2016 marks the 100th anniversary of
the United States Supreme Court decision in Ex Parte Milligan. In
2012, I wrote about “Lincoln’s
Suspension of Habeas Corpus” for The Charger.
In this archived article I recounted the issues and U.S. Supreme
Court cases surrounding Lincoln’s controversial wartime policy.
The case of Lambdin Milligan is the
one most remembered because it declared Lincoln’s use of military
tribunals like the one that condemned Milligan and other Indiana
opponents to his wartime policies to death for treason to be
unconstitutional. As long as civil courts were operating, the Court
ruled in a unanimous opinion by David Davis that Lincoln opponents
like the “Copperhead” Milligan could not be tried by military
Milligan’s execution was delayed
first by Lincoln and then by his successor Andrew Johnson until it
could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court after the war ended.
Milligan’s case and its aftermath featured three prominent
- He was represented in his appeal
to the U.S. Supreme Court by a team that included future President
- In his later suit for damages
against those responsible for his imprisonment, he was represented
by Thomas Hendrickson, future Vice President;
- The attorney representing
General Alvin Hovey who arrested Milligan was future President
Milligan triumphed but the jury
verdict in his favor resulted in an award of only $5.
The Milligan precedent continued to
be cited in the litigation over the United States imprisonment at
the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba of enemy combatants captured
during the war on terrorists.
If you’re interested in learning
more about the Copperheads, I'd recommend Jennifer Weber’s 2006
book, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North
(Oxford University Press) and Nancy Baxter's YouTube lecture “Copperheads