HABEAS CORPUS (ante), sometimes called " the great writ of personal liberty," is an inheritance of this country from England, and the grandest safeguard against despot ism which jurisprudence affords. It is a writ of rights. Any person restrained of liberty from whatever cause is entitled to it upon petition under oath, and if his imprisonment is adjudged by a court having jurisdiction to be illegal, he will be set at liberty. The writ proceeds upon the assumption that every human being, unless he is either convicted or accused of crime and held for trial and punishment in due process of law, is entitled to freedom from bodily restraint. A court having power to issue the writ must issue it upon application in due form, and, after examination, must pronounce judgment upon the case before him. The person to whom the .writ is addressed must come into court. bring his prisoner with him, and make disclosure of the grounds upon which he is held. Disobedience to the order of a court in such a case subjects the offender to severe punish ment. The scope of the writ is very broad, even covering the case of a child who is restrained by one of its parents from intercourse with the. other. In such a case the court will determine whether the parents have equal rights in the child, and if not, whether the father or mother is its lawful custodian. In the days of slavery the writ was often issued iu behalf of slaves who had escaped from their masters, and when it was shown that the masters themselves had brought them into a state where slavery was unlawful, the court set them free. Chief-justice Shaw of Massachusetts was the first to avow and act upon this principle; but afterwards, in cases where slaves had run away from a state in which slavery was regarded as lawful, and the master had caused them to be arrested by the authority of the United States, he refused to interfere in their behalf. There were not wanting men eminent for legal learning who held that this writ, if it were only enforced in the spirit of the English law. as expounded by lord
Mansfield in the celebrated Somerset case, brought to his attention by the pertinacity of Granville Sharp, would free every slave in time United States; it being held that slavery here had never been established hy law, hut was a usurpation from time beginning, and contrary to the genius of republican institutions. It was upon this principle, if not by this process precisely, that slavery was abolished in 31assachusetts; and if the principle could have been made effective in all the states of the union, the slaves would have been emancipated peacefully and the country saved from the horrors of a desperate and bloody civil war. So important did the fathers deem the writ of habeas corpus that they inserted in the constitution of the United States (art. I., sec 9) an express provision that it should not be suspended "unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." The question whether the power to suspend is vested in con gress or the president., or in each alike, has been much disputed. The power was exer cised by the president during the late rebellion, with the tacit consent or express per. mission of 'coniress. The power of the federal courts to issue the writ is limited in its scope by certain well understood principles, but that power, as far as it extends, is sovereign. No state eourt has a right to issue the writ for the disc arge of a person held under the authority of the federal government. It cannot, for instance, discharge a soldier of the United States upon any pretense whatever, or inquire into. the legality of the detention of a prisoner by the national authority. The national courts alone have jurisdiction in such cases. The proceedings upon a return of a writ may take place in chambers before a single judge or before several judges in open court, according to the terms of the writ itself.