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

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

Chapter IV
The Constitutional Commitment to Capacity

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln's inauguration as President of the United States was a welcome sign that at least some portions of the creaking Constitution were in working order. Since his election four months earlier and the subsequent secessions of seven states, doubts had increased that it could operate at all.

Indeed, patriotic men had worried that the electoral machinery would stall or be jammed. As Inauguration Day drew closer fear had grown of disorders in northern cities and of invasion from the militant South, designed to block Lincoln's entrance into the Presidency. This final overload would shatter the apparently brittle constitutional structure, already strained by secession.

Any cause likely to prevent the inauguration was a national danger. If Lincoln was not installed on March 4 the government would be headless. No way existed to bypass the Constitution's rigid timetable, to keep Buchanan on as emergency place-holder, or to arrange for an interim substitute from among members of the House, Senate, or Supreme Court, as some concerned onlookers suggested.

The least consequence of instability in Washington must be to add stability to the self-proclaimed Confederate States of America at Montgomery. Beyond this men anticipated, with fear or with hope, the further Balkanization of the once-United States. Therefore, the fact that Lincoln's inauguration occurred at all

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