Paper Topic #4
"What are the most important hallmarks of Lincoln's leadership that influenced later presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt as they considered the role of the US presidency in American political life?"
As the only President to preside over an American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln entered the office of the presidency with mounting challenges ahead of him. The country’s overwhelming divide regarding the issue of slavery proved to be the central issue in the 1861 elections. President Lincoln’s strong resolve to reunite the union catalyzed a sharp shift in his beliefs regarding the weight of power in the executive branch, helping Lincoln strengthen the office of the Presidency like never before. This set a precedent for future Presidents, notably Theodore Roosevelt, whose legislation on big business and “speak softly and carry a big stick” methodology to foreign relations, while thoroughly of his own design, most certainly finds its roots in the empowered President Lincoln.
Lincoln entered the Presidency rooted in the beliefs that the executive branch’s power came second to the legislative, as stated in the Constitution. His “immediate predecessors—Democrats Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan—had set the pattern for a weak executive, conceiving their roles as little more than clerks...who either approved or disapproved legislation developed from Congress’s agenda,” (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, 175). However, following the secession of seven southern states immediately after Lincoln’s election, his focus became reuniting the union: “he sought to reassure his fellow countrymen and to prevent more states from seceding,” (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, 175). To accomplish this, Lincoln was headfast in his decisions, often reaching beyond traditional executive power and, in effect, overriding the other branches of government. These decisions were extremely controversial: Groiler Encyclopedia says, “As a commander in chief Lincoln was soon noted for vigorous measures, sometimes at odds with the Constitution.”
Three controversial decisions Lincoln made include the implementation of a military draft, suspension of habeas corpus in many regions, and finally, a plan to end slavery in his 1862 annual message to Congress. All of these events were controversial and Lincoln was accused of ignoring the Constitution in many instances, yet he justified it to many by claiming that it was necessary “in the name of ‘popular demand and public necessity,” (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, 177). In essence, Lincoln’s power was “a funneling of powers, delivered to other branches of government in peacetime, into the presidential office in wartime. He was centralizing authority,” (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, 178). In text titled “A Constitutional History of the United States,” author Andrew McLaughlin analyzes constitutional problems of the civil war, saying that “The justification for such a step must be the existence of actual disorder or a condition which seriously threatens civil authority.” Herein lies the debate, should a President have the moral right to break the Constitution in order to save it?
One of the first policies to centralize the Executive Branch’s power was the implementation of a military draft in the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency: “On May 3 Lincoln issued a proclamation summoning 42,034 volunteers to serve for three years; he also called for an increase of the regular army by the addition of 22,714 officers and men, and for the enlistment of 18,000 seamen,” (McLaughlin, 1935, 615). This proves to be controversial because it was “employing a war power without a declaration of war,” (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, 177). Lincoln’s claim was that “he was constitutionally designated as commander-in-chief and that the military peril to the Union made such actions necessary,” (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, 177). The draft caused riots in New York, as people vehemently opposed its institution.
Another instance of policy that was implemented...
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