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The Broken Constitution: Lincoln's Choice

Lincoln faced an unprecedented crisis that remains unique in American history. Were the choices he made vindicated by history?

By
Noah Feldman
2-minute read
Episode #106
The Quick And Dirty

While the choices Lincoln made during his presidency seem inevitable today, they were anything but. Listen to the full episode to hear about the constitutional questions that Lincoln faced, and how his choices led to our understanding of the Constitution today.

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This is The Broken Constitution, a miniseries from Unknown History from Quick and Dirty Tips and Deep Background from Pushkin Industries. I'm Noah Feldman. Over three episodes, I'm talking about Abraham Lincoln and how he needed to break the Constitution in order to remake it. It's all based on my new book, The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America, out November 2. 

In the first episode of The Broken Constitution, I talked about how the U.S. Constitution was a compromise between northern and southern states, small and large states, and made several key compromises around slavery and the slave trade.

In this episode, we're going to turn to what happened to Abraham Lincoln when he became president, and to the moment in which he was forced to break the Constitution in order to begin to think about how to save it. No other president in U.S. history has ever faced a crisis even vaguely comparable to Lincoln when he was inaugurated. Since he'd been elected, seven states announced that they intended to withdraw from the compact known as the U.S. Constitution. Lincoln had to make a crucial choice. Lincoln decided to confront the Confederacy. In retrospect, this looks inevitable, but at the time, it wasn't clear that the president had the constitutional authority to confront them.

Listen to the full episode to hear about the constitutional questions that Lincoln faced, and how his choices led to our understanding of the Constitution today.

Click the red audio player above to listen. Be sure to follow Unknown History on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts to catch the rest of this miniseries, and if you want to hear more from me, check out my podcast Deep Background from Pushkin Industries. On Deep Background, I bring together a cross-section of guests to explore the historical, scientific, legal, and cultural context of today's news.

Want even more? Pre-order The Broken Constitution wherever books or audiobooks are sold.

Image use under Creative Commons License

About the Author

Noah Feldman Unknown History

Noah Feldman is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University as well as a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He specializes in constitutional studies, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between law and religion, free speech, constitutional design, and the history of legal theory. He is a contributing writer for Bloomberg View and the host of the podcast Deep Background from Pushkin Industries. He is the author of several books, including The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of AmericaCool War: The Future of Global Competition; the award winning and acclaimed Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Justices; The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State; Divided By God: America's Church-State Problem and What We Should Do About It; and After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy.