School Improvement in Maryland

Lesson Seeds: The lesson seeds are ideas for the indicator/objective that can be used to build a lesson. Lesson seeds are not meant to be all-inclusive, nor are they substitutes for instruction.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic C. Protecting Rights and Maintaining Order

Indicator 2. Explain how the United States government protected or failed to protect the rights of individuals and groups

Objective c. Examine the use of Presidential power in Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus

Begin the lesson by ensuring that students can explain both the meaning of the habeas corpus protection and its necessity in a democratic political system based on rule of law and limited government. Next, pose this question for full class discussion: “Under which circumstances might suspensions of habeas corpus be justified?” As desired, lead the discussion by providing students with hypothetical scenarios or actual events from history in which suspension of habeas corpus might be considered, such as 9/11 and the War on Terror, the Civil War, the attack on Pearl Harbor, etc.

Provide students with key excerpts from “Ex Parte Merryman and Debates on Civil Liberties During the Civil War” (, or some other secondary account of the Merryman case. Direct the students to complete case brief sheets for the Merryman case (Steps for analyzing court decisions can be found at Street Law’s Web page, at Be sure to focus students’ completion of the case briefs on the arguments in favor of and against using presidential power to suspend habeas corpus protections, using the reading’s discussions of Taney’s opinion, Lincoln’s response, and the Attorney General’s position as focal points.

When students have finished the case briefs, conduct a structured class debate, such as a Student Congress, on a resolution that would permit the President of the United States to suspend habeas corpus protections during times of national emergencies. Suggestions for conducting a Student Congress can be found at

Resources for Objective 1.C.2.c:
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