“The Role of the Constitution in the Civil War” by Dr. Mark E. Neely, Jr.

Here’s Professor Mark Neely in a 2010 presentation in the Army Heritage and Education Center’s Perspectives in Military History program.  This presentation was held in Bliss Hall of the US Army War College.  This is really an outstanding presentation with a lot of great information for us.

The video’s description tells us, “Abraham Lincoln’s record on the Constitution and individual rights has fueled a century of debate. Now, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘The Fate of Liberty’, Mark Neely depicts Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus as a well-intentioned attempt to deal with a floodtide of unforeseen events: the threat to Washington as Maryland flirted with secession, disintegrating public order in the border states, corruption among military contractors, the occupation of hostile Confederate territory, contraband trade with the South, and the outcry against the first draft in U.S. history. Drawing on letters from prisoners, records of military courts and federal prisons, memoirs, and federal archives, he paints a vivid picture of how Lincoln responded to these problems, how his policies were actually executed, and the virulent political debates that followed.”


  1. America with a parliament instead of the Constitution of 1789, what a difference that would have made. I thought the big issue Constitutional issue was slavery. Was it an absolute right to own people as slaves? The Constitution speaks of those person’s held in servitude, but does that mean that a child is automatically held in servitude at birth just because his or her mother was a slave? I don’t understand why the abolitionist didn’t challenge the “slave at birth” rule.

    1. Slavery fell within the purview of the states, not the Federal government. The prevailing constitutional interpretation of the time was that the Federal government had no authority to negate state laws on slavery.

  2. Yes, that is true, but didn’the Bill of Rights apply to all person’s in the United States? Why didn’t that supersede the states slave laws?

    1. The Bill of Rights at that time only limited the Federal Government. It didn’t apply to state governments.

  3. If states were not obligated to obey the Bill of Rights then good was it? I have to accept that slaves, at that time, were considered less than human, but I always thought that the South prided itself on its biblical heritage. Was Joseph a person before he was enslaved in Egypt? Did he cease to be human once he was enslaved? If slaves were person’s, then don’t person’s have rights?

    If the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to the states, then why would a state slave law apply to another state? Did our political forefathers find it easier to tolerate slavery than to risk aggravating the slave owners?

    1. It applied to the Federal Government. The Bill of Rights was only applied to the states after the 14th Amendment was ratified. The Constitution, though, mandated in Article IV, Section 1 that full faith and credit had to be given by each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.

  4. Al, slavery was accepted as legal in the states where it existed, and Lincoln knew that he had no authority to interfere with internal state matters. I’m just wondering why no one ever challenged the “slave at birth” rule?

    1. Abolitionists brought a large number of cases, but as long as the laws in the slave states were upheld in the slave states there was nothing free states could do.

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