There is a lesson here – there are several actually – and the importance of the lesson(s) can not be overstated.
Lesson number one is that when somebody begins to speak about the “spirit” of the law rather than the letter of the law you can be sure they are about to ignore the law in both spirit and letter and do exactly what they please.
As much as some might wish it the Declaration of Independence does not have the force of law. It is a political tract written very much outside of the law of its time and it seeks to justify the breaking of that law. It may contain noble sentiments in noble language but it does not contain the architecture of a state. It has, since our inception as a nation, been used to justify every form of civil disobedience known to man and is cited daily by the same people who claim to speak with the love of Christ but can not find a way to keep the commandments.
The architecture of the state is contained in the Constitution which is very much about the limits on government. It was designed to avoid the pitfalls of absolutism and monarchy and once you begin ignoring its strictures you are on the road to despotism. Early in his administration Lincoln to the first step in that direction by denying habeas corpus to his opponents in Maryland and no one was strong enough – or willing – to stop him.
By the time he got around to the Emancipation Proclamation he had finessed the fifth amendment – which protects us from being, “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” – as well as substantial parts of the fourth amendment all in the excuse of military necessity.
This is not an argument if favor of slavery – either the actual enforced servitude of blacks in the south nor the virtual servitude of immigrants in the north – both of which were equally causes for opprobrium, as were the practices used in the work gangs that built Mr. Lincoln’s railroad. This argument consists solely of the idea that the document that contained the architecture of the state – the Constitution – also contains the means of changing any of its elements or of changing the architecture of the state itself. That Lincoln placed himself above both the Constitution and the state should cause us to reflect on his failings as a president and the consequences of those failures.
Abraham Lincoln and the road to emancipation, 1861-1865 New York : Viking, 2001 William K. Klingaman United States. President (1861-1865 : Lincoln) Emancipation Proclamation Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 344 p. ; 24cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 326-335) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
In this comprehensive account of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Klingaman takes a fresh look at what is arguably the most controversial reform in American history. Taking the reader from Lincoln’s inauguration through the Civil War to his tragic assassination, it uncovers the complex political and psychological pressures facing Lincoln in his consideration of the slavery question, including his decision to issue the proclamation without consulting any member of his cabinet, and his meticulous attention to every word of the document. The book concludes with a discussion of what the Emancipation Proclamation really meant to four million newly freed blacks and its subsequent impact on race relations in America.