Abraham Lincoln Law Observer

Many people have problems with the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation freed no slaves since it only applied to the slave-holding states that seceded from the Union.

Others called it an unnecessary risk that made ending slavery a war aim. Plenty of northerners either had no opinion on slavery or sympathized with the south.

Steve Smith, a Yale University professor who spoke at the University of Notre Dame on the 204th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, argued that the 16th President provided an important model of leadership restrained by constitutional law when the nation faced existential crisis. Issuing the proclamation was not the first time that Lincoln used such restraint.

He also used restraint in the incident that started the war – Confederate troops firing on  Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The fort was besieged by Confederate forces and food was running low. Lincoln struggled with how to resupply the fort without triggering war or making overtures that might  legitimize  the rebels. Lincoln decided to ask the governor of South Carolina to allow the Union to resupply the fort with food and other non-lethal  provisions.

The governor of South Carolina rejected the request and demanded that the Union troops evacuate. Confederate forces fired on the fort on April 14, 1861 even though Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis realized that whoever fired the first shot would be blamed for starting the war. The rebels got the blame. Lincoln got authority to mobilize.

Smith distinguishes what he calls the constitutional model of leadership from three other models. The Machiavellian Model is named after the 17th Century Italian political scientist Niccolo Machiavelli. This style of leadership is also known as the realpolitik or pragmatic school of politics. Smith also calls pragmatism  the ends justify the means style of leadership.

Charismatic leadership and is associated with Max Weber. This could be called the “do-gooder” style of leadership. The progressive style of leadership is rooted in Enlightenment thought. These leaders believed that science and rational thought could solve vexing problems. Smith acknowledged in response to a question by a student that Lincoln, like most effective leaders, embraced the other three models at various times.

Lincoln’s use of executive powers to suspend habeas corpus could be viewed as a Machiavellian pragmatist using draconian means to achieve honorable ends . The Gettysburg Address was an example of LIncoln as an or inspirational leader. Hiis mistaken embrace of “negro repatriation” to Africa  and the homestead act were examples of progressive social engineering.

Smith said that Lincoln based his major war decision on constitutional decisions. Lincoln did this because he was concerned with balancing individual liberties with the effective use of his duties as commander-in-chief. “Must a government of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people. or too weak to maintain its own existence.” Lincoln says on July 4, 1861.

Lincoln grappled with this issues during a time of war, and provided the blueprint for the way future presidents think about the balance between presidential power and the constitution.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: