President Lincoln’s use of executive power during the Civil War


I believe that at the time of the Civil War President Lincoln had every right to do the things that he had done. Author Harold J. Spaeth, Ph.D., J.D. from Michigan State University states “In deciding four cases concerning vessels captured while running a naval blockade shortly after the Civil War began, the Court sustained the president’s action, by saying: “If a war be made by invasion of a foreign nation, the president is not only authorized but bound to resist force, by force. He…is bound to accept the challenge without waiting for any special legislative authority. And whether the hostile party be a foreign invader, of States organized in rebellion, it is none the less a war.” Congress later enacted legislation ratifying the president’s proclamation.” Basically what that meant was that Lincoln did not have to wait for approval from congress in order to take some serious actions.

Slavery, economy, and states rights were the cause of the Civil War. In the Northern states there were no slaves because they had put a law past saying that no one could buy, sell, trade, or own slaves. In the Mid-west, farm owners saved money by paying one person to run a wheat cutting machine that did the work of 12 people, they also paid people to work in the factories. There was a different way of life in the South. The rich, Southern, plantation owners had owned slaves. Southern states grew cotton, Mid-western states grew wheat, and Northern states had many factories and businesses. Slaves worked without pay on the plantation gathering cotton and doing other jobs. Many states in the South wanted to make their own laws, instead of the Federal Government making them. But the North wanted the Federal Government making the laws and wanted the Federal Government to make the laws though. The states were also debating whether or not the newly formed states should be freed states or slave states. As a result, the Southern states seceded from the Union.

Lincoln was getting concerned that the border-states would slip away from the Union also. Their importance to both sides, but particularly to the confederacy, was clear. In the book, Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson says this about the border states of Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland. “The three states would have added 45% to the white population and military manpower of the Confederacy, 80% to its manufacturing capacity, and nearly 40% to its supply horse and mules.” Maryland was the first place where President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. The authorities detained a Southern sympathizer named, John Merryman. Merryman sued the United States Supreme Court under chief Justice Roger Taney agreed with his suit that Lincoln did not have the authority to suspend habeas corpus. In the constitution, Article I, habeas corpus is not to be suspended by Congress unless the public safety is threatened by rebellion or invasion. The only mention of habeas corpus is in Article I in the injunction for Congress not to suspend the privilege except in the above two circumstances, but there is no mention of habeas corpus in the description of Presidential powers in Article II. Regardless, Lincoln felt compelled to exercise the authority to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus and he acknowledged to Congress later that he might have been on shaky Constitutional grounds in doing so. Eventually, the United States Congress granted Lincoln the power to suspend the writ of habeas Corpus during the war going forward and reflective back to the beginning of the war. His argument was basically that abusing this one provision of the Constitution was worth it if the Union’s very existence was at stake. Lincoln’s view was that the protections traditionally granted to all citizens were subject to question when a part of the citizenry was in rebellion against the Union.

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