Jennifer L. Weber: Was Lincoln a Tyrant?

tags: NYT, Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, Disunion



Jennifer L. Weber is an associate professor at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Copperheads, about antiwar Democrats during the Civil War, and Summer’s Bloodiest Days, a children’s book about the Battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath. She is currently working on a book about conscription during the Civil War.

When Abraham Lincoln took office in March 1861, the executive branch was small and relatively limited in its power. By the time of his assassination, he had claimed more prerogatives than any president before him, and the executive branch had grown enormously.

Lincoln’s critics witnessed his expanding power with alarm. They accused him of becoming a tyrant and warned that his assertions of authority under the guise of “commander in chief” threatened the viability of a constitutional democracy.

Lincoln ignored his foes and kept moving. And, despite lingering discomfort with some of his actions – particularly around the issue of civil liberties – history has largely vindicated him. Why?

Lincoln was elected in November 1860 with no ambition to expand presidential powers. But after Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, he quickly called for 75,000 militia troops and ordered a blockade of Southern ports, even though a blockade suggests a declaration of a state of war, which only Congress can declare. Then he issued a call for more than 40,000 three-year volunteers, even though Congress has the constitutional responsibility to raise armies....




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