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Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 1 decade ago

How did Lincoln's law background influence his decisions?

I know he suspended habeus corpus, but I was wondering if there was something a little more intriguing.


I'm doing a presentation and I need ideas, everyone else is doing habeus corpus but I can't.

3 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    From your mention of habeus corpus I take it you are looking for how Abraham Lincoln's legal training and skills are seen in some specific issue he dealt with.

    Here are three suggestions, all having to do with foundational Constitutional issues (the first was, technically, during the year before he became President, but it was in perhaps THE key speech that ended up, as he hoped, gaining him the Republican nomination).


    ISSUE #1 - Slavery in the Territories - congressional right to legislate concerning...

    addressed by:

    * Coooper Union Address (Feb 1860)

    text -

    summary of arguments -

    - also earlier, e.g., in Lincoln-Douglas debates

    receny treatments:

    - Harold Holzer *Lincoln at Cooper Union*

    Sum: in the Cooper Union Address Lincoln made a careful argument--based on the history of their votes and statements-- that the founding fathers expected slavery to come to an end, and that they meant for Congress to have the authority to restrict slavery in the territories (as exercised in the Northwest Ordinance). This was a defense of a key Republican tenet, and rebuttal of Taney's argument in the Dred Scott Decision that Congress could not restrict slavery in the territories.

    (Actually, on the Dred Scott Decision and slavery in the territories, you could go back to the foundation of the "House Divided Speech" in which Lincoln kicked off his Senate campaign against Douglas in 1858. It's a political speech, but also a sort of "legal indictment" of Taney, Buchanan, Pierce and Douglas.

    text -

    brief commentary -


    ISSUE #2 - Secession

    addresed by:

    * First Inaugural Address

    * war message to special session of Congress - July 4, 1861

    recent treatments (of First Inaugural):

    - chapter in Ronald White, *The Eloquent President*

    - 2 chapters in Harry Jaffa *A New Birth of Freedom*

    - early section in Daniel Farber's book *Lincoln's Constitution*

    Sum: at the start of his Presidency (and also some before he took office) Lincoln laid out a set or arguments for why secession was not called for AND was not consistent with the Constitution. The two main statements are found in the speeches listed above.


    ISSUE #3 - Emancipation of slaves under President's war powers

    addressed by:

    * Emancipation Proclamation

    * various related statements and letters following (and explaining) the Proclamation (quoted and discussed in varous books)

    recent treatments:

    * Allen C Guelzo. *Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation* (a good starting point, though many fine books on Lincoln will have a section explaining Lincoln's political and legal reasoning in issuing the Proclamation)

    * cf review of Guelzo's book -

    see also reivew of Leroy Bennett's (anti-Lincoln) book

    * Check also James Simon's book, *Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney : slavery, secession, and the president's war powers* (which also examines the clash of the two on other issues mentioned above, including habeus corpus).

    * several articles on the "Mr Lincoln and Freedom" web site, especially:

    Sum: Lincoln was VERY careful in the way he proceeded to write and carry out the Emancipation Proclamation, making sure that is was solidly based on his "WAR Powers" as President. (He saw NO other basis in the Constitution for his being able to declare emancipation). It is NOT a soaring piece of rhetoric --like many of his speeches and letters -- intended to inspire-- and so some criticize it as 'as boring as a bill of lading'. But it is 'boring' because it is seeking not to inspire but to be a precise LEGAL document, able to withstand challenges in federal court. Since Taney had already hamstrung his policies in other areas (esp in the Merryman case, ruling against Lincoln's abridgement of habeus corpus), Lincoln fully expected a similar challenge to this Proclamation. So he sought to avoid any legal chinks in the way he laid it out. (This is why, for instance, it ONLY covered territory in rebellion at the time -- only then could he maintain that he acted from his "War powers" and the NECESSITIES of war.

  • 1 decade ago

    Lincoln's career as a lawyer influenced his Presidency in several ways:

    --- As a lawyer, he often defended individuals with unpopular backgrounds. His choices of Generals and cabinet members reached out to some people that were not favored by society.

    --- His rhetorical skills (Lincoln v. Douglas) brought him closer to the abolitionist movement.

    --- His ability to establish a priority (maintaining the union) and focus on it could be credited to his legal training.

  • zoril
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    I am sure that the Emancipation Proclamation was based on his understanding of the Declaration of Independence which was based on the law.

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