Suspension of Habeas Corpus
The Saga of Richard Henry Alvey


     As the secession of the southern states lay fresh on everyone's mind, President Abraham Lincoln exercised a constitutional power granted the President of the United States only with prior consent of Congress, he suspended Habeas Corpus, and exercised unrestricted authority to arrest and detain anyone without formal charge brought against them.

     When the president acted, even the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney was appalled at the way the Constitution was being tossed aside and ignored. Lincoln believed that drastic times called for drastic measures, and those felt to be in insurrection against the national authority were quietly arrested and held without charge. There had been hundreds if not thousands of arrests under these circumstances, and for the sake of the country, innocent or guilty; many lives would be ruined as a result.

     Mr. Richard Henry Alvey, was arrested in his office at Hagerstown, Maryland on June 18th, 1861 for suspicion of disloyalty. Dragged away to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, then moved off to Fort Lafayette, and lastly confined at Fort Warren, Boston, Massachusetts

     Nearly the entire summer had gone and Mr. Alvey had not been charged of anything. Latching onto the services of the honorable John Thompson Mason, of Maryland, he was still trying to get someone's attention to the absence of formal charges, with no reward for his efforts.

     In the fall, his pleas had reached the desk of the Secretary of State. Concerned for his family who were dependent upon his livelihood, his business now ruined after months of incarceration, all he wished for was his release that he may get back home.

     The State Department could not help the man, however, the issue was passed onto Mr. Edward Bates, Abraham Lincoln's Attorney General, who opened up correspondence with Mr. William Meade Addison, of the United States Attorney's Office in Baltimore. Powerless to perform, Addison was unable get him released. The Federal Government had moved him beyond the Maryland borders.

     The Attorney General's opinion was that if the government was not holding the Marylander as a political prisoner and couldn't find substantial evidence of keeping him in prison, it would be in the best interest to free him.

     Post Master General Montgomery Blair, sent along a statement of Mr. Alvey's proving his loyalty, but he would not take the oath. Blair considered the issue rather silly, but urged the State Department to allow him to return to his family.

     An oath had been given on January 6th 1862 and Lieutenant Colonel Justin Dimick, commanding at Fort Warren sent an affidavit of Mr. Alvey's allegiance oath, and granting his release that day.

     Never charged with any crime, the suspicion of the United States Government kept many like Richard Henry Alvey locked up, without charges being preferred. Federally confined for seven months with no knowledge of his crime, the American Civil War truly became a living hell for both soldier and citizen alike.


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2002

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar.net