Abraham Lincoln was a very effective leader throughout the Civil War. Although he had no prior military experience, he proved to be an asset throughout the war. According to his contemporary critics, Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential record was notable for his despotic use of power and his blatant disregard for the Constitution. Lincoln ordered thousands of arrests, kept political enemies in prison without bringing charges against them, refused these hapless men their right to trial by a jury of their peers, and ignored orders from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to release them. In his first few months in office he made the most direct violations of the Constitution in the Nation’s history. He increased the size of the Regular Army without Congressional approval, spent money without Congressional authorization, suspended the writ of habeas corpus without authority and generally acted as if he had never heard of the other two branches of the government. He threw out the Constitution and retained popular appeal of the masses.
Davis lacked popular appeal. At no time in his life did he mingle freely with the masses under circumstances that might have enabled him to develop an appreciation of their aspiration and virtues. He never felt close to them, and they didnt to him. Davis never succeeded in dramatizing the issues of the war or in arousing public enthusiasm for their support. Confederates like to compare their struggle with the Colonial revolt against England. But their President was never able to infuse the Southern movement with the lofty purposes and timeless qualities that Jefferson and Paine breathed into the American Revolution.
Jefferson Davis was known for his integrity. He was not always as forthright as he might have been in dealing with difficult persons and situations, but he observed a strict code of conduct with respect to money, favors and gifts. As President he repeatedly demonstrated his moral courage by unwavering support of unpopular individuals and measures. He had rich experiences in public affairs. He was an effective public speaker, known for their clarity and logic. He was profoundly dedicated to the Southern cause. It seems quite contradictory when you think about it. Jefferson Davis was never known as “Honest Jeff,” and Lincoln, the man who led the Union by basically ignoring the Constitution, was known as “Honest Abe.”
When Lincoln felt it was necessary he could act in the most undemocratic manner (as he delivered the Gettysburg Address, his troops guarded the polls at a state election in Delaware, insuring a Republican victory). Realizing that the Constitution was not made for war, especially civil war, and knowing that it took too long to change it, he was willing to bypass it and create his own emergency powers in order to preserve it for peacetime. Events were moving too rapidly to stay within the due process of the law.
Both presidents hovered closely to the War Department. Davis began to become very unpopular with the populace of the South for his persistent support of discredited officers such as Lucius B. Northrop, the Confederate commissary General, and Generals Theophilus Holmes, John Pemberton, and Braxton Bragg. Northrop and Bragg were grossly incompetent and their long retention in high position, against an ever- increasing tide of public criticism, cannot be justified on any reasonable ground. There was a great deal of criticism of Davis for his removal of General Beauregard. Also a major destructive relationship took place between Davis and Joe Johnston.
Lincoln on the other hand either fired or sat back and let the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War fire popular or unpopular generals for perceived ineptitude. McClellan and Buell (too slow for the northern voters) — Porter (we’ll hang this one on the Joint Committee, thus keeping Lincoln clean) — Pope (no one likes a braggart, especially one who nearly gets his army annihilated…easy call) — Butler in New Orleans (good move, it places the Beast in the den of depravity…he can’t lose battles and he can place his scorn and the contempt of the folks up north on the folks down south) — Sigel brought in to command the 11th Corps when recruitment’s were down– (dismissed temporarily when campaigning began, brought back in 1864 only to be humiliated at New Market by the cadets…he could now remove him permanently). There were most definitely others, but Lincoln remained unscathed.
Known to history as the Great Emancipator, Lincoln believed-and often said-that it was impossible for white and black men to live together in freedom. His only solution for America’s greatest problem was for all the blacks to return to Africa. In his Emancipation Proclamation he carefully drew the boundaries within which it would operate, and deliberately excluded all areas in which his armies had control. However, it should be recalled that Congressional actions and the activities of certain generals had already freed thousands of blacks, and would continue to be more important as a source of emancipation.
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