Abraham Lincoln's Abuse of Power
Lincoln's use of executive authority during the civil war is many times illegal and unjust; although his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation may seem justified, Lincoln blatantly abused his power regarding civil rights. He did things like institute an unfair draft, suspend Constitutional rights
, allocate military spending without Congress, and institute emancipation. Although some may justify these actions, they stomped on the Constitution.
Lincoln found powers in the constitutional clause making him "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states." He said that because of this clause, he had the right to use any means necessary to defeat the enemy. With this justification, he issued many executive orders
before Congress even convened. Lincoln summoned the militia, ordered a blockade of the Confederacy ports, expanded the regular army beyond its legal limit, and directed government funds before congressional allocation. of these powers were granted to him in the Constitution.
Lincoln also abused his power with the draft. Prior to the draft, the Union depended on the states to fill assigned quotas with volunteers. But then Lincoln instituted a new draft. By its terms, all men between the ages of 20 and 45 were liable to military service
. However, any man who was called for the draft could avoid it by hiring a substitute or paying $300 dollars to the government. Many groups rightfully denounced these acts, called the conscription acts, as a rich man's law. Indeed, many wealthy men were able to bribe poorer men into taking their place in
The most blatant abuse of Lincoln's power was his suspension of habeas corpus. The suspension of this constitutional guarantee, by which a person could not be imprisoned indefinitely without being charges with some specific crime, around much opposition throughout the country. Although Lincoln himself made no concentrated efforts to suppress political oppositions, the repeal of habeas corpus enabled overzealous civil and military authorities to imprison thousands of people who were vocal in their opposition to the war against the South. During the war, in the case Ex parte Merryman, Chief Justice Taney ordered Lincoln to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a Southern agitator who had been arbitrarily jailed by military authorities in Maryland. Lincoln ignored the order. After the war, in the case Ex parte Milligan, the Supreme Court ruled that president could not suspend habeas corpus without the consent of Congress. Lincoln's actions regarding habeas corpus led to the imprisonment of physicians, lawyers, journalists, soldiers, farms, socialites, draft resisters, and others.
The Emancipation Proclamation, although issued outside of his power, was Lincoln's only executive order, which may have been justified. Lincoln had given much thought to the problem of slavery, and he was under continual pressure from the abolitionists to free the slaves. On April 16, 1862, he signed a bill that abolished slavery in Washington, D.C., with compensation to the slaveholders and voluntary colonization in tropical lands for the slaves. This bill was similar to the one Lincoln proposed in Congress years earlier. The Emancipation Proclamation was formally issued on January 1, 1863. It did not affect border-states in the Union or areas in the rebellious states under federal control. For these states, Lincoln encouraged voluntary, compensated emancipation. Lincoln did not have the power to free the slaves except as a necessity of war. The proclamation was a military decree, directed only at those states at war with the Union. To assure the legality of emancipation, Lincoln pressed for the passage of a constitutional amendment that would bar slavery from the United States forever. Later, acceptance of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution became a condition whereby Southern states were readmitted to the Union.
By his executive orders, Lincoln showed that he was going to be a strong president. But his executive leadership went far beyond the mere administration of the war. By word and deed, he became a symbol of the Union. But he used all of his presidential powers in a negative way to get what he wanted. The Emancipation Proclamation was the only executive order than may have been justified, and the justification wasn't even his motivation; he didn't do it for slavery, he did it for a military advantage. So while Lincoln did great things while he was president, his actions were abusive and he stepped on a lot of people and things to achieve his glory.