John Merryman

John Merryman

Ask a question about 'John Merryman'
Start a new discussion about 'John Merryman'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
John Merryman was the petitioner in one of the best known habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

 cases of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, a militia officer during the Civil War, and a Maryland politician.

Early life

Merryman began his work life as an employee in Richard Norris' hardware store in Baltimore City. The following year he moved to Guayama, Puerto Rico to work for his uncle, Samuel N. Gott. Merryman returned to Maryland in 1842 to manage farms and raise Hereford cattle.
Merryman married Ann Louisa, daughter of Elijah Bosley Gittings, in 1844. John and Ann Louisa had eleven children. Merryman, a Democrat, served as president of the Board of County Commissioners, Baltimore County, in 1857. At the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, he was a farmer in Cockeysville, Maryland
Cockeysville, Maryland
Cockeysville is a census-designated place in Baltimore County, Maryland, United States. The population was 19,388 at the 2000 census.-History:...


Civil War

Prior to the Civil War, Merryman was a 3rd lieutenant in the Baltimore County Troops. By 1861 he was a 1st lieutenant in the Baltimore County Horse Guards. Following the Pratt Street Riot in Baltimore, Governor Hicks
Thomas Holliday Hicks
Thomas Holliday Hicks was an American politician from Maryland. He served as the 31st Governor of Maryland from 1858 until 1862, and as a U.S...

 ordered Merryman to aid 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 at his home in Cockeysville by Union troops, indicted for treason, and confined in Fort McHenry. Merryman petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, which was granted by Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

Roger B. Taney
Roger Brooke Taney was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office or sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most...

, but the writ was disobeyed by General George Cadwalader
George Cadwalader
George Cadwalader was a general in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War and American Civil War.-Biography:He was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studied law, and was admitted to the bar...

, the arresting officer, under orders from President Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, even though Taney cited Cadwalader for contempt. Taney declared Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional (see Ex parte Merryman
Ex parte Merryman
Ex parte Merryman, 17 F. Cas. 144 , is a well-known U.S. federal court case which arose out of the American Civil War. It was a test of the authority of the President to suspend "the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus"...


While Merryman was in jail awaiting a hearing, Taney had furniture and home-cooked meals brought to him in his cell. Merryman later named one of his sons Roger B. Taney Merryman in the Chief Justice's honor.

Merryman was State Treasurer of Maryland from 1870 to 1872.

See also

  • Taney Arrest Warrant
    Taney Arrest Warrant
    The Taney Arrest Warrant is a conjectural controversy in Abraham Lincoln scholarship. The argument is that in late May or early June 1861 President Lincoln secretly ordered an arrest warrant for Roger B. Taney, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, but abandoned the proposal...

  • Hampton NHS, 19th century