William Matthew Merrick

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This article is about American lawyer and politician. For the United States Senator from Maryland, see William Duhurst Merrick.

William Matthew Merrick (September 1, 1818 – February 4, 1889) was a United States Circuit Court judge for the District of Columbia and congressman from the fifth district of the state of Maryland.

Early life, career, and family[edit]

Merrick was born near Faulkner, Maryland and graduated from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., in 1831. He studied law at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, and read law to be admitted to the bar in Baltimore, Maryland in 1839. He entered private practice in Baltimore in 1839, moving his practice to Frederick, Maryland, in 1844. He served as deputy attorney general for Frederick County, Maryland, from 1845 to 1850.

Merrick's father, William Duhurst Merrick, was a United States Senator from Maryland.

Associate Justice of the D.C. Circuit Court[edit]

Merrick moved to Washington, D.C. in 1854, and on December 14, 1855, Merrick was nominated by President Franklin Pierce to a seat on the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia vacated by James Dunlop.[1] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 14, 1855, and received his commission the same day.[1] Merrick's service was terminated on March 3, 1863, due to the abolition of the court.[1] While in this position, he is best known for his role in the case of United States ex rel. Murphy v. Porter during the American Civil War, when he was placed under house arrest by Gen. Andrew Porter in relation to a writ for habeas corpus concerning a soldier stationed in Washington, D.C. During the affair Pres. Abraham Lincoln also ordered Secretary of State William H. Seward to suspend Merrick's salary. Merrick was released from house arrest in December.[citation needed] His name came up in discussions by the United States Senate over whether to abolish the D.C. Circuit Court, opponents of the bill claiming that it was a stratagem to turn Merrick and his fellow judges out of office.[2] Sen. Henry Wilson claimed that Merrick's heart "sweltered with treason" and that his house had become a hotbed of pro-secessionist sympathizers.[3][4]

Maryland political career[edit]

Merrick resumed the practice of law in Maryland, and was a professor of law at Columbian College (now George Washington University) in Washington, D.C. in 1866 and 1867. He served as the Howard County representative to the 1867 Maryland Constitutional Convention. This followed the election of 1866 when the pro-Union politicians lost power and pro-slavery Democrats replaced them. They sought to rewrite the Constitution of 1864, which they believed to be pro-Union. The convention was called at the request of Governor Thomas Swann, a Democrat elected in 1866.

In 1870, he served as a Democrat in the Maryland House of Delegates representing Howard County. In 1871, he was sworn in to serve as a Democrat to Congress, serving the fifth district that included Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, St. Mary's and part of Baltimore County. All five of Maryland's Congressmen were Democrats. He only served one term and, after redistricting, was replaced by William J. Albert, a Republican.

Supreme Court of the District of Columbia[edit]

After his service in Congress, Merrick resumed the practice of law. On May 1, 1885, Merrick received a recess appointment from President Grover Cleveland to a seat on the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia vacated by the retirement of Andrew Wylie.[1] Formally nominated on December 14, 1885, Merrick was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 30, 1886, and received his commission the same day.[1] He served there until his death, in Washington, D.C.[1] He was originally interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery (Washington, D.C.), but his remains were later transferred to Oak Hill Cemetery (Washington, D.C.) where he is buried in an unmarked grave.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Federal Judicial Center page on William Matthew Merrick.
  2. ^ Congressional Globe, Thirty-Seventh Congress, Third Session (1862–63), pp. 1049–52, 1128–30, 1135–40.
  3. ^ Congressional Globe, Thirty-Seventh Congress, Third Session (1862–63), p. 1139.
  4. ^ White, Jonathan W. (2007). "Sweltering with Treason: The Civil War Trials of William Matthew Merrick". Prologue Magazine 39 (2). 


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Frederick Stone
Representative of the Fifth Congressional District of Maryland
Succeeded by
William J. Albert