Constitutional Politics in Civil War Era, with some Insights for Today
Department of History
"Constitutional Politics in Civil War Era, with some Insights for Today"
September 5, 2018
Grand Lounge, Faculty Club
This presentation is based on research for my projected book Salmon P. Chase and Constitutional Politics in the Civil War Era. Chase, an antislavery lawyer and politician, represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate and served as the state’s governor, as Secretary of the Treasury in Lincoln’s cabinet, and finally as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In the presentation I will discuss how people like Chase challenged the proslavery constitutional order, which was buttressed by decisions of the Supreme Court and other lower state and federal courts. He did so in an era when the American people rather than the Supreme Court were conceived as having the ultimate power to interpret what the Constitution mandated and to have the responsibility for embodying those understanding in public policy through constitutionally-conscious politics. The role of the Supreme Court in that system was ambiguous and generally constrained. I will discuss the insights an analysis of the Civil War-era constitutional system offers for understanding present-day constitutional law and politics.