Lincoln Bends the Constitution to Preserve the Union
Not everyone in the North felt the same way as President Lincoln about slavery and the Union. As the war progressed, opposition to it formed around Peace Democrats, who called for negotiating a way to let the “wayward sisters go in peace.” The more radical of these Peace Democrats, who actually called for disloyalty to the federal government, were dubbed Copperheads after the poisonous snake that strikes without warning.
The generally patient Lincoln had no patience with the Copperheads. In some areas, he suspended their rights to have a speedy trial and be charged with a specific crime when arrested. More than 13,000 people were arrested and held without trial during the Civil War.
By taking these actions, Lincoln disregarded the Constitution in his drive to preserve the Union. (In fact, several of Lincoln’s actions were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — but only after the war ended.)
In 1864, Lincoln was up for reelection. He feared he might lose to someone not as devoted to preserving the Union. So he again bent some rules, suspending voting rights in some anti-Union areas of the border states and arranging for Union soldiers to get leave so they could go home and vote, presumably for him.
In addition, the Republican Party formed a temporary alliance with Democrats who favored the war, thereby creating the Union Party. The Democrats against the war put up George McClellan, a general whom Lincoln had twice removed from command. Despite his fears about not being reelected, Lincoln won 55 percent of the popular vote and held a comfortable 212–21 margin in the Electoral College.
Fortunately for the country, the war remained Lincoln’s responsibility to the end.
“With malice to none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds,” he said in his second inaugural address.