A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview
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Chapter VII
The Inadequate Constitution

Another danger rising from the Merryman epicenter of disturbance was the exposure of disagreement among the nation's highest officials about the Constitution they served. This exposure, coming so closely together with secession and the onset of war, impacted with avalanche effect. That generation had revered the Constitution but had paid it little attention as an instrument of power. The Civil War was to alter the innocent prewar attitude.1

Suits of the Merryman sort could set Constitution against nation, nation against states, courts against patriotism, law against allegiance. The prewar popular reverence for law and judges, however romantic, might reverse into contempt if other jurists emulated the Chief Justice's early effort to pit the Constitution against the Union, or if Taney managed other confrontations with President or Congress. Once idolized, but now perilously close to becoming defiled, the Constitution might become a casualty no matter who won a final military verdict.

Many laymen saw little wrong in an argument that the Constitution was silent while the War lasted, at least with respect to less-than-patriotic persons. A literature came quickly into being in 1861, and continued through the War, the message of which

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1
Francis Lieber, What Is Our Constitution--League, Pact or Government? Two Lectures on the Constitution of the United States . . . Law School of Columbia College . . . 1860 and 1861 ( New York, 1861), 6 n.; Lorraine A. Williams, "Northern Intellectual Reaction to Military Rule During the Civil War," The Historian, XXVII ( 1965), 339.

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