Jennifer L. Weber has written a concise analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s expansion of presidential power for the New York Times Civil War blog. She argues that Lincoln’s infringement of civil liberties was both proportional to the situation and modest in comparison with actions taken by Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt:
Lincoln’s reputation is less marred because his accrual of power was equal to the threat facing the nation. His authority grew incrementally and his administration tended not to overreach. The obvious exceptions are a handful of high-profile cases involving politicians and newspapermen. Still, we should keep some perspective. [Mark] Neely concludes that most of the arrests and detainments involved people who were actually breaking the law, not those merely speaking out against the government.
By contrast, Wilson’s administration systematically pursued leftists, immigrants and political dissidents not because of their actions but because of their political beliefs. Roosevelt incarcerated an entire class of people based on their ethnicity. Like Wilson, Roosevelt’s action was methodical.
Columbia University’s trustees have selected Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History by John Fabian Witt as a co-recipient of this year’s prestigious Bancroft Prize. The other winner is W. Jeffrey Bolster’s The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail.
This blog featured a review of Witt’s book last fall.
Kevin Coyne, who teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, discusses the lessons writers should learn from Lincoln:
Writing doesn’t get much clearer than the Gettysburg Address, the first thing I ask my students to read. It’s barely a third of the length of an op-ed column. As Garry Wills has memorably pointed out, Lincoln is reimagining America from the very first line, by taking Jefferson’s words to heart in a way that the slaveholding Jefferson himself did not, and by elevating the Declaration of Independence, with its promise that “all men are created equal,” above the Constitution, which reneges on that promise, as the defining document of our nation. If you’re going to ask a boy from Maine to die fighting a boy from Georgia in a field in Pennsylvania, you’d better be clear on why, and he was.
Our last post linked to a piece on Lincoln at American Thinker. Yesterday another Lincoln-related article appeared at the same website, this one invoking his approach to the Confederacy in the context of the modern tension between Israel and Palestine.
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison, both fellows with the Family Research Council, argue that conservatives shouldn’t rush to condemn Lincoln and his war for the Union:
Some folks say the Civil War was not about slavery, but about states’ rights. We strongly support states rights — especially when it comes protecting our essential liberties from the dangers of Obamacare. But in 1861, the secessionists’ new constitution prohibited any free state from joining the Confederacy. It forbade the people of any Confederate state from voluntarily freeing their slaves. And the framers of that constitution even debated — and soundly defeated — a provision that would have allowed states to secede from the Confederacy. Clearly, the war was not about states’ rights.
Some think Abraham Lincoln gave us the Big Government we all deplore today. He did give us the Trans-Continental Railroad, to be sure, but that was privately built and owned. And the Homestead Act turned over millions of acres of public lands to private owners who would farm and improve them. Even the military — which had mushroomed to over a million men in wartime (including some 200,000 free men of color) — quickly shrank after the war. By 1870, it was little larger than before the war.
You can read the rest of their article at American Thinker.