One of the most common complaints of the people on either side of the Civil War was that the right to a writ of habeas corpus was suspended. Habeas corpus means in Latin, “you have the body.” It is used to prevent the government from illegally holding prisoners without having evidence to bring charges against them. The Constitutions of both the United States and Confederate States guaranteed the writ of habeas corpus, but allowed it to be suspended when necessary for the public safety. The Confederate Congress gave President Jefferson Davis that power several times during the Civil War, including 150 years ago today, on February 15, 1864. An act was passed suspending the writ in a list of enumerated cases, including treason, conspiracies to overthrow the government, and spying. This is in contrast to Abraham Lincoln, who first revoked the writ, and then had his actions approved by Congress.
Davis met some opposition in these measures, most notably from Alexander Stephens, his vice-president. Stephens denounced Davis as a tyrant and returned home to Georgia, virtually abandoning his office. He gave a speech on the issue on March 16, 1864 to the Georgia Legislature. “In my judgment," he said, "this act is not only unwise, impolitic and unconstitutional, but exceedingly dangerous to public liberty." He believed that the Congress and President could suspend habeas corpus, but they were still restrained by another clause which forbid the removal of "of liberty, without due process of law."