Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War

Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War

Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War

Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War

Synopsis

The Civil War placed the U.S. Constitution under unprecedented--and, to this day, still unmatched--strain. In Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Mark Neely examines for the first time in one book the U.S. Constitution and its often overlooked cousin, the Confederate Constitution, and the ways the documents shaped the struggle for national survival.

Previous scholars have examined wartime challenges to civil liberties and questions of presidential power, but Neely argues that the constitutional conflict extended to the largest questions of national existence. Drawing on judicial opinions, presidential state papers, and political pamphlets spiced with the everyday immediacy of the partisan press, Neely reveals how judges, lawyers, editors, politicians, and government officials, both North and South, used their constitutions to fight the war and save, or create, their nation.

Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation illuminates how the U.S. Constitution not only survived its greatest test but emerged stronger after the war. That this happened at a time when the nation's very existence was threatened, Neely argues, speaks ultimately to the wisdom of the Union leadership, notably President Lincoln and his vision of the American nation.

Excerpt

Much has been written since 9/11 about the various attempts in American history to “capture the flag” for one political cause or another. Historians commonly accuse the Republican Party of attempting to capture the flag during the Civil War. the Democrats by no means conceded the flag to their opponents, but their parallel effort was to capture the Constitution.

The Democracy Attempts to Capture the Constitution

An ingenious Democrat from Pennsylvania named Francis W. Hughes came up with the strategy in the second year of the war. He conceived of designating September 17 — the date that the constitutional convention in Philadelphia approved the final draft of the U.S. Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification — for annual celebration (and partisan exploitation). Beginning with a campaign to mark the September 17 date in the off-year elections of 1862, the movement might have reached a crescendo in two years’ time for the all-important presidential canvass. After that, had Hughes and the Democrats played their cards right, September 17 would be as important a feature of the modern calendar as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.

At a meeting of the Democratic State Central Committee held on July 29, 1862, Hughes and other party organizers passed a resolution “that the Chairman call upon the loyal men of Pennsylvania, through the Democratic Standing Committees of the several counties, to meet in the several cities and counties of the State … on the 17th of September next, to celebrate that day as the anniversary of the day of the adoption of the Constitution.” the . . .

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