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Brian McGinty
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In a meticulously researched and engagingly written narrative, McGinty rescues the story of Abraham Lincoln and the Supreme Court from long and undeserved neglect, recounting the compelling history of the Civil War president's relations with the nation's highest tribunal and the role it played in resolving the agonizing issues raised by the conflict.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-04082-3
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The story of Lincoln and the Supreme Court has been neglected for too long. Innumerable studies of the Civil War have almost wholly ignored Lincoln’s relations with the Court and the role that it played in resolving the agonizing issues raised by the conflict. Lincoln’s biographers, too, have slighted his role in appointing Supreme Court justices, and the effect his appointments had in shaping constitutional doctrine, both during the war and after. A recent study of Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney probed some of the issues that separated the wartime president from the Court’s presiding justice, but it largely ignored...

  4. 1 A Solemn Oath
    (pp. 12-37)

    March 4, 1861, dawned dark and blustery in Washington, with clouds hovering low over the horizon, threatening to unleash a torrent of rain. A few drops of water fell before eight o’clock, but they were hardly enough to calm the dust that lay thick in the streets. A bracing wind soon swept in from the northwest, clearing the sky but also raising billows of dust that raced across Pennsylvania Avenue and its cross streets.

    Abraham Lincoln had arisen at five o’clock in his bedroom in Willard’s Hotel and begun preparations for the busy day ahead. After an early breakfast in...

  5. 2 Dred Scott
    (pp. 38-64)

    Anyone in washington in 1861 who doubted that the Supreme Court would be an important player in the great drama then unfolding in the nation had a very short memory. The Court, it is true, was a legal tribunal, a panel of jurists selected by presidents and senators for their knowledge of the Constitution and the laws, their familiarity with judicial precedents, and their ability to reflect soberly on conflicting claims of rights and privileges. The Founding Fathers had believed that the Supreme Court justices would be passive actors in the governmental process, unable to reach out into the body...

  6. 3 First Blood
    (pp. 65-91)

    Chief justice taney was at home in his house on Indiana Avenue when a caller arrived at his door on Sunday, May 26, 1861. Rapping insistently, the caller was admitted to the house with a sheaf of papers for the judge’s immediate attention.

    It was not unusual for Supreme Court justices to be called on to perform official business in their private residences—most of their work was, in fact, done at home, where their law books were readily available and conditions were conducive to quiet study and reflection. But the man who arrived at the chief justice’s Washington row...

  7. 4 Judges and Circuits
    (pp. 92-117)

    One seat on the Supreme Court was vacant when Lincoln took his oath of office on March 4, and two more were teetering on the brink of vacancy. The seat of Justice Peter V. Daniel of Virginia still remained unfilled nine months after his death, thanks in large part to James Buchanan’s chronic indecisiveness. Justice John Archibald Campbell of Alabama was making noises about leaving the Court for his home state, for which he felt a strong but (as he would soon discover) unreciprocated affection. And with every appearance in or about the Capitol, Chief Justice Taney aroused hope in...

  8. 5 The Prizes
    (pp. 118-144)

    Early in july 1861, a sailing ship struggled through heavy seas off the coast of Virginia. It was the brigAmy Warwick, a merchant ship with tall masts and billowing sails designed to catch the stiff winds necessary to carry it on long voyages across the ocean. The ship had begun its voyage in Rio de Janeiro, where longshoremen speaking in Portuguese and English and a half-dozen other languages had filled its creaking hull with more than five thousand bags of Brazilian coffee. The coffee was bound for Hampton Roads, Virginia, gateway to the James River and the city of...

  9. “A Gallery of Justices”
    (pp. 145-175)
  10. 6 The Boom of Cannon
    (pp. 176-192)

    On march 10, 1863, the day the decision in the Prize Cases was announced, the Senate confirmed the appointment of a new associate justice to the Supreme Court. Stephen J. Field was forty-six years old and in his sixth year as chief justice of the Supreme Court of California when he received news of his appointment to serve in a newly created tenth seat on the nation’s highest tribunal. The fact that he was a Democrat, and a partisan in California politics, would not ordinarily have recommended Field to President Lincoln. But the spring of 1863 was not an ordinary...

  11. 7 The Old Lion
    (pp. 193-211)

    The supreme court’s caseload seemed to increase after Stephen Field took his seat on the bench in late 1863.¹ To do his part in handling the load, the new justice plunged into his work, setting an example of industry and energy that served as a model for his colleagues. Observers could not help but notice the sharp contrast between the junior judge and the old justices, and particularly the chief justice. Field was forty years younger than Taney, but that was not their only difference. Both men were tall and, in their way, impressive figures, but Field sat upright in...

  12. 8 A New Chief
    (pp. 212-237)

    Salmon p. chase was in Covington, Kentucky, on the day that Taney died, speaking in support of Lincoln’s bid for reelection.¹ Chase had no real affection for the president, despite the nearly three and a half years the two men had spent working together. Lincoln had depended heavily on Chase’s efforts to bridge the frightening gap between military expenditures and revenues, but the men had never developed a warm relationship, or anything that approached mutual trust.

    Chase’s decision to take to the campaign trail in the fall of 1864 was, like so many of his actions, a political calculation. If...

  13. 9 A Law for Rulers and People
    (pp. 238-264)

    Chase did not take easily to his new role as chief justice. For most of the previous decade he had administered large bureaucracies, with secretaries, clerks, and assistants to accept his orders and carry out his decisions. It had been years since he had appeared in a court to try a case or argue an appeal, and though there was never any doubt that he had a keen legal mind, he had rarely used it in recent years for anything other than staking out political positions on controversial issues. As presiding judge of the Supreme Court, Chase was obliged to...

  14. 10 The Union Is Unbroken
    (pp. 265-291)

    Chase presided over the Court during one of the most turbulent eras of its history, for the war had settled the great questions of secession, union, and slavery on the battlefield but not in the law books. The radical Republicans in Congress were determined to remake the states of the old South in a new mold, using military power and political compulsion to “reconstruct” their constitutions, their elections, and their governments, while Democrats generally (and former Confederates particularly) were determined to resist the radicals and to enlist the support of any legislators, executives, or judges who might help them to...

  15. 11 History in Marble
    (pp. 292-299)

    On february 23, 1865, lyman Trumbull of Illinois rose in the United States Senate to call for the consideration of a bill just reported out of the Judiciary Committee, of which he was chairman. The bill, which called for an appropriation of $1,000, had previously passed the House of Representatives without opposition. In the Senate, however, it encountered immediate resistance.

    “What is that?” Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts snapped, after Trumbull read the bill’s number

    “A bill reporting for a bust of the late Chief Justice Taney,” Senator Trumbull answered, “to be placed in the Supreme Court Room of the...

  16. AFTERWORD: The Legacy
    (pp. 300-316)

    A history of lincoln and the Supreme Court would be incomplete without some reflection on the broader meaning of the history and the lessons that can usefully be drawn from it. What cases decided by the high court during the Civil War and in its aftermath (when justices appointed by Lincoln continued to dominate the Court) still rank as controlling precedents in modern Supreme Court jurisprudence? If Lincoln was, as surveys of scholarly and public opinion assure us, one of the two greatest presidents in the history of the United States (only George Washington rivals him for the top position),...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 319-349)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 350-363)
  19. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 364-364)
  20. Index
    (pp. 365-375)