Dr. Simpson Goes to Washington
I’ll be in Washington, DC, this Friday to speak at the United States Capitol Historical Society’s 2009 spring symposium. On short notice I prepared a title for my talk, “Lincoln, Congress, and the Management of Military Affairs,” which I would probably now modify to something along the lines of “Lincoln and Congress: Revisiting the Civil War’s Commander-in-Chief.” Here’s where I am now with a paper still in preparation:
Many historians explore Abraham Lincoln’s conduct as commander-in-chief during the American Civil War to find examples of how he defined the war powers of the presidency, suggesting the extent to which he developed that concept of a president acting vigorously and independently. Yet as a congressman during the Mexican-American War, Lincoln argued for Congress’s right to exercise oversight over the executive’s actions: as president he found himself in an uneasy partnership with Congress when it came to waging war, including measures concerning the mobilization and equipping of military forces, dissent and disloyalty, slavery and its destruction, the conduct of military operations, and the appointment, assignment, and removal of military leaders. In turn congressional Republicans pressed the president and asserted their right to a role in determining how the war was to be waged, why it was being waged, and who would wage it. Examining these issues offers a different way to view Lincoln as commander-in-chief that brings Congress back into the picture.