Marisa Floriani, Managing Editor of the Government Law Review Fireplace Blog
Lincoln and Executive Power — Hon. Frank J. Williams, Chief Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court
Hon. Frank J. Williams opened the symposium with “the U.S. suffered an unexpected attack.” As he described the state of America during war time, he drew parallels between Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush. As a member of the audience, I couldn’t help but think – the more things change, the more things stay the same. Hon. Williams highlighted the difficult legal position any president is placed in during war time. He brilliantly stated that a doctor gives a sick man medicine that he would not give a well man, and the same logic should be applied for the power a president exerts during war time as opposed to a time of peace.
During the Civil War, Lincoln increased the army and navy, appropriated money, declared a blockade, and, most controversially, authorized the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. These acts required congressional consent; however, Lincoln completely bypassed that requirement. According to Hon. Williams these were Lincoln’s necessities in order to handle the “northern realities.” So what was Lincoln’s constitutional basis to suspend the writ of habeas corpus?
Hon. Williams described two cases that reflected Lincoln’s view of the Constitution. First, Lincoln acted then he went to Congress for ratification. Lincoln had realized he had stretched his power, but Lincoln acted out of necessity. Second, Lincoln criticized the Albany Democrats for invoking safeguards, for it was Lincoln’s belief that their arguments would have been stronger if the safeguards had been placed during wartime. Therefore it is clear from Hon. Williams’ discussion that it was Lincoln’s belief that war-time presidents should be allotted certain flexibilities, and Lincoln acted accordingly.
Although his actions may have eventually been deemed unconstitutional, Lincoln has been forgiven by society. Does this mean that one day society will forgive George W. Bush for his decisions in war time? Only time will tell.
Continue reading “Panel 1 Lincoln, Executive Power & The Modern Presidency”
Marisa Floriani, Managing Editor of Government Law Review Fireplace Blog
Thomas Guernsey, President and Dean of Albany Law School, gave a brief opening remark to the Government Law Review’s Symposium: Lincoln’s Legacy. Although he described the connections Albany Law founders had to Abraham Lincoln as “a powerful group of Albany Law attorneys,” it is not a phrase that has to be limited to men and women of Albany Law’s past. Starting tonight and continuing until 5pm on Thursday, October 1st, “a powerful group of Albany Law attorneys” as well as attorneys and spectators from across the region and country will gather at Albany Law to discuss the expansion of executive power.
On Wednesday night, Lewis E. Lehrman, whose educational accomplishments include a B.A. from Yale University and a Masters in History from Harvard University, spoke at the Sobota Lecture as part of the Government Law Review’s Symposium. He articulated a spectrum of Lincoln’s political career, focusing mainly on Lincoln’s “extraordinary speech” at Peoria, Illinois. It was at Peoria that Lincoln debated Senator Stephen Douglas about the constitutionality and morality of slavery. Lehrman told the story of Lincoln’s struggle with America’s hypocrisy – it was the land of the free and home of the brave, but only for white males. Although present day society can understand the inherent evil in slavery, it took a free, brave white male of the past to argue for those who had no political voice. Lincoln’s opponent at Peoria, however, believed that his role should merely represent the American popular vote – that slavery was an accepted practice. But Lincoln believed that slavery was a moral wrong, and he hoped that the American dream could be, in fact, colorblind. But that is what made Lincoln different; that is what made Lincoln unique; that is what made Lincoln iconic – he saw the integrity in the law and spoke out for the inalienable right that all men were, and are, created equal.
Lehrman described how farmers, townspeople and visitors gathered to hear the debate between Douglas and Lincoln at Peoria. Although Lincoln would have felt peace witnessing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or the election of the nation’s first African American President Barack Obama, he probably would have enjoyed the practice that people still gather to discuss the ideologies of politics, government, and law. Lincoln would have made an honorable lawyer today, for he had a strong moral code with a pure and clear understanding of the law. Lehrman stated that Lincoln was jealous of those with law degrees; therefore, we owe this symposium to Lincoln and his legacy to freely discuss the controversial issues inherent in the law. Please join the Government Law Review to observe and participate in the debate panels on October 1st at Albany Law School in the Dean Alexander Moot Court Room at Albany Law School.