Ex parte Bollman

Case Date: 02/26/2021

Ex parte Bollman, 8 U.S. (Cranch 4) 75 (1807), was a case brought before the United States Supreme Court. Three main points were established in this early and formative civil liberties case: The Supreme Court has the power to issue writs (orders to enforce a judicial law or principle, e.g. habeas corpus) to circuit courts. This "gives teeth" to writs like that of habeas corpus, because it provides a way to invoke a higher court's mediation. The Constitutional definition of treason is limited to actual, direct, and concrete involvement in an attempt to forcefully overthrow the government. That is, treason is essentially a "military" offense. For instance, no amount of anti-government speech can qualify as treason, although giving away military secrets might. Only Congress may suspend the writ of habeas corpus. This was not so much an argued point, nor something presented as a new interpretation, as it was a matter-of-fact observation made by Chief Justice John Marshall. This principle would be much more hotly debated in the later Supreme Court Cases of the American Civil War, which centered around wartime civil liberties and the ability of the various branches of government to control them. Bollman and Swartwout were civilians who became implicated in the Burr-Wilkinson Plot. This plot supposedly consisted of Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson attempting to create an empire in the United States, ruled by Burr. In 1806, Wilkinson informed Thomas Jefferson of the plot, ending whatever may have actually been planned. Bollman and Swartwout attempted to recruit others into the plot, but these individuals informed the military, which promptly arrested them.