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Lincoln and the Constitution

Lincoln and the Constitution

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Brian R. Dirck


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
184 pages, 5 x 8

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

In this highly readable study of Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts and actions concerning the U.S. Constitution, Brian R. Dirck combines extensive primary research and thoughtful, accessible consideration of Lincoln’s views to reveal new insights into Lincoln’s impact on the U.S. Constitution. In the statesman’s roles as a leading antebellum politician, an ardent critic of slavery, and the president of the United States during the Civil War, Lincoln fashioned a strong antislavery constitutional ideology and articulated a constitutional vision of the Civil War that reinforced his determination to restore the Union.

Grounding Lincoln’s constitutionalism in his reading habits and early legal career, Dirck masterfully balances biographical details, Lincoln’s value system, the opinions of his supporters and critics, and key events and ideas to show how his thinking about the U.S. Constitution changed over time. From Lincoln’s deep reverence for the work of the Founding Fathers to his innovative interpretation of presidential war powers, Dirck reveals Lincoln’s understanding of the Constitution to be progressive, emphasizing federal power as a tool to develop the economy, and pragmatic, in that he was often forced to make decisions on the fly during a remarkably volatile period in American history. Lincoln used his conception of presidential war powers to advance the twin causes of Union and emancipation, and Dirck explores the constitutional problems stirred by curbs Lincoln placed on civil liberties, internal security, and freedom of expression during wartime.

More than a straightforward overview of Lincoln’s constitutional views, Lincoln and the Constitution provides a starting point for further inquiry into interpretations and defenses as well as the political, intellectual, and cultural traditions of the founding document of the United States. In the end, Dirck shows, Lincoln viewed the political and legal traditions of the Constitution with optimism, emphasizing
throughout his life the possibilities he believed the document held—always keeping faith in it and swearing to protect it, even as he was awash in a sea of blood and controversy.

Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition


Brian R. Dirck, a professor of history at Anderson University, is the author of Lincoln the Lawyer, Lincoln Emancipated: The President and the Politics of Race, and Lincoln and Davis: Imagining America, 1809–1865.


“...a rich, creative, and utterly readable rendering of the development of Abraham Lincoln’s constitutional theory...”—Elizabeth D. Leonard, The Civil War Monitor

Dirck's brief treatment of Lincoln and the Constitution offers a clear overview, thoughtful analysis, and many fruitful topics for discussion, making it valuable for use in courses on the Civil War and constitutional history."—Daniel W. Stowell, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"The book is a study of how race and politics intertwined in the years of sectional conflict. Much more than that, it is a study of how slavery and the Constitution were closely intertwined in Lincoln's thought processes. It is an interesting study of the intellectual efforts of a man who did not think of himself as an intellectual. Dirck writes clearly in an engaging style well suited for the general reader and well documented for the scholar. The book merits wide attention and is a credit to the Southern Illinois University Press series of Lincoln studies."—James E. Sefton, Civil War History

“Why didn’t anyone think of this before: a concise and clear introduction to the problem of Lincoln and the Constitution?  Thank goodness Brian Dirck did.  Anyone who reads his accessible, vivid, even entertaining book will understand why Abraham Lincoln cannot be ignored in any account of the constitutional history of the United States.”—Mark E. Neely, McCabe-Grier Professor of the History of the Civil War Era at Penn State University

“Events of the past decade have sent pundits, politicians, and policy makers in search of Abraham Lincoln’s Constitution.  The result has been a cacophony of confusion about Lincoln’s approach to every legal matter from executive power to civil rights.  Finally, Brian Dirck has stilled the noise with a clear, true note.  His new book offers an accurate, fascinating account of Lincoln’s take on constitutional matters.  Ranging across topics as varied as territorial expansion, southern secession, emancipation, and wartime civil liberties, this book manages to be both comprehensive and succinct.”—Michael Vorenberg, author of Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment