In an article entitled "The Lincoln War Crimes Trial: A History Lesson" Dr. Clyde Wilson's narrative is absurd in many parts. Mostly, it is far too generous to the Confederates. Wilson does this, probably, because it makes Lincoln look so much worse. Truthfully, this wasn't necessary. Lincoln's record speaks volumes for itself.
Most of the article can be dismissed, but it is worth looking at the idea of Lincoln being charged with war crimes.
Assuming that Lee had won at Gettysburg--which he would have done, had Jackson been alive--the Confederacy would have almost certainly gained its independence. Furthermore, given Lincoln's violation of human rights in both the United States and the Confederate states, as well as his "Final Solution"--as executed by Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan--"Honest" [pronounced "dis-Honest"] Abe would have found himself in quite a fix.
Dr. Wilson provides a list of indictments upon which Lincoln would have been tried. It's worth noting that most of these crimes were committed against the loyal citizens of the United States. Only the last indictment concerns Confederates.
- Violation of the Constitution and his oath of office by invading and waging war against states that had legally and democratically withdrawn their consent from his government, inaugurating one of the cruelest wars in recent history.
- Subverting the duly constituted governments of states that had not left the Union, thereby subverting their constitution right to "republican form of government."
- Raising troops without the approval of Congress and expending funds without appropriation.
- Suspending the writ of habeas corpus and interfering with the press without due process, imprisoning thousands of citizens without charge or trial, and closing courts by military force where no hostilities were occurring.
- Corrupting the currency by manipulations and paper swindles unheard of in previous US history.
- Fraud and corruption by appointees and contractors with his knowledge and connivance.
- Continuing the war by raising ever-larger bodies of troops by conscription and hiring of foreign mercenaries and refusing to negotiate in good faith for an end to hostilities.
- Confiscation of millions of dollars of property by his agents in the South, especially cotton, without legal proceedings.
- Waging war against women and children and civilian property as the matter of policy (rather than as unavoidably incident to combat).
The president's oath of office is ''I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.''
The key, I think, to getting Lincoln on this one is in the last phrase, "and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Lincoln's most egregious acts (as to this charge):
- Raising an army. While Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution defines the President as "Commander in Chief of hte Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states. . ." it does not grant him the power to call the army into action. This power is reserved to Congress in Article I, Section 8, Clauses 11 (power to declare war) and 12 (power to raise an army). Clearly, Lincoln violated the principle of Separation of Powers. Those who defend Lincoln on this, claim that he had to act without Congress's consent because Congress was not in session. However, the Constitution provides for such an event in Article II, Section 3: "he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses or either of them." Lincoln did not call a special session of Congress, for he wanted no inhibitions.
- As for waging war against the Confederate States, consider that Lincoln himself argued that the Confederate States could not have possibly seceded, since secession was illegal. Therefore, Lincoln waged war against states in his own country (if you want to follow Lincoln's logic). This clearly violates Article IV, Section 4 which reads, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion. . ." Since Lincoln invaded the states which he considered to be part of the United States, he clearly violated the constitution. However, if we're to accept the argument that the Confederate States did justly secede, then Lincoln invaded an independent country that posed no threat to his jurisdiction. Either way, Lincoln did a bad, bad thing.
- Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in his own states in order to imprison over 13,000 critics, including the outspoken Clement C. Vallendingham of Ohio. Men were arrested and imprisoned without trial and held at the President's pleasure. Others were tried by military tribunals, even though civilian courts were operational in the area. In Ex-Parte Merriman, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that this was unconstitutional--especially since only Congress can suspend habeas corpus, and even then only in "Cases of Rebellion or Invasion of the public Safety may require it" (AI, S9, C2). Since Ohio was neither in rebellion nor had it been invaded, neither Lincoln nor even Congress could suspend habeas corpus there. Lincoln responded by ordering Taney's arrest (but he never executed the warrant).
To the fourth indictment, see the comments on the second indictment.
To the fifth indictment:
- Article I, Section 8, Clause 5 does grant Congress the power to coin money. Since "greenbacks" were authorized by The Legal Tender Act of 1862, it was constitutional (but unwise--by the end of 1863, a greenback dollar was worth less than $.40 in coin).
- Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, a political appointee (he was a valuable "War Democrat") defrauded the United States government and stole from, murdered (e.g. E. Mumford), and tyrannized the people of New Orleans. Lincoln knew about it, and he did nothing. I wrote a 107 page paper for my MA on Butler's reputation--whether it was deserved or not. Trust me, it was deserved.
- Lincoln refused to meet with Confederate dignitaries, for that would be an admission of their legitimacy as an independent country. The Conscription Act, however, was the work of the Republicans in Congress.
- Read up on Butler. Email me, and I'll send you my paper. It's too darn lengthy to post here.
- Here Lincoln is clearly guilty of what the international community currently defines as war crimes, or crimes against humanity. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan openly practiced what they euphemized as "Total War," and Lincoln endorsed the practice. Read The Hard Hand of War by Mark Grimsley. Sherman's argument that war is Hell doesn't justify what he did. The defense that "Total War" brought an earlier end to the war--and was thus better for all--is also a sham. I don't know about you, but every time I look at historical applications of "the ends justify the means," I don't get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.