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Abraham Lincoln


1862-1864 - Part 2

Summary 1862-1864 - Part 2

Although emancipation is today the most-discussed of Lincoln's policies, several other significant pieces of legislation were passed during his time in office. During a time of war, the executive always plays a stronger role than usual, and Lincoln was no exception to this rule. His uncompromising style as commander- in-chief, coupled with his ambitious domestic program to preserve and further the Union, earned him the nickname of "the tycoon."

Like the Japanese shogun from which the nickname derives, Lincoln the tycoon acted as a military leader exercising absolute rule, with an extremely vise-like grip over his cabinet. Often acting alone in the most crucial decisions, Lincoln vastly expanded and extended the power of the executive. Under his banner the federal government took several giant legislative strides forward, moving well beyond the ever fainter objections of states' rights advocates.

With the nation at war, Lincoln argued that certain portions of the Constitution had to be suspended if Union were to be preserved. Among the most basic rights that Lincoln elected to dispense with were habeas corpus and the freedoms of speech and press. Civilians were tried by military courts on the mere suspicion of treason. Lincoln himself ordered a temporary halt to the publication of several newspapers around the country.

Additionally, the right of private property proved especially vulnerable as the war rolled on. Two major confiscation acts provided the military with permission to seize and retain rebel property, including slaves. In later Union campaigns especially, the usurpation and destruction of civilian lands and stores was common. All of these constitutional violations were justified by Lincoln at various times as necessary to the success of the war effort.

But these were temporary measures. And while Lincoln repeatedly insisted that his war aims directed his wartime measures, many of the legislative measures passed during his tenure as president have had long term ramifications well beyond the living memory of the war. In the early stages of the conflict, many of the most controversial acts revolved around money. Lacking the approval of Congress, Lincoln repeatedly spent quantities of federal funding at his own discretion. To compensate for Lincoln's liberal spending, the first federal income tax was instituted by Congress in 1861 to help fund the war.

True to his Whig roots, Lincoln believed that internal improvements and westward expansion were the keys to the nation's success and survival. As such, Lincoln maintained his dedication to the railroad. With the southern states seceded, the controversy over termination points dissolved, and in July of 1862 the government approved the construction of a transcontinental railroad from Chicago to San Francisco. In the following two years, a series of Pacific Railroad Acts would grant western railroad companies the option to buy wide belts of land on either side of their tracks. By this legislation, 131 million acres of land were granted by Congress to railroads, and 39 million alone to the Northern Pacific railroad.

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