New Hampshire native President Franklin Pierce was well-aware of the increasing sectionalism pushing the South toward secession, and Northern States erecting laws in conflict with federal law. He would not countenance State obstruction of constitutional obligations while they remained within the Union. He also understood, as Lincoln seemed not to, that the comity of the States was the glue binding the Union together. Without this, the Union was at an end and brute force could not save it.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
A “Forbidden Journey”
“President Pierce’s affinity for the rule OF law in contrast to the rule BY law explains why such scorn has been heaped upon his presidency.
President Lincoln, had he complied with the rule of law and deferred to the U.S. Constitution on the issues of secession, the writ of habeas corpus, the blockade of Southern ports, etc., may have presided over the realignment of the Union, but he also would have placed the rule of law on a constitutional pedestal that would have constrained subsequent presidents from disregarding constitutional constraints in the quest for power.
But Lincoln’s claim to fame is not that he adhered to the rule of law, but that he had the audacity to disregard it.
Lincoln’s unfortunate legacy is that he destroyed American federalism by creating a coercive indissoluble Union. Consequently, the policy prerogatives of imposition, nullification, and secession are now placed beyond the grasp of the States. Nevertheless, the ever-expanding national government’s powers continued to occupy the efforts of the courts in post-bellum America.
A case in point is Justice [George A.] Sutherland’s opinion in Carter v. Carter Coal Company (1936) a case which stemmed from FDR’s expansion of national powers vis-à-vis the States Tenth Amendment police powers. Justice Sutherland articulates the anti-Lincoln premise that “The States were before the Constitution; and consequently, their legislative powers antedated the Constitution.”
To concede otherwise is to begin a “forbidden journey” through which the national government takes over the “powers of the States” and the States “are so despoiled of their powers” that they are reduced to “little more than geographical subdivisions of the national domain. It is safe to say that when the Constitution was under consideration, it had been thought that any such danger lurked behind its plain words, it never would have been ratified.”
Justice Sutherland’s logic is just as applicable today, with the qualification that the “forbidden journey” has progressed to where the national government may be so “despoiled of its powers” that it will be reduced to “little more than geographical subdivisions” of the international domain.
In conclusion, America is in trouble. With unmanageable public debt . . . and fiscal obligations in excess of one hundred trillion dollars, not to mention the cultural and political state of the Union, Americans continue to pay homage to the villains that laid the tracks to our present sorry state of affairs.”
(President Franklin Pierce and the War for Southern Independence, Marshall DeRosa; Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014, excerpts pp. 38-40)