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On April 29, 1865, the Lincoln Funeral Train from Washington arrived in Columbus. It was on its way to Springfield, almost exactly retracing the route Lincoln had taken to Washington for his inauguration in 1861. The nearly 1,700-mile trip would take 13 days and was met at every stop with grieving Americans. Fifty thousand Ohioans welcomed Lincoln’s remains in Columbus on that cold and rainy day.
This Wednesday, April 29, the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board will re-create the memorial decoration that the state of Ohio installed in 1865. All Ohioans are invited to pay their respects to the 16th president of the United States, and are encouraged to bring fresh flowers to the Statehouse Rotunda. We can view a replica of his casket between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and we can do this until May 4.
Abraham Lincoln, the first president ever assassinated, died on Good Friday, April 15, just two weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. The truth is, Lincoln did not think he would live to see the end of the war. Many months earlier, Lincoln had said to Harriet Beecher Stowe: “ Whichever way the war ends, I have the impression that I shan’t last long after it’s over.” And he said this to his friend Owen Lovejoy: “This war is eating my life out; I have a strong impression that I shall not live to see the end.”
When Lincoln heard that the Confederates had abandoned Richmond, Va., on April 2, he said: “ Thank God I have lived to see this. It seems to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream, and now the nightmare is gone. I want to see Richmond.”
So on April 4, Lincoln and his 12-year-old son, Tad, walked into Richmond, escorted by 10 Marines. Once recognized, he was fairly mobbed by thousands of newly freed blacks. One woman shouted: “I know that I am free for I have seen father Abraham and felt him.”
Some knelt before Lincoln, and he said to them: “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.”
The president was deeply moved by these events. He also took some satisfaction in sitting in Jefferson Davis’ chair in the Confederate White House only two days after Davis vacated it.
On April 9, Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va.
On April 11, revelers outside the White House demanded a short speech from Lincoln.
Instead of giving them a celebration of victory speech, Lincoln talked about reconstruction. He focused especially on Louisiana, where a new anti-slavery constitution had been passed and some 10,000 men had pledged their allegiance to the Union. Lincoln looked favorably on these developments, revealed how liberal his reconstruction policy would be, and also said he also hoped that newly freed blacks, either the educated or those who served in the military, would be allowed to vote.
John Wilkes Booth was in the audience, but he wasn’t cheering. He turned to a friend and said: “ Now by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.” And it was. Four days later Abraham Lincoln was dead.
On April 19, the funeral train left for Springfield. About a million Americans came out to pay their respects along the way, including thousands in Columbus. The grieving was heartfelt. Lincoln saved the Union, what he called “the last, best hope” of republican liberty. Even while waging an all-out war, he knew that the rebels were Americans and would be brought home. He once said: “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”
This was a self-educated man, learned only in the Bible and Shakespeare. He was deeply thoughtful, spoke and wrote with grace and exceptional eloquence. His judgments were spot on and he inspired confidence and trust. When he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he said, “My whole soul is in it.” The Second Inaugural, a meditation on the Divine will, sold briskly at every train depot and state house on the long way home.
The Lincoln biographer, Michael Burlingame, writes that the greatness of Lincoln’s character was the secret weapon in the Civil War. He had a kind of psychological maturity and honesty about him that is truly rare. He was full of moral clarity and unimpeachable integrity. Perhaps we should not wonder why more books have been written about Lincoln than any other person in history, save Christ.
The invitation to bring flowers to the Rotunda in memory of this great American is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves how and why Abraham Lincoln rendered himself worthy of our esteem.
Peter W. Schramm is senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center.
James Madison, our fourth president, architect of the Constitution, and author of the Bill of Rights, was born today in 1751. In that spirit, we highlight two discussions of Madison and his spirit of civic compromise.
Professor Gordon Lloyd, Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center, and Dr. Jason C. Ross, Ashbrook’s Director of Programs, discuss Madison’s belief in the importance of conversation and civil discourse in the Wisconsin State-Journal.
Separately in the Columbus Dispatch, Dr. Ross further explores Madison’s philosophy as a means of engaging civic education in the classroom.
Check out David Cutler’s interview with Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner in The Atlantic. Foner shares his thoughts on the the state of history education in America and the importance of high school history instruction.
Recently, Prof. Todd Estes (Oakland University) joined the Ashbrook Center to serve as Discussion Leader for a weekend colloquium on James Madison, held on the grounds at James Madison’s Montpelier. Todd is the author of the highly regarded The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, And The Evolution Of Early American Political Culture (University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), and is currently working on a book on the ratification debate that occurred in the public press, and he is editing a book of the writings of his Ph.D. advisor, the late Prof. Lance Banning (University of Kentucky).
Todd is a frequent collaborator with the Ashbrook Center, and has taught several courses within our MA Program in American History and Government. He was kind enough to join us for five questions about his work as a historian. Listen to our interview with Todd Estes.
In the waning days of the Adams Administration in early 1801, the Federalist Congress tried to strengthen the federal judiciary and soften its defeat in the election of 1800 by creating a number of federal judgeships, including justice of the peace positions in Washington DC. President Adams signed one of those justice of the peace commissions for William Marbury, but the commission did not make it from Secretary of State John Marshall to Marbury before the new Jefferson Administration took over in March 1801. In the meantime, Marshall had been confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. When the new Administration took office, Secretary of State James Madison refused to give Marbury his commission; Marbury thereupon sued Madison and asked the Supreme Court to issue Madison a writ of mandamus, a judicial order requiring Madison to hand over the commission. The Court had been given the power to issue such writs in Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789.
Eventually, the Supreme Court took Marbury’s case, and in 1803 it handed down what has been widely viewed as one of its most important decisions. Many people believe that Marshall’s opinion established the practice of judicial review — the power of the federal courts to strike down unconstitutional laws and executive actions. Others go further and contend that Marbury declared the Supreme Court to be the final, authoritative interpreter of the Constitution.Neither is true. As one scholar has noted, the Supreme Court had already been practicing judicial review before Marshall arrived: from 1789-1801, it decided eight cases involving a constitutional challenge to federal laws, and did the same in at least three cases involving state laws. While President Thomas Jefferson did not like the part of Marshall’s opinion declaring that Marbury had a right to receive his commission from Madison, Jefferson did not object to the opinion’s argument that the Supreme Court could declare an act of Congress unconstitutional and therefore void.
Perhaps that is because Marshall did not declare the Court supreme over the other branches in its interpretation of the Constitution. In Marshall’s view, declaring a law “void” simply meant that it did not operate in a federal court; so in this case, the Supreme Court could not follow Section 13, which Marshall interpreted as unconstitutionally giving the Court original jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus to executive officials like Madison. Marshall did not say that the Court’s constitutional interpretation bound the other branches; he simply denied that the other branches’ interpretation bound the Court. It had the power to interpret the Supreme Law of the land for itself in order to decide the legal case in front of it.
So why then was Marbury v. Madison so important? It established the Supreme Court as a politically and constitutionally independent branch of the federal government, which was by no means clear in the early days of the Republic. In 1803, the Supreme Court was a weak institution facing great political pressure from the High Federalists on one side (who wanted the Court to assert its authority and embarrass Jefferson politically by forcing him to give Marbury his commission) and the victorious Republicans on the other side (who wanted Jefferson to refuse to comply and thus weaken the federal judiciary in favor of state courts). Marshall skillfully avoided both extremes: he pleased the Federalists by declaring that Madison owed Marbury his commission, but he avoided a unwinnable confrontation with Jefferson by saying that the Court could not legally issue the order to Madison. Instead of using the case to establish the practice of judicial review, Marshall articulated the doctrine of judicial review to decide the case in a way that protected and strengthened the independence of the federal judiciary, which he believed to be essential for a national republic governed by the rule of law and respect for the rights of individuals.
Dr. Jeffrey Sikkenga, Department of History and Political Science, Ashland University
We talked with Professor Jeremy Bailey about his upcoming online course, The American Presidency II: Johnson to the Present, which begins January 12. Professor Bailey teaches in the Department of Political Science and the Honors College at the University of Houston. He is the author of an acclaimed analysis of Jefferson’s role in defining the presidency, Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Why take this course? What can students learn from a survey of the presidency that they do not learn as well from courses on historical periods?
You get to isolate one institution and one concept and follow it through time. The Presidency, and how it functions as an institution, is such an important variable within various historical periods. You can learn a lot about LBJ by studying the sixties, but you won’t understand as much without studying the changes in the presidency between FDR and LBJ.
Also, it’s easy to reduce the presidency to biography, and end up relying on amateur psychological assessments to understand why Presidents did what they did. In fact, however, the only people a president is really comparable to are other presidents.
You’ve written on the presidency yourself, notably in Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power. Do you often work on the presidency in your research? What are your current research interests?
The presidency—and changes to the presidency over time—is one of my two or three research interests. I study executive power and what it is: how much of it is a legal puzzle, and how much is a political phenomenon calling on the partisan strengths of the person holding the office?
There are three different conversations I’m involved in on the presidency. In addition to the above, I’m making a particular inquiry into who has the power to fire executive officials. I co-authored a book, The Removal Power, on this with David Alvis (also a MAHG teacher) and Flagg Taylor (married to Natalie Taylor, another teacher in the MAHG program). We met at Ashland a couple of times to work on aspects of the book. We like to call the removal power “the most important controversy you’ve never heard of.” The book will be published around Labor Day in 2013.
A third interest is in presidential proclamations. With a colleague here, I am working to compile the only complete set of presidential proclamations. We want to collect and code them so that members of the general public who need to know will be able to find them. If you were trying to find a list of every executive veto that’s ever been issued, you could easily do it. But proclamations are an area of history that has been overlooked, perhaps because the assumption is that most presidential proclamations are merely ceremonial. Nevertheless, before the 1930s, presidential proclamations carried a lot of policy significance. It is interesting to study the extent to which presidents have used proclamations to make policy unilaterally. Sometimes proclamations are used to alert the public to a power the president is using that is indisputably his; sometimes the power exercised in the proclamation has been delegated by Congress; sometimes it has been delegated by Congress but used in a way not intended by Congress.
A proclamation is distinguished from an executive order in that it goes to people outside of government, to the citizens. For example, Truman could desegregate the military through an executive order, but Washington issued the neutrality proclamation (1793) to announce to Americans at large that the country was at peace.
How important is the presidency in American government overall? Has it gained in importance since the Founding?
It has absolutely gained in importance. We now rely on the President to provide a budget for the entire government. We also assume that when we elect a president we are electing the leader of the free world. This means that contemporary presidents hold a power via the war power that far exceeds what early Americans would have expected of the presidency. For example, using the war power, George Bush sent about 500,000 soldiers to Iraq.
In our political discussions at present, are we in danger of overestimating the importance of the executive?
The budget standoff shows that on the one hand, with the growth of attention and focus on the presidency, we now have an expectations gap in domestic policy. Presidents can only do so much. It’s very hard for the President to get the policy he wants. And in foreign affairs, there are new constraints: NGOs, the international legal community—that limit the president’s power. Bush and Obama haven’t had the same flexibility that FDR had.
What will prove to be most historically important about the election we just went through?
The first thing that comes to mind is that now we have to have a national election every couple of years just to achieve one policy! Another question we’re asking about the election, of course, is whether it is a sign that the country is aligning with the Democratic Party.
You taught the first half of the course on the presidency in the fall online program, and you’ve taught both surveys of the presidency, the early and later, in the summer program. How does the online course differ from the summer course?
The summer course allows for a different dynamic. You have one very intense week. But there is a lot that cannot happen in that week. The online course, with its more traditional pacing, allows time for an idea to be introduced one week and to percolate for a couple of weeks after that. Time always brings out the best questions. So the summer courses offer intensity, while the online courses offer time for reflection.