The Boundless Field of Absolutism

Posted: September 6, 2009 in Government, Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln explains why he could not extend the Emancipation Proclamation to all the southern states:

“The original Proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification except as a military measure. The exemptions were made because the military necessity did not apply to the exempted localities…If I take the step [as Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase had proposed] must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, with out any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient and morally right? Would I thus not give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? Could this pass unnoticed or unresisted? Could it fail to be perceived that without any further stretch, I might do the same in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; and even change any law in any state?”

Lincoln could free the slaves in the Confederate states out of military necessity, but to free the slaves in Union states would have required a constitutional amendment and also would have alienated pro-Union southern states — a foolish thing to do during war.

Lincoln believed he could not interfere with the domestic matters of states without Constitutional authorization, for to do so would amount to absolutism.  If he could act unilaterally in the case of slavery, why couldn’t he do it with any other domestic issue in the states?

For Lincoln, that was the essence of absolutism — dictating to the states on matters that were not under the jurisdiction of the federal government, as per its enumerated and limited powers under the Constitution.

It would be nice if our modern judges understood the Constitution as well as Lincoln did.  But with the doctrine of “incorporation” and the resultant judicial activism, modern judges are as anti-Lincoln as any neo-Confederate ever was.  They have no problem at all in wandering into the boundless field of absolutism.



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