the great writ ad subjiciendum, the bulwark of liberty, the great writ of liberty, as it is called. It is the writ which is applied for when a man is supposed to be unjustly held in custody, and when it is issued and served, the person holding the prisoner must bring him before the judge and show cause for the detention. If the detention cannot be justified the prisoner will be discharged. The object of habeas corpus is to inquire into the legality of imprisonment, whether it is by competent authority and for a sufficient reason; and according to the evidence given at the hearing, the prisoner is either discharged, bailed, tried, or remanded to custody.

From a political point of view, the great value of habeas corpus is that it protects citizens from a dangerous tendency which is generally found in those who exercise the powers of government. These rulers of men often want to rid themselves quickly of their personal enemies or of those whom they choose to consider the enemies of their country, and one of the easiest methods is to arrest on any sort of charge or suspicion, and keep the victim in confinement simply by not allowing him to be brought to trial. And it has often been said,—and the Bastile and the Tower of London will warrant the assertion,—that the power secretly to hurry a man to jail, where his sufferings will be unknown or soon forgotten, is more dangerous to freedom than all the other engines of tyranny. On the other hand, it is generally admitted that when a government is attacked by a rebellion it is impossible for it to protect itself from conspirators and assassins if every one of them has to be taken before a court of law and proved guilty