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Context of 'February 15, 1848: Lincoln: Pre-Emptive War Powers Make a President a King'

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In a letter to his law partner, William H. Herndon, Abraham Lincoln disagrees with Herndon’s argument for preemptive war. “Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion… and you allow him to make war at pleasure.… The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.” [Lincoln, 2/15/1848]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Abraham Lincoln, responding to a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, does not wait for Congress to begin its next session to make his response. Instead, Lincoln, wielding powers that the Constitution does not grant him and without a formal declaration of war, drastically enlarges the Union’s army and navy, blockades Southern ports, spends money not appropriated by Congress, and arrests Northern citizens suspected of being Confederate sympathizers. All of these steps exceed his authority under the Constitution and under federal law. Lincoln addresses Congress as soon as it reconvenes, admitting that he has exceeded his authority (see 1787 and 1793), and refusing to argue that his actions are lawful based on any “prerogative of power” inherent to the presidency. Instead, he explains that he felt he had to respond immediately to the sudden crisis, and asks Congress to retroactively authorize his emergency actions. He says, “These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily ratify them.” Congress gives Lincoln the retroactive authorization he seeks. [Savage, 2007, pp. 16-17]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Abraham Lincoln warns that powerful corporations threaten to exert undue influence on American elections and upon society in general. In a letter, he warns of “a crisis approaching,” writing: “As a result of the [Civil W]ar, corporations have become enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is concentrated in few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln.Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush, wearing a custom-made flight suit, is ferried in a Navy S-3B Viking jet to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln anchored off the coast of San Diego, where he declares the cessation of major combat operations in Iraq. A banner unfurled behind the president reads, “Mission Accomplished.” [CNN, 5/2/2003] Bush begins his speech by saying: “Officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] Bush praises a military victory “carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.” He celebrates “the images of fallen soldiers” and “the images of celebrating Iraqis” (see April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, and April 10, 2003), and continues, “[T]he battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the eleventh, 2001, and still goes on.” The invasion “removed an ally of al-Qaeda,” he asserts. Because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Bush says, “no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.” Bush gives his listeners a dose of belligerence: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 90]
Perfectly Staged - The presentation itself is a triumph of stage-managed spectacle. The Lincoln, only 39 miles offshore, is held out at sea for an additional 24 hours, forcing the crew to wait another day to see their families after their lengthy sea tour. The carrier shifts position several times to ensure that the television cameras only film expanses of ocean as backdrop for Bush, and not the Southern California skyline. Bush’s handlers decide not to have the president fly in by helicopter—standard procedure for such a visit—but instead opt for a far more dramatic flight in a fighter jet making a high-speed tailhook landing. The jet is renamed “Navy One” and Bush is designated co-pilot. [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] The Secret Service balks at allowing Bush to fly in “one of the sexier fighter jets,” but eventually relents enough to allow Bush to “pilot” a four-seat S-3B Viking (specially dubbed “Navy One” and with the legend “George W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief” stenciled on the cockpit). [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] The crew wears uniforms color-coordinated with the banner and other props the White House public relations staff have deployed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] Bush makes a dramatic exit from the fighter jet wearing, not civilian clothes, but a flight suit. As he greets the crew, he shouts in response to a reporter’s question: “Yes, I flew it! Of course I liked it!” The idea that Bush, whose time in fighter planes was strictly limited and 30 years out of date, would have been allowed to fly a state-of-the-art fighter jet without training or certification is absurd on its face, but by and large the press swallows Bush’s claim without question. Three hours later, Bush emerges from below decks, this time wearing a business suit. His entrance is timed to coincide with the California sunset, called by Hollywood cinematographers the “magic hour” for the lovely, glowing low light it bathes upon its subject. The huge “Misson Accomplished” banner, produced by Bush public relations staffers and designed to match other event banners and graphics, stretches high above Bush’s head. (One of the chief producers of the event, former ABC producer Scott Sforza, had boarded the Lincoln days before to ensure that production values were met. Sforza made sure that the banner would be visible to the cameras during Bush’s speech—see Before May 1, 2003.) [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305]
Iraqi Captives No Longer POWs - US military officials will subsequently say that the event means captives being held in Iraq will no longer be treated as prisoners of war under the third article of the Geneva Conventions, but instead as civilians being held by an occupying power under the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions—which allows long-term detentions for prisoners deemed a threat to governing authorities. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] White House aides tell reporters that Bush will not officially declare the war “over” because, under the Geneva Conventions, that would require the US to release some 6,000 prisoners of war taken during and after the invasion. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90]
'Hubris, Arrogance, and Cowboy Swagger' - Author and public administration professor Alasdair Roberts will later write: “President Bush attempted to clothe himself in the garb of the military with the hope of drawing on the esteem with which it was regarded. He did this figuratively—and also literally when… he landed on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.… This was taken as hubris, arrogance, and cowboy swagger. But it is more accurately regarded as a sign of weakness. The heads of other developed democracies do not feel the need to meet the media in military garb. This was evidence of the president’s inability to command authority on his own account.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 21] Some have a different opinion (see May 1-4, 2003 and May 7, 2003). Immediately after the event, Fox pundit Morton Kondracke says, “This was fantastic theater.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 89]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, US Department of the Navy, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Morton Kondracke, Scott Sforza, Bush administration (43), Alasdair Roberts

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Just over two weeks after President Bush visits the the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq in the infamous “Mission Accomplished” appearance (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. discusses the parameters of the Bush administration’s push towards a “unified executive” and “imperial presidency” in the Washington Post by quoting Abraham Lincoln’s concerns over pre-emptive war. In 1848, Lincoln denounced the proposition “that if it shall become necessary to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution, cross the line, and invade the territory of another country; and that whether such necessity exists in given case, the President is to be the sole judge.” Lincoln continued, “Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion… and you allow him to make war at pleasure…. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’ The Founding Fathers resolved to so frame the Constitution that not one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 181]

Entity Tags: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Bush administration (43), Abraham Lincoln

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Fox News graphic illustrating the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Depicted on the left is Frederick Douglass, the civil rights champion who did not debate Abraham Lincoln.Fox News graphic illustrating the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Depicted on the left is Frederick Douglass, the civil rights champion who did not debate Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Huffington Post]Fox News reports that presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has challenged fellow candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to a “Lincoln-Douglas style” debate. Clinton is referencing the classic two-person debates between Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas of 1858. However, Fox News, on its Fox and Friends morning broadcast, reports on Clinton’s challenge. It illustrates its report with a picture of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the former slave who is considered the “father” of the American civil rights movement, but who never ran for the Senate. Two MSNBC news and opinion shows—Verdict with Dan Abrams and Countdown with Keith Olbermann—later report Fox News’s choice of illustrations. Abrams will observe that the Fox News hosts “don’t even seem to know that the wrong Douglas is up” during their broadcast. Apparently Fox News never acknowledges or corrects the error. [Crooks and Liars, 4/29/2008; Huffington Post, 5/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Dan Abrams, Fox News, Keith Olbermann, Stephen A. Douglas, Hillary Clinton

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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