The relevance of a doctrine's being
SLevinson at mail.law.utexas.edu
Mon Mar 22 22:30:37 PST 2004
My argument is as follows:
1) It is thinkable (nothing more, because who knows what Lincoln would actually have done) that Lincoln, as part of his "malice toward none, charity toward all policy" would have welcomed the defeated Southern entities (some would say states, but, obviously, that raises some real questions about the legitimacy of military reconstruction) back on Johnsonian terms, i.e., renounced secession and ratify the 13th Amendment. Perhaps he would have put his prestige on the line to say that the Black Codes had to go (or at least be significantly modified). We don't know (obviously) whether he would have supported the Radicals in barring the door to the elected representatives and senators in December 1865. We can be absolutely confident that he would not have vetoed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866. That Bill being passed (and signed with an accompanying statement by Lincoln about how it captures the meaning of the War), would there have been a congressional majority for proposing the 14th Amendment and then, more importantly, engaging in military occupation and a rewriting of the electoral rules in order to force ratification? If Lincoln refuses to join the Radicals, then he has enormous legitimacy in preventing their (temporary) dominance. Thus, my argument goes, the real possibility that there is no 14th or 15th amendment.
Several people have mentioned his willingness to dump Hamlin because of political exigencies (i.e., the political attractiveness of a War Democrat like Johnson). Why wouldn't the same sense of pragmatism lead him to continue collaborating with "moderates" in both parties?
It's a little bit like the argument about whether JFK would have pulled out of Vietnam. I personally doubt it, but almost all of his devotees are convinced that he would have forestalled the debacle of Vietnam. But perhaps if he had lived, it would have been worse, because a lot of academics (among others) would have accepted the war from the urbane Kennedy in a way that they didn't from LBJ.
Incidentally, re a posting from Lynne Henderson, my view is that Reconstruction was in a failure, save for some brief shining moments described very well in Eric Foner's classic book on the subject. But the US clearly did not have the stomach for genuine "regime change" or "the building of a genuinely bi-racial nation" in the South. I'm sure that Mark Graber is right that executing 50-100 leaders (beginning with Robert E. Lee and including Jefferson Davis) would not in fact have helped very much, just as will be the case with executing Saddam Hussein (however much emotional satisfaction that will give many people).
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