Abe Lincoln and the Constitution

As we celebrate the birthday of one of America's greatest Presidents, it's instructive to pause and reflect on Lincoln's relationship with the Constitution, a subject I have been reading great deal about lately.

There are two distinctive schools of thought on Lincoln.  One says he was nearly Satan incarnate, a vindictive big government dictator who trampled on the Constitution and the liberty of the Southern Confederacy.  The other believes he was a measured statesman who did what was needed to preserve the Union.

It is beyond the scope of today's post to argue about slavery or succession, the typical controversies that Lincoln is judged on, so let's begin with what powers the Constitution actually gives the President, the Supreme Court, and Congress to maintain order and suppress rebellion.  Keep in mind the effect of Shay's Rebellion on the Founding Fathers and their ultimate desire to keep peace and order.

Article I, Section 8:  To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
Article I, Section 9:  The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Article I, Section 10:  No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
Article II, Section 2:  The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States                                         
Article III, Section 3:  Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Given these fairly squishy and ill-defined powers, it is this Grouchy Historian's opinion that Lincoln's actions were quite reasonable, and I think it's important to keep in mind that historically speaking, the U.S. Civil War was not nearly as bitter and bloody as others in history.  This does not, of course, diminish the sacrifice of the nearly 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers that gave "the last full measure of devotion", but there were no major massacres of Southern Civilians, Sherman's March notwithstanding for those unrepentant Southerners, nor were there any "purges" of Confederate military or civilian leadership after the war.

Lincoln was a master strategist and politician who was probably the best commander-in-chief our country ever had.  He had a keen understanding of the political goal of his military actions and knew that making peace with southern Americans would be necessary after successfully waging war upon them.

His own words show some of Lincoln's impressive political acumen:
"...I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare and make know, that...I am, and at all times shall be, prepared to give Executive aid and assistance to any such people, as soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such state, and the people thereof shall have sufficiently returned to the obedience to the Constitution... (Proclamation Concerning Reconstruction, July 8, 1863)
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."  (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.)

So, Happy Birthday President Lincoln and thank you for your service to our country.