….There are three vacancies on the bench of the Supreme Court – two by the decease of Justices Daniel and McLean, and one by the resignation of Justice Campbell. I have so far forborne making nominations to fill these vacancies for reasons which I will now state.
Two of the outgoing judges resided within the States now overrun by revolt; so that if successors were appointed in the same localities, they could not now serve upon their circuits; and many of the most competent men there, probably would not take the personal hazard of accepting to serve, even here, upon the supreme bench. I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward, thus disabling myself from doing justice to the south on the return of peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the north one which has heretofore been in the south, would not, with reference to territory and population, be unjust….
From the first taking of our national census to the last are seventy years; and we find our population at the end of the period eight times as great as it was at the beginning. The increase of those other things which men deem desirable has been even greater. We thus have at one view, what the popular principle applied to government, through the machinery of the States and the Union, has produced in a given time; and also what, if firmly maintained, it promises for the future. There are already among us those, who, if the Union be preserved, will live to see it contain two hundred and fifty millions. The struggle of today, is not altogether for today – it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence, all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us.
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861
Planning For The Future
In his first annual message to Congress, Abraham Lincoln addressed many themes and national topics; I’ve chosen two sections to highlight.
Discussing the vacancies on the Supreme Court leads Lincoln to address his confidence that the Union will be preserved and the country reunited. From the tone of the speech, Lincoln (and most of the nation) still anticipate a quick end to the war; he certainly believes it will be over before he would run for re-election. Planning for justice and fairness when the war was over, the president was hesitant to appoint new Supreme Court Justices. He wanted to give the South an opportunity to come back into the nation and government with as little difficulty as possible. (A hint regarding what he might have done if he had lived to the Reconstruction Period.)
Another theme in Lincoln’s address is American growth and prosperity. In his concluding statement, he mentions the population expansion and hints how this has helped the nation’s industry and economics. He hoped and planned that the country would continue to expand and gain wealth when the war was over.
Dealing With The War
Throughout these excerpts from the message to Congress, Lincoln mentions the war as if it is a brief unpleasantness. True, the Northern soldiers had suffered defeats, but with McClellan reorganizing the eastern army and plan some secretive maneuver, the president hoped the war could end swiftly in the following year.
Lincoln wasn’t perfect. Nobody is. He’s not my favorite historical character…but I do admire his consideration and goals to best serve America. Every year of his presidency presented its own set of challenges. 1861 is often an overlooked year in Lincoln’s life, but it lays groundwork for the rest of his influence on American history. He’s a new (very new) president and a war begins – a civil war. There was no precedent for what a president is supposed to do in the event of armed civil strife on this scale. Diplomatic situations devolved and the U.S. military and volunteer units didn’t meet with battlefield success in the first year of conflict. What to do? What to do?
Lincoln persevered. He bent the rules, he made the rules – doing what he thought was best to restore Union and peace.
P.S. The question begs to be asked…what could Lincoln have accomplished if the Civil War hadn’t happened? Could he really have accomplished in peace as he did in war?