World News – US – PolitiFact – Kamala Harris Draws Hasty Conclusions on Abraham Lincoln’s Late Appointment to Supreme Court


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• Lincoln faced a vacancy on the Supreme Court 27 days before election day in 1864 when his party controlled the Senate He decided to wait after winning the election to continue the nomination

• However, historians who have studied Lincoln’s relationship with his candidate, Salmon P Chase, have said Lincoln’s decision may have stemmed from political or logistical reasons rather than intellectual ones

Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris has cited Abraham Lincoln as an explanation for why a candidate to succeed the late Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg should not be confirmed until the next President is sworn in

Harris brought a ‘history lesson’ to the October 7 Vice Presidential Debate Harris said Lincoln was running for re-election when Chief Justice Roger Taney died on Oct. 12, 1864, just 27 days before the election

« Honestly Abe said it was 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 serve their entire life on our country’s highest court, « said Harris « And so (Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden) and I are very clear: the American people are voting right now, and it should be their decision as to who will be a member of this most important body for life. »

Harris was right about the proximity of Taney’s death to the election; that was 27 days before the election, the shortest in history Ginsburg, by contrast, died 46 days before the election Lincoln did not seek confirmation of his candidate, Salmon P Chase, until after the ‘election

However, it is difficult to confirm that Lincoln’s motivations to wait until after the election were as high as Harris said

We found no evidence that Lincoln was saying what Harris described Michael Burlingame, the Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois-Springfield, told PolitiFact: « I don’t I’ve never seen anything like it in my 36 years of Lincoln research »

Chase was until recently Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and was sometimes seen as Lincoln’s political rival, but he respected him Chase was also respected among anti-slavery Republicans in the Senate and was ultimately upheld by a vote unanimous

Lincoln « knew that Chase was always true to his own principles, especially in his attitude towards slavery and black human rights, » Susan J Court wrote in a 1981 newspaper article

This prospect marked a stark contrast to the chief justice he was replacing Taney was the author of the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that enslaved people could not be treated as full citizens

But while Lincoln delayed the nomination until December 6, which was weeks after the election, not all historians consider his motives for doing so to be clear

The Biden campaign reported to PolitiFact a tweet during the debate by historian Michael Beschloss which read: « Harris was right that when Roger Taney died in October 1864, Abraham Lincoln deferred a Supreme Court appointment. until the election so that the next president, with a new mandate, could do so « 

« I don’t think there’s a definitive answer » to why Lincoln waited, Stephen E Maizlish, University of Texas-Arlington historian and Chase biographer, told PolitiFact « Abraham Lincoln was a political master and kept his cards close to the waistcoat until he was ready for a decision « 

« It’s fair to say Lincoln waited until he felt the authority, but I think there will always be questions, » Maizlish added

« He clearly did not want to oppose the Tories during the campaign, » Burlingame said « Congress was out of session and not due to meet again until early December Lincoln may have thought it inadvisable to call a special session in the middle of a presidential campaign when his chances of re-election looked very good. In addition, members of Congress were busy rejecting their own candidacies « 

New York Times, « Ginsburg Supreme Court vacancy is second closest to a US Election Ever, » Sept 19, 2020

Washington Post, “Kamala Harris’s Little History Lesson on Lincoln’s Vacancy on the Supreme Court Wasn’t Quite True,” Oct 8, 2020

Email interview with Stephen E Maizlish, University of Texas-Arlington historian and Salmon P Chase biographer, October 7, 2020

Email interview with Michael Burlingame, Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Oct 8, 2020

Abraham Lincoln

World News – United States – PolitiFact – Kamala Harris Draws Hasty Conclusions About Abraham Lincoln’s Late Appointment To Supreme Court


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