40 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2009
Date Written: April 21, 2009
This article demonstrates that the animating spirit of Lincoln's constitutional actions was his civil religion - his belief that God had given America a special role to play in the history of the world, and it was up to America to be faithful to that charge. Crucial to that goal was thwarting the fundamental attack launched against the whole work of the Founders by Calhoun and his disciples. That struggle, which produced the Civil War, forced Lincoln to reinterpret, re-apply, and in some ways complete the principles and work of the Founders. Lincoln rededicated America to the cause of the Founders, particularly the Declaration of Independence, and thus unleashed a new birth of freedom. It is through this lens that we should understand Lincoln’s Constitution.
The article specifically addresses those partisans in today's constitutional debate who seek to use Lincoln as a cudgel to advance their own arguments. Partisans should tread lightly; Lincoln's Constitution is bound up heavily in America's civil religion - a religion that attempts to explain America's purpose and destiny within the scheme of Providence. Here, the rhetoric and the constitutional parallels between Lincoln's time and our own are unmistakable. But unless those involved in the debate seek to come to terms with Lincoln's own view, they should refrain from using him as a standard; unless of course, they believe America (and the world) must continue to have a new birth of freedom.
Keywords: Lincoln, constitution, Merryman, Taney, Dred Scott, Declaration of Independence, civil religion, Douglas, Calhoun, Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War, slavery, Missouri Compromise, presidential power
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Adkins, Jason A., Lincoln's Constitution Revisited (April 21, 2009). Northern Kentucky Law Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1392951