Lincoln was a one-term Whig US congressman from Illinois before assuming the presidency with a mere 39% of the popular vote, and not even being on the ballot in many States. He had little knowledge of the US Constitution, no foreign policy awareness or experience, and led a purely sectional party of former northern Whigs and anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, Transcendentalists and abolitionists. Despite Southern unionists imploring him to abandon Fort Sumter to allow a cooling-off period to defuse the crisis and stop other States from seceding, he consciously lit the fuse of war which cost the lives of a million Americans and ended the American republic.
Trusting Congress to Ratify Unconstitutional Actions
Eighty days was the interval between Lincoln instigating the confrontation at Fort Sumter and the regular assembling of Congress in July, providing the new president with a virtual monopoly of emergency powers. On April 15th 1861, in language reminiscent of Washington’s response to the Whiskey Rebellion, 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, by the powers vested in the marshals of the law,” and on his own claimed authority called forth the militia of the States to the number of 75,000 to “suppress said combinations.”
This was how our “civil war” commenced and without a declaration by the only entity vested with the constitutional authority to do so. Though the States which declared independence from the US Constitution fully considered their actions legal and peaceable, Lincoln’s political party and those supporting his actions viewed this independence movement as null. They assumed a defensive attitude with a readiness to strike in retaliation for any act of resistance to what they saw as the national authority – which they viewed the withdrawn States as still a part of.
Author J.G. Randall wrote that “Lincoln was to take other war measures. He issued on his authority two proclamations of coastal blockade by which he could continue to collect tariffs, which was the lifeblood of the US treasury. The second applied to Virginia and North Carolina, the latter of which was still a part of Lincoln’s union – and an act of war against a State.
He decreed the expansion of the regular army on his own authority, calling forth on May 3rd recruits of the regular army beyond the total then authorized by law – any increase is a congressional function. Acting independently and not waiting for the constitutionality of his acts to be questioned, he advised Congress in July that “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.”
(Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, DC Heath & Company, 1937, pp. 360-361)