chapter  4
30 Pages

The Constitution Threatens to Be a Subject of Infinite Sects

The civil war has been studied as a constitutional crisis, and the Reconstruction era has received even more attention on account of its constitutional conflicts and their consequences. A remarkable instance of quiet constitutional change occurred on March 3, 1875, when Congress empowered the national judiciary to assume complete jurisdiction over all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States. Slavery as a source of constitutional ambiguity became an explosive matter. The press burgeoned with discussions concerning the problem of fugitive slaves. Members of the Liberty League and most of those in the Liberty Party who refused to join the Free Soil coalition regarded the Constitution as an antislavery document and believed that it entitled Congress to abolish slavery in the states. During 1859 and 1860 Lincoln the ambitious politician confronted a tension between his ethical convictions and his historical understanding of the Constitution.