Properly used, executive orders form an indispensable part of any government, including our own. If Congress passes a law and the president signs it, the president undertakes a Constitutional obligation to execute the law. In so doing, he is likely to need to tell his administrators what to do and, at least to some extent, how and when to do it. Thus the president is constitutionally obligated to enforce immigration law and is fully entitled to issue executive orders in the course of fulfilling that obligation.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s right hand was trembling. He had spent the morning shaking hundreds of hands as part of the traditional New Year’s Day greetings at the White House. He remarked to Secretary of State, William Seward, that, “if my signature wavers they will say I was afraid to sign it.” He then took up his pen and wrote his name firmly on the Emancipation Proclamation. As Seward co-signed the document, Lincoln mused, “Seward, if I am to be remembered in history at all, it will probably be in connection with this piece of paper”.  Read more
Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in the election of 1860, defeating three other candidates, including two Democrats, with nearly forty percent of the popular vote and an absolute majority in the Electoral College. Democrats had split into two factions. Northern Democrats, headed by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas (who had defeated Lincoln in the Senate election two years earlier) held that the question of admitting slavery into the western territories should be answered by referendum in each territory. Southern Democrats, headed by Senator John J. Breckinridge of Kentucky, upheld the claim most famously enunciated decades earlier by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina–namely, that property in slaves is an unalienable right, that slavery was “a positive good” for both white masters and black slaves, and that slave owners therefore could keep their slaves wherever in the territories they pleased. Popular sovereignty might not protect, and surely did not posit a natural or absolute legal right to slave property, and could never satisfy the slave owners. Although Douglas won the nomination of the regular Democratic organization, he won only a single state in the national election: Missouri. The southern Democrats (who had `seceded’ from the party’s convention before the final vote was taken) won ten states, all of them by overwhelming margins. Read more
Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, delivered a month after the formation of the Confederacy, served as a final plea for Americans to reunite. Lincoln makes clear that he has no intention to change the status of slavery in the states where it exists, having no constitutional authority to do so. He makes equally clear that secession is not a constitutional option.
March 4, 1861
Fellow citizens of the United States:
In compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President “before he enters on the execution of his office.” Read more
Abraham Lincoln’s speech on the Dred Scott Case reveals the complex nature of his views on slavery and racial equality, complexity that reflected the divided national psyche. Many Americans in the broad middle rejected the Southern defense of slavery and believed that the “peculiar institution” violated basic human rights and the fundamental equality of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness promised to all in the Declaration of Independence. Read more