Abraham Lincoln's Invention of Presidential War Powers
The Annual Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles
James McPherson, George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of History, Princeton University
Endowed by the late Herbert "Wiley" Vaughan, founding member of the Madison Program's Advisory Council, the Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles is an endowed Princeton University lecture that is hosted by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in the Department of Politics. Its purpose is to promote and advance understanding of the founding principles and core doctrines of American constitutionalism.
Abraham Lincoln's Invention of Presidential War Powers: Facing the unprecedented crisis of civil war in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln invoked his "war power" as commander-in-chief to "take any measure which may best subdue the enemy." Defying the chief justice of the United States, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus by presidential decree. He also declared martial law, authorized the trial of civilians by military courts, and proclaimed the emancipation of slaves--all on the grounds that "I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress." In so doing, Lincoln vastly expanded presidential war powers and established precedents invoked by later presidents.
After earning his Ph.D at the Johns Hopkins University, James M. McPherson came to Princeton as an Instructor in History in 1962 and retired in 2004 as the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History. The author of fifteen books and editor of almost a dozen more, he won the Pulitzer Prize in History (1989) for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era and the Lincoln Prize (1998) for For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. He was the NEH Jefferson Lecturer in 2000 and has served as president of the Society of American Historians (1998-2000) and president of the American Historical Association (2003-04). He is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief.