Lincoln, America’s Caesar


The War Between the States is said to have begun when the Star of the West, carrying troops and under President Buchanan’s orders, left its moorings at New York City in January 1861, bound for Fort Sumter. The intent was to reinforce the fort’s garrison against the State it built to protect, and whose guns were now aimed at Charleston.  It is noteworthy that in none of Lincoln’s proclamations is slavery mentioned as a cause of his unconstitutional actions.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


Lincoln, America’s Caesar:

“The interval of eighty days between the beginning of the war and the assembling of Congress gave the President a virtual monopoly of emergency powers. On April 15, in language reminiscent of Washington’s
at the time of the Whiskey Insurrection, Lincoln declared an “insurrection” to exist, announced that Federal laws were being opposed in seven States “by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by the law,” and summoned the militia of the States to the number of 75,000 to “suppress said combinations.”

By this proceeding the Civil War began without a declaration.  This was natural enough, since the South considered secession a peaceable act, while according to the Union point of view such secession was null and required a defensive attitude on the part of the government with a readiness to strike in retaliation for any act of resistance to the national authority.

Lincoln took many other war measures. He issued two proclamations of blockade: the first one dated April 19, 1861, applied to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas; the second, April 27, applied to Virginia and North Carolina

[the latter did not secede until May 20].  It was these proclamations of blockade which were taken by the Supreme Court as marking the beginning of the war.

[Lincoln] decreed the expansion of the regular army on his own authority.  Whereas the call of April 15 was a summoning of the militia….a further call of May 3 was for recruits to the regular army beyond the total then authorized by law.  Increasing the regular army is a congressional function.

“I never met anyone,” said [Ohio Senator] John Sherman, “who claimed that the President could, by a proclamation, increase the regular army.” The stir of patriotic activity, however, left no time for deliberation as to legal authority; and Lincoln did not wait for till the constitutionality of his action could be settled.  “These measures,” he said in his message of July 4, 1861, “whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon, under what appeared to be a popular demand and public necessity; trusting….that Congress would readily ratify them.”

It was in this spirit that he gave large powers unofficially to citizens of his own choosing who were to make arrangements for transporting troops and supplies and otherwise promote the public defense.

Doubting the loyalty of certain persons in government departments, he directed the Secretary of the Treasury to advance $2,000,000 of public money without security….to pay the expenses of “military and naval measures necessary for the defense and support of the government.” Yet the Constitution provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Lincoln himself admitted the irregularity of this proceeding, saying he was not aware that a dollar of public funds “thus confided without authority of law to unofficial persons” was lost or wasted.  In Lincoln’s mind the honesty of his act and the emergency which occasioned it excused its illegality.  He issued his first suspension of the habeas corpus privilege at this time…In a word, the whole machinery of war was set in motion by the President, with all this meant in terms of Federal effort, departmental activity, State action and private enterprise.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, J.G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, pp. 360-361)