I’m not going to be the first one on NLT to respond to dain’s call for a positive defense of Lincoln, or an explanation of why conservatives should appreciate him. That, I think, belongs in the realm of normative political theory, and I’m but a simple historian.
What I will do is offer the historian’s perspective, which is that the question of whether or not Lincoln violated the Constitution in using force to keep the South in the Union is ultimately irrelevant. Show me the president who, when faced with the choice between the Constitution and political survival, chose the former over the latter. Jefferson ignored the Constitution in making the Louisiana Purchase; Jackson ignored it whenever he felt like he had to; Teddy Roosevelt ignored it in seizing Colombian territory to build the Panama Canal; FDR ignored it in implementing the New Deal. As I’ve written elsewhere, the overwhelming sentiment--in Congress and in the public at large--was that the Union had to be preserved at all costs. Had Lincoln refused to coerce the South he would have been impeached. It would have been the same had he tried to surrender Fort Sumter. Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, was a lot more radical than Lincoln was--imagine what would have happened if he had ended up in the White House.
Lincoln did what he had to do--what any rational politician would have done in similar circumstances. He did it in the face of an independent-minded Congress, a defiant Cabinet, and a public that was screaming for blood--and in the end he did it rather well. That’s what I admire about him.
Now excuse me, I’m off to write a biography of Howard Cosell.