The Road to Freedom: Lincoln, South Carolina, and the Emancipation Proclamation


By Duane Soubirous

The U.S. Constitution outlines the structure of democratic government while limiting the powers of an elected majority; the First Amendment famously guarantees the freedoms of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petition of grievances. The Constitution also guaranteed the right to own slaves, without actually using the word ‘slave,’ until the Thirteenth Amendment’s ratification, eight months after President Lincoln’s assassination.

Abraham Lincoln believed that slavery was a states’ rights issue and any national attempt to end it would be futile, but he knew that the national government could take the first step in ending slavery by stopping its growth. Lincoln argued that slavery, a “moral, social and political evil,” must be respected where it was already established, but denied from expanding into new territories. This stance on slavery might seem weak today, but in 1860, it was too extreme for South Carolina.

The election of Abraham Lincoln so enraged South Carolinians that they seceded three months before he was even inaugurated. By Feb. 1, one month before inauguration, the rest of the Deep South—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas—had followed suit. Virginia seceded after Confederates bombarded Fort Sumter in April, followed by Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Every seceded state was a slave state, but not all slave states seceded.

In order to keep the Border States—Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia (which had seceded from Confederate Virginia and became the 35th state to enter the Union), Maryland and Delaware—in the Union, Lincoln assured those states that the Civil War wasn’t about ending slavery, it was about upholding the presidential oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. Lincoln (unsuccessfully) hoped his conciliatory approach would also foster Union sentiment in the South and encourage loyal Southerners to vote Confederates out of office.

John C. Frémont, the Mexican-American War general nicknamed “the Pathfinder” who became the first presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 1856, commanded the Union army in Missouri. On Aug. 30, 1861, Frémont issued a proclamation freeing all slaves under his control. Northerners exalted Frémont as the emancipator they wished Lincoln was, but Kentucky and Maryland threatened to secede. Lincoln ordered Frémont to rescind his proclamation, a move that Frederick Douglass denounced as weak, imbecile, and absurd. In May 1862, General David Hunter similarly declared all slaves free in his Department of the South, and Lincoln again ordered a general to rescind an emancipation proclamation.

While Lincoln quarreled with his generals, Republicans took advantage of their post-secession lopsided majority in Congress and passed laws restricting slavery. By July 1862, Congress declared that Confederate slaves who escaped to Union lines would be forever free, emancipated slaves in the District of Columbia and abolished slavery in the territories (Congress ignored the Dred Scott decision ruling that they couldn’t abolish slavery in the territories). Lincoln supported a more gradual approach to emancipating D.C. slaves and worried the bill would outrage Maryland, but he signed it into law anyways.

As the Civil War dragged on and Confederates used their slaves against the Union army, Lincoln saw emancipation as a military necessity. Slaveowners long asserted that the right to own slaves was protected by the Fifth Amendment, which states no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty and property,” but the Constitution allowed Lincoln, as commander-in-chief in a time of war, to seize Confederates’ property.

After the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North, Lincoln proclaimed that effective January 1, 1863, all slaves located within areas controlled by the Confederacy “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Not only did the Emancipation Proclamation exclude the Border States that remained loyal, it also excluded Tennessee and specific counties in Louisiana and Virginia, which had been pacified by the Union Army. Abolitionists decried the Emancipation Proclamation’s legalese and emphasis of military necessity over justice and morals, but Abraham Lincoln wrote the emancipation to convey its constitutionality to proslavery Democrats, Border States, and the Supreme Court (still led by Roger Taney of the Dred Scott decision).

It’s impossible to know how long slavery would have continued had the South not seceded, but prior to 1861 Abraham Lincoln would have considered his presidency a success if he could “rest in the belief that [slavery]  is in the course of ultimate extinction.” By refusing to acquiesce to a majority that desired slavery to stay where it was and not expand, South Carolina put in motion the events that led to its sudden eradication. Declaring slaves free was one thing, however; Lincoln needed to conquer the Confederacy and convince the Border States to emancipate their slaves.

A Brief History of Impeachment

By Kaleena Fraga

Benjamin Franklin noted that throughout history, once political leaders had “rendered [themselves] obnoxious,” the people had no other choice but to assassinate them. Instead, Franklin thought, the Constitution should allow Congress to punish the president when he deserved it, but also give him a trial to prove his innocence.

This week has a couple of significant impeachment anniversaries. First, Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19th, 1998. He faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice related to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. To the charge of perjury, five Republicans broke from the party and voted against impeachment. However, five Democrats also voted for impeachment. Two other charges–another perjury charge and one abuse of power charge–were defeated.

Clinton would go on to be acquitted in the Senate. A two-thirds majority would have been needed to convict him–the perjury charge was rejected 55 to 45 and the Senate was split 50-50 on obstruction of justicewsj.jpg. Democrats voted together, against impeachment, and they were joined by five Republicans on the obstruction-of-justice charge.

It had been 131 years since a president faced an impeachment hearing–Andrew Johnson was similarly impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate in 1868. Johnson’s charges were quite different from Clinton’s–the House accused him of violating the Tenure of Office Act–but both men faced Congresses hostile to their presidencies.

In between Johnson and Clinton sits Richard Nixon, who was not impeached but who faced impeachment charges. He resigned before the trial began.

Also on December 19th was the swearing in of Nelson Rockefeller as vice president. Nixon’s vice president, Gerald Ford, had become president when his predecessor chose to resign rather than be impeached. Ford then had the power to appoint his own vice president (pending Senate confirmation) just as Nixon had appointed him when his original vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned following accusations of corruption and tax fraud.

This must have especially stung for Nixon, who had faced Rocky as a political rival in the 1960 and 1968 elections.

In contentious and politically divided times, the “I” word is often thrown around. Billionaire Tom Steyer is currently offering 10 million dollars to anyone who provides information that leads to Donald Trump’s impeachment. At town halls during the Obama presidency, some Republican leaders agreed with their constituents that Obama should be impeached, but none ever drew up charges against him.

Has the nation treated impeachment as the founders intended? They disagreed on the matter themselves. Many–uncomfortable with the idea of removing an executive from power, as this sort of thing had never been tried with, say, a king–argued that the legislative branch would abuse its power. Elbridge Gerry (of gerrymandering infamy) protested that a good president shouldn’t have to worry about a legislature which honorably represented the people’s interests. “A good magistrate will not fear them,” he said. “A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.”

The 25th Amendment

William H. Harrison on His Death Bed with Visitors
William Henry Harrison, weeks after his inauguration

By Kaleena Fraga

Between 1789 and 1967 eight presidents died in office. In 1841, the death of the first president to die in office, William Henry Harrison (a short but tragic tale for another time) raised the question of succession in the event of the executive’s demise. Amidst the confusion, Harrison’s vice president, John Tyler, had to insist that the president’s death meant that he became president, not just “acting president.”

Still, it took the country another one hundred and twenty-six years to formally add an amendment to the constitution outlining the path of succession, and what to do if the president became unable to perform his duties.

It wasn’t as if the question wasn’t raised again–in the time after Harrison’s death until the adoption of the amendment in 1967, four presidents were assassinated, three died in office, and others suffered medical conditions that rendered them incapable to serve. Without clear guidelines, Woodrow Wilson’s stroke made his wife the most powerful woman in America. President Eisenhower, his VP Nixon, and the Attorney General at the time, Herbert Brownell Jr., tried to clarify the procedure after Ike’s heart attack–Nixon would preside over Cabinet meetings when Eisenhower was indisposed, but never assumed power.

LBJ is sworn in following JFK’s assassination

The issue became more urgent after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Given that his death had elevated Lyndon Johnson to the presidency (a man who had a history of heart problems) there was a pressing need to spell out what should happen if LBJ died or became unable to preside as president.

What does the 25th amendment do? Several things.

First, it reaffirms John Tyler’s actions: if the president dies, resigns, or is removed from office, power is transferred to the vice president.

Second, it allows the president to nominate a vice president if the original VP leaves office for whatever reason (this was an issue in 1868 during Andrew Johnson’s impeachment hearing, since he had no vice president. At the time, it was customary to wait for the next election if a VP left office. It was invoked for the first time in 1973, when Spiro Agnew resigned as Nixon’s VP. Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace him).

Third, the president can send an official notice to Congress saying he is unable to perform his duties, and another note when he is ready to resume (as in the case of a medical procedure–George W. Bush invoked this section in 2002). In the interim, the vice president has the powers of the president.

Fourth, if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or Congress believe that the president is unable to perform his duties, they can remove him from power. This is the only section that has never been invoked.