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Abraham Lincoln - Dictator or Defender?

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Cynthia Smith

on 25 November 2013

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Transcript of Abraham Lincoln - Dictator or Defender?

Abraham Lincoln
The Union As It Was?
The Union As It Must Be..
Lincoln's Goal Was to Preserve the Union...
The Great Republican Experiment..
"...That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the
people, shall not perish
from the earth."
---Gettysburg Address
Close Reading of
Lincoln's Message to Congress in Special Session, July 1861 ---Cynthia Smith
Dictator or Defender?
Secession is Not an Option?
Descending from theses general principles,
we find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And Finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was" to form a more perfect union."

But if the destruction of the Union, by one, or by a part only, of the States, be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows from these Views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union,---that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the united States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

---First Inaguaral Address
Lincoln Did Not Cancel the Election?
"In short, from every part of the broad Union battlefield is returned the same loyal response of the American people, saying, "We sustain the Union--we sustain the President--we sustain the war--we rejoice in and sustain whatever vigor has been manifested in crushing rebellion at the South, and in crushing out treason at the North. We sustain that which in the cant phrase of this campaign has been branded a "arbitrary arrests, " the "suspension of the habeas corpus," "the Emancipation Proclamation," "the employment of negro troops," the crushing out of the Sons of Liberty and other traitors, and whatever else the President has done with the single aim and purpose to subdue the rebellion and restore the Union. The Constitution is vindicated. The Union is safe. Liberty is triumphant. Treason is crushed. The country is secured."
...-Chicago Tribune (Reprinted in The Liberator on Friday, November 18, 1864).

Freedom of Speech?

On May 5th, 1863, Copperhead, Clement Vallandigham was arrested.
"He grandiloquently condemned the administration for tying to whip the Confederates 'back into love and fellowship at the point of the bayonet.' He maintained that 'history will record that, after nearly six thousand years of folly and wickedness in every form and administration of government, theocratic, democractic, monarchic, oligarchic, despotic, and mixed, it was reserved to the American statesmanship in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, to try the grand experiment on a scale the most costly and gigantic in its proportions, of creating love by force and developing fraternal affection by war; and history will record, too on the same page, the utter disastrous, and most bloody failure of the experiment.'"

---Michael Burlingame. Abraham Lincoln: A Life., pg 505.
Hon. Horace Greely: Executive Mansion,
Dear Sir Washington, August 22, 1862.

I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing'' as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was.'' If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free. Yours,


Annotated Transcript from Housed Divided

Slavery Takes a Backseat?
"The rebellion, thus began soon ran into the present civil war; and, in certain respects, it began on very unequal terms between the parties. The insurgents had been preparing for it for more than thirty years, while the government had taken no steps to resist them. The former had carefully considered all the means which could be turned to their account. It undoubtedly was a well pondered reliance with them that in their own unrestricted effort to destroy the Union, constitution, and law, all together, the government would, in great degree, be restrained by the same constitution and law, from arresting their progress. Their sympathizers pervaded all departments of the government, and nearly all communities of the people. From this material, under cover of ''Liberty of speech"...Liberty of the press" and "Habeas corpus" they hoped to keep among us a most efficient corps of spies, informers, supplyers, and aiders and abettors of their cause in a thousand ways."

Abraham Lincoln to Erastus Corning and others, June 12, 1863
Excerpt of Annotated Transcript from House Divided
Lincoln's Nationalist Sentiments or The Union as it Should Be.....
The essence of Lincoln’s nationalism was the preservation of self-government. Lincoln was deeply attached to the founding principles and self-evident truths. He believed in a perpetual union of states held firmly together by a federal government. When Lincoln became president, sectionalism threatened to tear the United States apart. In the First Inaugural Address, Lincoln said, “One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended.” His mission was to, uncompromisingly, preserve the union and validate the great republican experiment of a government of the people, by the people, for the people

Historian Herman Belz said, “The permanence of the Union as a national government was necessarily implied in the adoption of the Constitution as fundamental law. Observing its origin in the colonies’ resistance to British rule, Lincoln said the union “was matured and continued” in the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation. The main object of the Constitution was “to form a more perfect union.” Abstractly considered, perfecting the union meant fulfilling the ends of republican liberty, equality, and consent for which it was created” (Belz, In Petritto, et. al 2005). The issue of slavery prevented the perfection of the Union. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln told Americans, “ Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” He told them that their participation was necessary to continue to strive toward a “new birth of freedom” so that the government of the people, by the people would prevail in the struggle.

While Lincoln considered slavery an evil that stood in the way of the nation fulfilling its promise, he believed in its ultimate extinction one way or another and would not compromise the “union as it was”. In his 1862, letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln stated, “What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” Bring the war to a conclusion, and let the people legislate an end to slavery.

In the Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln said, “Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish”. Lincoln refused to settle for a peace that did not include freedom for the slaves and re-unification. William C. Harris said that the only conclusion that would achieve those ends was the surrender of Lee’s armies (Harris, 2000).

On April 6, 1865, the process of restoring the republican experiment would begin in the South, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in…” The nation would be restored to greatness and due to the people of the states ratifying the 13th Amendment, it would become a “more perfect union.”

The Republican press uphold President Lincoln in everything he has done so far, and consider all as enemies of the Government who dare to question his acts. While feeling a supreme indifference as to what opinion may be held of us by Republican editors and leaders, we intend to exercise our right of expressing our opinion freely of Lincoln' s acts. While upholding the Government and praying for its perpetuity, we are not called upon to sanction the high-handed and despotic sway of the present rulers in their tyrannical and unjust policy, so far as regards certain States and localities.
This war was inaugurated by Lincoln for the avowed purpose of upholding the Constitution, but as it has progressed, that sacred instrument has been trampled under foot and its provisions violated. We care not, as has been alleged, if every Democrat in Congress sustains the President in such action it is nevertheless wicked and wrong—as culpable in Lincoln as in Jeff. Davis. If the war cannot be curried on under the Constitution, then it is a wicked, damnable crusade, and the men who are waging it are tyrants and despots, dangerous to the country.

It has indeed come to a dangerous and alarming crisis, when a President can assume powers and prerogatives forbidden or denied by the Constitution, and his whole party sustain him in it, without reflection or reservation. It would be well for people to pause and reflect where this thing may lead them to.
Again, the President has in the exercise of high-handed usurpation and tyranny, caused the searching of private houses, the seizure of private telegraphic communications, (preserved under every pledge of secresy), the seizure of public mails, and the kidnapping and incarceration of-private citizens, because certain parties suspected them of treason.

But a few days ago, a military officer with four hundred soldiers, marched into a printing office at St. Louis, removed the materials, and declared the paper should not be longer published. Is this in accordance with the Constitution, which expressly says that the freedom of speech and of the press shall not be abridged?
When all these things—when the State of Missouri, which is still a member of the Confederacy, is overrun by soldiers and her citizens imprisoned—when the city of Baltimore is taken possession of by a military chieftain, and the civil government of the city overturned, the officers thrown into prison, and martial declared—and all this in the face of the fact that our Constitution is intended to guard the people against seizure without a warrant of judicial authority— when these clear usurpations are sanctioned by party, upon the plea of necessity, it is well calculated to make reflecting, conservative men stand appalled at what may come hereafter—upon the same principle, Lincoln or some future Dictator may see a necessity in superceding the law in each and every State in the Union, but this doctrine of necessity is untenable and utterly substituting the will of one man for a written Constitution. As has just been said, by a distinguished statesman, let us take care how we establish a principle that, under any presumed stress of circumstances, powers not granted by the Constitution may be assumed. Take care and do not furnish an argument to the world and history that it shall not respect that authority which no longer respects its own limitations. If there is a contest to preserve the Union, let it be waged in a Constitutional manner, and let all violations of the Constitution by Lincoln or anybody else be denounced and repudiated. Let us carry it on upon any other principle, winking at or approving violations of the Constitution, and the people will soon begin to inquire what will become of our liberties at the end of the experiment? Then the pregnant question for us to decide is whether the Constitution is to be preserved, and respected in this struggle, or are we to follow the flag over the ruins of that sacred instrument? It therefore behooves as to see to it that our rulers take it as a guide, and, when they cast it aside, to denounce them as disloyal and unsafe.

THE WEEKLY VINCENNES WESTERN SUN, Vincennes Indiana, July 27, 1861
"With this rebellion tightly within his grasp, Mr. Lincoln proclaims to the revolted states that in returning to the Union, their constitutional rights, as they were will be retained, and that each state concerned will be left perfectly free to choose between the retention and gradual abolition of slavery....."
---From "Solution and Settlement of the Slavery Question by President Lincoln" in the New York Herald, March 8, 1862
The Message of Abraham Lincoln Under the Caption of "The Despots' Plea, "The Charleston Courier criticises the message issued by the despot at Washington, we copy the concluding portion:

The culminating point of the mendacity, impudence, effrontery and mischievious sophistry of this unparalleled message, is found in that portion relating to the Union and the states.

This portion may be best and briefly described as presenting a lie in every line and nothing would have enboldened even Lincoln, and Seward, and Blair, to venture on such an argument, but a well practiced confidence in the ignorance of the Northern readers.

Does Abraham Lincoln, LL. D., by the servile fawning of the once honored Columbia College, know that South Carolina declared her independence and established a state constitution and government in March, 1776?

Does he know that South Carolina, as an independent state, had appointed Commissioners, made treaties and alliances, and established an army and navy before the adoption of the Constitution?

By the "Union" Abraham Lincoln, LL. D., intends and denotes an indivisible consolidation with states existing only as municipal departments or Federal districts. We deny that such a Union was ever formed or adopted or assented to by any of the American States.

This monstrous mendacity of this portion of the message cannot receive due treatment in the space at our disposal. We refer it for the present to the judgement of intelligent Southern readers, who are too well acquainted with the facts and epochs of our constitutional history and with the distinguished reputation of Abraham Lincoln, LL., D., for violation of truth, to take anything on his assertion..."
Message to Congress In Special Session
"The Daily Dispatch, July 13, 1861"
"I freely acknowledge myself the servant of the people, according to the bond of service--the United States Constitution, and that, as such, I am responsible to them. But to be plain, you are dissatisfied with me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and myself upon that subject.
I certainly wish that all men could be free, while I suppose you do not. Yet I have neither adopted or proposed any measure which is not consistent with even your view, provided you are for the Union.
I suggested emancipated compensation, to which you replied you wished not to be taxed to buy negros, except in such was as to save you from greater taxation to save the Union. You dislike the Emancipation Proclamation and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional--I think differently.
I think the Constitution invests its Commander-in-chief with the law of war in time of war. The most that can be said, if so much, is that slaves are property. Is there--has there ever been-any question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed?"

------Abraham Lincoln, a
s recollected by William Herndon
Emancipation is Unconstitutional?
Loyal v Disloyal
"Whether the man's name is "Jeff" or "Abe", if he disregards the Constitution and laws of his country, he is disloyal, and instead of being praised by his stupid followers as a patriot, ought to be punished as a felon.

Whether he is president or a fishmonger, he falls within the rule. A president has no more right to transcend the law, than a fishmonger has. Both are bound to act within the limits of the law--with the difference that the president has to take an oath that he will be faithful to the constitution and the laws.

An unfaithful president, therefore, there is an extra weight of perjury and felony for disregarding the law, or being disloyal. he has been faithless to higher pledges and more sacred trusts, such is the law and the fact; and all the spouting and twisting, and turning, and lying, can make it no otherwise.

But, exclaims some moon-eyed philosopher, must not the president put down the rebellion? The laws must put down rebellion, and the president is no more than the agent, pro tempore, for directing their administration. Rebellion must be put down; but it must be put down according to the law, and by nothing else, or the strife is simply that of one disloyalty pitched against another.."

---The Star of the North, October 7, 1863 (Bloomsburg, PA.)
Close Reading of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address by Matthew Pinsker
I Had No Choice.......
Walking on Shaky Ground ?
"Lincoln staunchly defended law, liberty and the Constitution, but he moved into questionable territory with all three when he suspended individual liberties, shutting down anti-war and anti-administration newspapers and jailing dissidents. Most important, he suspended habeas corpus, clothing himself with more power than any other individual in American before or since. Habeas corpus makes the force at the disposal of the chief executive subject to regulation by the courts. With it, a judge can demand that a prisoner be brought before him to evaluate whether the prisoner's detention is legal. Without it, and unlawfully incarcerated individual has no legal remedy. If Lincoln did not constitutionally have the power to suspend habeas corpus, then by doing so he fundamentally altered the freedom of American citizens.

The issue came to a head on May, 26, 1861, in Baltimore, with the case of the treasonous John Merryman, a lieutenant in a group pledged to armed resistance against the government. Merryman petitioned the court for habeas corpus after being seized in his bed at two in the morning and confined in Fort McHenry. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney, served the writ of habeas corpus on Brevet Major-General Cadwalader, ordering the general to produce Merryman so that the court could judge whether he had been legally imprisoned. The general refused. The officer representing him at court explained that Merryman was charged with treason and that the general had permission from the president to suspend the writ if he thought it necessary. Nonetheless, the general 'respectfully requests that you will postpone further action upon this case, until he can receive instructions from the president of the United States'. Taney would give no quarter. He ordered a marshall to bring the general to the court, but the marshall was not allowed to enter the gate and was told 'that there was no answer to my card'. Taney then issued his opinion.

Taney's opinion condemned the suspension of habeas corpus, the authorisation of a military officer to suspend it according to his judgement, and the martial law that Lincoln created by ignoring the Bill of Rights' protection for 'a person not subject to the rules and articles of war'. Taney's strongest argument is a textual one, that 'the president has exercised a power which he does not possess under the Constitution'. The Constitution declares in Article 1, which enumerates the powers of Congress, that, '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'.

Taney pointed out, this article is devoted to the legislative department of the United States, and has not the slightest reference to the executive department...if the high power over the liberty of the citizen now claimed, was intended to be conferred in the president, it would undoubtedly be found in plain words in this article; but there is not a word in its that can furnish the slightest ground to justify the exercise of the power".

------Excerpt from "The Union Lincoln Made" by Joshua Kleinfield

Paul Moreno Discusses Lincoln and the Constitution
A. G. Hodges, Esq Executive Mansion,
Frankfort, Ky. Washington, April 4, 1864.

My dear Sir: You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I verbally said the other day, in your presence, to Governor Bramlette and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:

``I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government---that nation---of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution all together. When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When a little later, Gen. Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, Gen. Hunter attempted military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss; but of this, I was not entirely confident.
B. More than a year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force,---no loss by it any how or any ]where. On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no cavilling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the measure.

[``]And now let any Union man who complains of the measure, test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking these hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he can not face his case so stated, it is only because he can not face the truth.['']

I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God. Yours truly


The New York Herald
March 30, 1864
Lincoln's Tergiversations and Proclamations on the Slavery Question

"On the first of January, 1863, the promised proclamation of emancipation appeared."
.....Accompanying Mr. Lincoln's message to Congress on the 8th of December 1863, appears another emancipation proclamation, but with a promise of amnesty. In this amnesty provision Mr. Lincoln includes an oath of allegiance which removes the disabilities under which some slaveowning rebels labored, and gives them the opportunity of an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States for a restoration of their rights to property in slaves, and also to the advantages that would accrue to them by a repeal or modification of the emancipation laws passed by Congress."
"My course is as plain as the turnpike road. It is marked out by the Constitution. I am in no doubt which way to go."
----Abraham Lincoln
"This is precisely our present case--a case of rebellion, wherein the public safety does require the suspension. Indeed, arrests by process of courts, and arrests in cases of rebellion do not proceed altogether upon the same basis. The former is directed at the small per centage of ordinary and continuous perpetration of crime, while the latter is directed at sudden and extensive uprisings against the government, which at most, will succeed or fail in no great length of time. In the latter case, arrests are made, not so much for what has been done, as for what probably would be done. The latter is more for the preventive and less for the vindictive than the former".

Excerpt from Military Arrests. President Lincoln's Letter
June 12, 1863
---From the Boston Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, June 16, 1863
Full transcript