Lincoln Themes

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Expediency

Gore Vidal's novel about Abraham Lincoln's trouble presidency is filled with instances of expediency and debate over when and how absolute norms can and must be voided. The central issue is, of course, Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus within the Baltimore, MD, military zone. This allows troublesome individuals to be arrested and locked up indefinitely without any right to appear before a judge and jury. Newspapers and their editors are often the victims along with rival politicians.

It falls primarily to William H. Seward as Secretary of State to make the arrests, and he first serves as the devil's advocate for centuries of Western legal tradition, citing the Magna Charta, English common law, the U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Lincoln counters that the Constitution itself makes provision for this suspension in times of invasion and civil war. He notes that no American president...

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This section contains 1,141 words
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Buy the Lincoln Study Guide
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