ABRAHAM LINCOLN, Детальна інформація
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Confederate States of America. The four states of the upper South teetered on the brink of secession, and disunion sentiment was rampant in the border states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.
When Lincoln reached Washington on February 23, he found the national government incapable of meeting the crisis. President James Buchanan deplored secession but could not check it, and Congress fruitlessly debated compromise. The national treasury was near bankruptcy; the civil service was riddled with secessionists; and the miniscule armed forces were being weakened by defection of officers to the South.
It was not immediately evident that Lincoln could avert the dissolution of the United States. Few American presidents have assumed office under greater handicaps. Warned of an attempt on his life being planned in
Baltimore, Lincoln had to enter the national capital surreptitiously, arriving after a secret midnight journey from Harrisburg, Pa. Widely publicized, the episode did little to inspire public confidence in the government or to create an image of Lincoln as a dynamic leader. That so many citizens could believe their new president a coward was evidence of a more serious handicap under which Lincoln labored: he was virtually unknown to the American people. Lincoln's record as an Illinois state legislator, as a one-term member of the House of Representatives in the 1840's, and as an unsuccessful senatorial candidate against Douglas was not one to inspire confidence in his abilities. Even the leaders of the Republican party had little acquaintance with the new President.
Almost at the outset, Lincoln demonstrated that he was a poor administrator. Accustomed, as his law partner William H. Herndon said, to filing legal papers in his top hat, Lincoln conducted the administration of the national govern ment in the same fashion. Selecting for his cabinet spokesmen of the diverse elements that constituted the Republican party, he surrounded himself with men of such conflicting views that he could not rely on them to work together. Cabinet sessions rarely dealt with serious issues. Usually, Lincoln permitted cabinet officers free rein in running their departments.
Nor was Lincoln an effective leader of his party in the Congress, where after secession the Republicans had overwhelming majorities. Long a Whig, vigilant against executive "usurpation," he earnestly felt that as president he ought not to exert even "indirect influence to affect the action of congress." In consequence there was poor rapport between Capitol
Hill and the WHITE HOUSE. Even those measures that the President earnestly advocated were weakened or defeated by members of his own party. But on important issues relating to the conduct of the war and the restoration of the Union, Lincoln followed his own counsel, ignoring the opinions of
More than counterbalancing these deficiencies, however, were Lincoln's strengths. Foremost was his unflinching dedication to the preservation of the Union. Convinced that the United States was more than an ordinary nation, that it was a proving ground for the idea of democratic government,
Lincoln felt that he was leading a struggle to preserve "the last, best hope of earth." Despite war-weariness and repeated defeats, he never wavered in his "paramount object." To restore national unity he would do what was necessary, without regard to legalistic construction of the
CONSTITUTION, political objections in Congress, or personal popularity.
Partly because of that single-minded dedication, the American people, in time, gave to Lincoln a loyalty that proved to be another of his great assets. Making himself accessible to all who went to the White House,
Lincoln learned what ordinary citizens felt about their government. In turn, his availability helped create in the popular mind the stereotype of
"Honest Abe," the people's president, straightforward, and sympathetic.
Lincoln's mastery of rhetoric further endeared him to the public. In an age of pretentious orators, he wrote clearly and succinctly. Purists might object when he said that the Confederates in one engagement "turned tail and ran," but the man in the street approved. Lincoln's 268-word address at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg meant more than the preceding two-hour oration by Edward Everett.
Another of Lincoln's assets was the fact that he was a genius at the game of politics. He astutely managed the patronage at his disposal, distributing favors so as to bind local politicians to his administration and to undermine potential rivals for the presidency. He understood the value of silence and secrecy in politics and refrained from creating divisive issues or causing needless confrontations. He was extraordinarily flexible and pragmatic in the means he employed to restore the Union. "My policy," he frequently said, "is to have no policy." That did not mean that his was a course of drift. Instead, it reflected his understanding that, as president, he could only handle problems as they arose, confident that popular support for his solutions would be forthcoming.
Lincoln believed that the ultimate decision in the Civil War was beyond his, or any other man's, control. "Now, at the end of three years struggle," he wrote, as the war reached its climax, "the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man, devised or expected. God alone can claim it."
In 1861, Lincoln's weaknesses were more evident than his strengths.
Immediately after his inauguration he faced a crisis over Fort Sumter in the Charleston (S. C.) harbor, one of the few remaining U.S. forts in the seceded states still under federal control. Informed that the troops would have to be supplied or withdrawn, the inexperienced President anxiously explored solutions. Withdrawal would appear a cowardly backdown, but reinforcing the fort might precipitate hostilities. Lincoln painfully concluded that he would send supplies to Sumter and let the Confederates decide whether to fire on the flag of the Union. Historians differ as to whether Lincoln anticipated that hostilities would follow his decision, but they agree that Lincoln was determined that he would not order the first shot fired. Informed of the approach of the federal supply fleet,
Confederate authorities at Charleston during the early hours of April 12 decided to bombard the fort. Thus, the Civil War began.
Because Congress was not in session, Lincoln moved swiftly to mobilize the
Union by executive order. His requisition to the states for 75,000 volunteers precipitated the secession of Virginia, North Carolina,
Tennessee, and Arkansas. Kentucky tried to adopt an official policy of
"neutrality," while secession sentiment in Maryland was so strong that for a time Washington, D.C., was cut off from communication with the North. In order to restore order, Lincoln directed that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus be suspended, at first along the line between Washington and
Philadelphia and later throughout most of the North, so that known secessionists and persons suspected of disloyalty could be held without trial. At the same time the President, without congressional authorization-- and thus in direct violation of the Constitution--ordered an increase in the size of the regular Army and Navy. Doubting the loyalty of certain government officials, he also entrusted public funds to private agents in
New York to purchase arms and supplies.
When the 37th Congress assembled in special session on July 4, 1861, it was thus confronted with a fait accompli. The President, acting in his capacity as commander in chief, had put himself at the head of the whole Union war effort, arrogating to himself greater powers than those claimed by any previous American president. His enemies termed him a dictator and a tyrant. In fact, his power was limited, partly by his own instincts, partly by the knowledge that his actions would be judged in four years at the polls, and chiefly by the inadequacy of the federal bureaucracy.
Nevertheless, the role of Congress was sharply defined: it could appropriate money to support the war, it could initiate legislation on issues not related to the war, it could debate questions relating to the conflict. But direction of the Union war effort was to remain firmly in
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