Martin v. Mott

The citation for this case is 25 US [12 Wheaton] 19. It’s a Supreme Court case from 1827, argued January 17 and decided February 2 on a 7-0 vote.

During the War of 1812, President James Madison called out the militia in accordance with the Militia Act of 1795. New York’s Governor Daniel Tompkins ordered several companies of the New York militia to gather in New York City. Private Jacob Mott refused to muster with his company. A court-martial found Mott guilty and fined him $96, which he refused to pay. The marshal, Martin, seized property belonging to Mott as a result, and Mott sued to recover his property. The New York State courts sided with Mott and Martin appealed to the Supreme Court.

Justice Joseph Story delivered the opinion of the Court. In that opinion, he wrote, “The Constitution declares that Congress shall have power ‘to provide for calling forth the militia, to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions,’ and also ‘to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States.’ In pursuance of this authority, the act of 1795 has provided ‘That whenever the United States shall be invaded or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, and to issue his order for that purpose to such officer or officers of the militia as he shall think proper.’ And like provisions are made for the other cases stated in the Constitution. It has not been denied here that the act of 1795 is within the constitutional authority of Congress or that Congress may not lawfully provide for cases of imminent danger of invasion, as well as for cases where an invasion has actually taken place. In our opinion, there is no ground for a doubt on this point, even if it had been relied on, for the power to provide for repelling invasions includes the power to provide against the attempt and danger of invasion, as the necessary and proper means to effectuate the object. One of the best means to repel invasion is to provide the requisite force for action before the invader himself has reached the soil. The power thus confided by Congress to the President is doubtless, of a very high and delicate nature. A free people are naturally jealous of the exercise of military power, and the power to call the militia into actual service is certainly felt to be one of no ordinary magnitude. But it is not a power which can be executed without a correspondent responsibility. It is, in its terms, a limited power, confined to cases of actual invasion or of imminent danger of invasion. If it be a limited power, the question arises by whom is the exigency to be judged of and decided? Is the President the sole and exclusive judge whether the exigency has arisen, or is it to be considered as an open question, upon which every officer to whom the orders of the President are addressed, may decide for himself, and equally open to be contested by every militiaman who shall refuse to obey the orders of the President? We are all of opinion that the authority to decide whether the exigency has arisen belongs exclusively to the President, and that his decision is conclusive upon all other persons. We think that this construction necessarily results from the nature of the power itself and from the manifest object contemplated by the act of Congress. The power itself is to be exercised upon sudden emergencies, upon great occasions of state, and under circumstances which may be vital to the existence of the Union. A prompt and unhesitating obedience to orders is indispensable to the complete attainment of the object. The service is a military service, and the command of a military nature, and in such cases every delay and every obstacle to an efficient and immediate compliance necessarily tend to jeopard the public interests. While subordinate officers or soldiers are pausing to consider whether they ought to obey or are scrupulously weighing the evidence of the facts upon which the commander in chief exercises the right to demand their services, the hostile enterprise may be accomplished without the means of resistance. If ‘the power of regulating the militia and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are (as it has been emphatically said they are) natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense and of watching over the internal peace of the confederacy,’ these powers must be so construed as to the modes of their exercise as not to defeat the great end in view. If a superior officer has a right to contest the orders of the President upon his own doubts as to the exigency having arisen, it must be equally the right of every inferior officer and soldier, and any act done by any person in furtherance of such orders would subject him to responsibility in a civil suit, in which his defense must finally rest upon his ability to establish the facts by competent proofs. Such a course would be subversive of all discipline and expose the best disposed officers to the chances of ruinous litigation. Besides, in many instances the evidence upon which the President might decide that there is imminent danger of invasion might be of a nature not constituting strict technical proof, or the disclosure of the evidence might reveal important secrets of state which the public interest, and even safety, might imperiously demand to be kept in concealment.” [25 US 19, 28-31]

The power to determine whether the emergency exists to call out the militia, then, belongs exclusively to the President, and his determination that the emergency exists must be followed.

Martin v. Mott was a major precedent supporting President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to act decisively in the early days of the Civil War. The case gave substantive authority to the president as the commander in chief.” [Kermit L. Hall, ed., The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, p. 176]

You can see more information about the decision here:

This is important for us because several dumb neoconfederates will often contend Lincoln had no authority to call out the militia, and they’ll even claim he was a tyrant for saying a rebellion existed. This court decision shows conclusively Lincoln had the authority to call out the militia and also had the authority to determine a rebellion existed. I maintain it also has application to suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, because the president has the authority to determine the emergency requiring suspension exists and that this determination would be, in the words of Justice Story, “conclusive upon all other persons.”

Some additional analysis of the Militia Acts and their impact on presidential power is here.



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