Abraham Lincoln, The Prerogative

Theory of Presidential Power

I have never understood that the presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act. . . . I did understand, however, that my oath to preserve the Constitution to the best of my ability imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government-that nation, of which that Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation and yet preserve the Constitution? . . . I felt that measures otherwise unconstitutional might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assume this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the Constitution, if . . . I should permit the wreck of the government, country and Constitution all together. . . . I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.

[Source: letter from Lincoln to A. G. Hodges, 4 April 1864.]