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The Body of John Merryman

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An original, comprehensive, and well-written narrative about the first constitutional crisis pitting Abraham Lincoln against Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. Anyone interested in American history, the Constitution, and the Civil War will be anxious to read this excellent book. -- Frank J. Williams, former Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and founding chair of The Lincoln Forum

About the Author

Brian McGinty is an attorney and writer specializing in American history and law.


In 1861, acting through his agents, Abraham Lincoln detained a Marylander named John Merryman (who had waged private war against the federal government), suspended the legal writ of habeas corpus that is ordinarily used to test the validity of detention in court, and then ignored a judicial judgment, issued by Chief Justice Roger Taney, that declared the suspension unconstitutional. In Brian McGinty's engaging treatment of this famous episode, Lincoln comes across as a familiar figure--both thoughtful and decisive, respectful of constitutional law yet aware of the unusual necessities of the time...Many earlier accounts of the Merryman episode, especially by lawyers, have quite understandably put Lincoln front and center. McGinty's account offers a more vivid and rounded picture of the episode by giving Taney's motivations and hypocrisies equal billing; doing so puts Lincoln's actions in an even more favorable light than history already has. Beset by enemies on all sides, Lincoln had also to cope with calculated opposition clothed in judicial robes, and he did so with admirable restraint. -- Adrian Vermeule New Republic online 20110801 Attorney McGinty presents a more nuanced look at the landmark case, providing a clear explanation of the political situation in western Maryland in 1861, the ramifications of Merryman's actions, and an explanation of the legal thought process Lincoln used in the Merryman case. The author establishes the extent of Merryman's guilt, dissects the shortcomings of Taney's efforts to free Merryman, and defies the imagery of Lincoln as tyrant. Most notably, McGinty explains the difference between Taney's role as a judge in circuit court, where the case played out, and his role within the Supreme Court, which never heard the case. Well written and clearly explained with a minimum of legal terms, this book provides an excellent overview of a momentous legal case. -- S. J. Ramold Choice 20120401

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