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News & Events
Jonathan White Publishes 'Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman'
(Newport News, VA) - CNU Assistant Professor Dr. Jonathan W. White has authored Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman (Louisiana State University Press, 2011).
In the spring of 1861, Union military authorities arrested Maryland farmer John Merryman on charges of treason against the United States for burning railroad bridges around Baltimore in an effort to prevent northern soldiers from reaching the endangered national capital. From his prison cell at Fort McHenry, Merryman petitioned U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for release through a writ of habeas corpus. Taney issued the writ, but President Abraham Lincoln ignored it. This was a controversial action on Lincoln's part because most legal observers believed that holding a civilian without charges exceeded his constitutional authority as president.
Dr. White’s book sheds significant new light on several perennially controversial legal and constitutional issues in American history, including the nature and extent of presidential war powers, the development of national policies for dealing with disloyalty and treason, and the protection of civil liberties in wartime. Lawyers, historians and political scientists have long known the basic outline of the Merryman case, but the book tells a story that has been previously unknown. In his research, White uncovered never-before-seen correspondence and court records that reveal the lasting impact of Merryman's arrest on the Lincoln administration and Congress.
Historian Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College said of the book: “Jonathan White’s short and pungent narrative and study of Ex parte Merryman teems with abundant new findings and sharp analysis. It will be a joy to both the general reader and to the specialists in Civil War history and American law.” And Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame of the University of Illinois at Springfield said, “Jonathan W. White’s highly original book is a timely and significant contribution to the literature on both civil liberties during wartime and on the Lincoln administration.”
White is a fellow at CNU’s Center for American Studies and is an assistant professor at CNU’s Department of Leadership and American Studies. He holds a BA from Pennsylvania State University and both an MA and PhD from the University of Maryland. He teaches several American Studies courses at CNU, including a course on “Treason in America.”
A four-year public university in Newport News, Virginia, Christopher Newport University enrolls 5,000 students in rigorous academic programs in the liberal arts and sciences through the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, and the College of Social Sciences, including the Luter School of Business. CNU offers great teaching and small class sizes with an emphasis on leadership, civic engagement and honor.
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