The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America

Farrar. Nov. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9780374116644. $30. HIST
President Abraham Lincoln dramatically reformed the Constitution upending the series of compromises put into place since the Revolution. The Constitution maintained the Union through a balance of power between free and slaveholding states. Feldman’s (law, Harvard Univ.; Scorpions) provocative constitutional history demonstrates how Lincoln radically reinterpreted the Constitution, paving the way for the destruction of slavery. Feldman contends that three key decisions, made by Lincoln without congressional input and often contrary to the law, allowed the president to reform the Constitution unilaterally. First, Lincoln went to war to coerce the seceded states back into the Union. Second, he suspended Habeas Corpus and imprisoned opponents of the Civil War, which effectively made him a constitutional dictator. Lastly, the president was responsible for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that enslaved peoples were now free. Feldman concludes that Lincoln’s transformation of the Constitution set in motion a process ongoing to this day, but possibly due to the president’s wartime actions. This smartly argued work sheds light on the monumental decisions made by the Lincoln during the Civil War.
VERDICT This fresh and new reading of Lincoln’s presidency and the Constitution will find a home among readers interested in the Civil War and American constitutional history.
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