World news – US – Has Lincoln refused to fill a vacant Supreme Court post ahead of an election?


Abraham Lincoln refused to make a Supreme Court nomination just before the 1864 election because he believed « the American people deserved to make the decision »

On October 12, 1864, Roger B Taney, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, died at the age of 87 – creating an opening on the bench just four weeks before the States -United to hold presidential election amid civil war Lincoln did not offer to appoint Taney’s replacement right away, but rather waited a month after the election – a course of events that Kamala Harris, Democratic candidate for the 2020 Democratic vice-president, attributed to Lincoln’s supposed view that filling a vacant Supreme Court seat just before an election was « not the right thing to do »:

« In 1864… Abraham Lincoln was re-elected And that was 27 days before the election And a seat became open on the United States Supreme Court Abraham Lincoln’s party was in charge not only of the White House , but also from the Senate But Honest Abe said: « It’s not the right thing to do The American people deserve to make the decision as to who will be the next President of the United States, and then that person can choose who will sit at the highest court in the land »

Evidence is sought in vain that Lincoln expressed or acted upon this sentiment, however

Although Lincoln was able to nominate a candidate before the 1864 election, he could not have occupied the open seat on the Supreme Court before this event When Taney died, Congress had been on recess since July 4 and would not meet until December 5, so Lincoln did not have an opportunity to nominate a successor and have that person confirmed by the Senate until Nov. 8 presidential election

Most importantly, however, was that even in the midst of a civil war, Lincoln had to deal with a shattered coalition of feuding politicians and competing interests (including radical Republicans and War Democrats), all seeking re-election, successfully ending the war and planning reunification with the rebel Confederate States In order to gain support from the War Democrats and others who would not vote for a Republican, Lincoln ran in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket with a Southern Democrat (Andrew Johnson) as vice presidential candidate, while facing a challenge in the general election of George B McClellan, the US General of the Army that Lincoln had first removed as commanding general of the US Army in March 1862 then relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862 and Amid this election year uproar, Treasury Secretary Salmon P Chase – who himself had ideas about the presidency – resigned from Lincoln’s cabinet in June

This last point was essential.By delaying the announcement of his Supreme Court choice until the end of the election, Lincoln could use the openness as a lure to gain the support of those he needed to campaign on his behalf and help him rule the postwar nation – primarily Chase, and his radical Republican supporters:

As always, Lincoln was a shrewd politician, and in October 1864 he saw no profit in alienating one of the factions from his political support by making a pre-election selection There is no evidence that he seriously considered announcing his choice before being re-elected

Lincoln was not, however, above the office’s temptation to encourage campaigning on his behalf. The biggest prize in this regard was the active political support from Salmon P Chase, the former Senator, Governor, secretary of the treasury and presidential candidate and leading figure in the country In historian David Donald’s proper analysis, after Taney’s death in October 1864, Chase took the « signal » and remained perplexed for Lincoln throughout. Midwest, unlike his earlier maneuvers in 1864 to replace Lincoln as president

When Congress reconvened a month after Lincoln’s re-election, Lincoln quickly sent Chase’s name to the Senate as candidate Chase was confirmed a week later, and he served as the 6th judge Chief of the United States until his death in 1873

Moreover, there is no strong evidence to support the idea that had Lincoln lost the 1864 election, he would have avoided nominating a Supreme Court candidate for the remaining four months of his tenure in order to allow the new president to make your choice He might or might not have done it, but in any case his primary motivation for waiting until after the election to reveal his choice was not a nobly neutral feeling that « the American people deserve to make the decision, » but because that delaying the announcement was politically expedient for him as he sought another term

Donald, David Herbert Lincoln
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995 ISBN 0-684-80846-3 (p 536)

Harris, Curtis « Supreme Court Nominee of Lincoln Election Year »
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McPherson, James Freedom battle cry
New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 ISBN 978-0-19-503863-7 (p 841)

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Abraham Lincoln

News from the world – United States – Has Lincoln refused to fill a vacant Supreme Court post ahead of an election?


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