Presidents of the United States take an oath to uphold the Constitution. In times of crisis, however, presidents are tempted to circumvent the spirit of the Constitution in the name of political expediency. The president of the United States of America is frequently under pressure, which could be for something as simple as dealing with his wife (especially if she’s running for the US Senate), but usually the problem is more extensive. Then, the whole nation is affected, and the problem becomes a national crisis. A widespread panic is possible. The president must propose a plan to aid his nation while keeping the public under control. Lincoln. Roosevelt and Truman proposed bills to stop or prevent the national crises that plagued the country.
In 1861, the country was dividing into two and President Lincoln had to reunite the Union. His plan was to start a war between the North and South in order to end the national crisis.In May of 1861, Congress was going through a 9-week emergency period and couldn’t pass any laws. Lincoln was given full executive power. This was all he needed to make the practical measures for the war (Sandburg 257).
Lincoln’s first move was to start a militia at Ft. McHenry led by General Cadwalader, and invade the home of John Merryman of Baltimore, on May 25 at two in the morning, and took him out of his bed (Sandburg 247). He was taken to Ft. McHenry and held for treason (Sandburg 247).
The next morning, John Merryman’s lawyers went to Supreme Court Judge Roger Taney’s home near Baltimore, and denied all charges of treason (Sandburg 247). Taney became confused and issued the writ of habeas corpus for General Cadwalader to appear in court with Merryman (Sandburg 247). The writ of the habeas corpus is a legal document which requires the arresting authorities to show just cause for the incarceration of a prisoner or release him. The writ is a fundamental cornerstone of due legal process and can only be disregarded in times of civil emergency.
The general didn’t want to go to court and sent staff Colonel Lee with John Merryman. Lee appeared before Judge Taney and stated that the general was busy with other matters (Sandburg 247). The colonel read a statement from Gen. Cadwalader asserting: “John Merryman was charged with treason and was known for holding a commission as a lieutenant in a company in their possession armed hostility against the government” (Sandburg 247). The general’s statement added the president would also authorize a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
President Lincoln sent word to Chief Justice Taney, explaining that it was his duty to authorize the commanding general’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the name of public safety (Sandburg 247).
Congress resumed on August 6th, while Lincoln was making the final measures of his plan (Sandburg 247). The North and South were in a mammoth argument concerning the arrests of southern civil leaders. Without the writ of habeas corpus, there was no need to tell the south why the civil leaders were being held in custody. The war was now ready to begin, and the north and south would eventually be reunited.
We can thank Lincoln for provoking the conflict. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was wrong and somewhat against the constitution. But this brilliant plan gave Lincoln the power he needed to win the war and resolve the current national crisis. Although Honest Abe wasn’t that honest when he passed the suspension, (he had some retaliatory intentions in mind) the country still regarded him as a great leader.
Seventy-two years later, president Franklin Roosevelt went through his own national crisis. FDR felt pressure the moment he was inaugurated into office in March 1933. America was in the Great Depression, banks were closing, the stock market was at an all time low, and unemployment was the highest then nation had ever seen. How could FDR raise the nation’s economy in a short enough time? He proposed a plan to raise it in just over a fortnight (Davis 57).
The national economy crisis began at the ignition of the Great Depression. People everywhere were closing their bank accounts causing banks to fail. Even though not all banks were unstable, fear of losing one’s life savings was enough to make people panic. Banks were closing, and the entire American economic structure started to come apart. People could not cash their paychecks and the nation fell into an economic depression. By March 4th, state governments had shut down every bank in the country, creating a “bank holiday”, and turned to the federal government for further action (Davis 57).
FDR decided to take action when came into office in 1933. On March 9th he proposed the Emergency Banking Bill to Congress (Davis 55). The bill’s plan was to extend the bank holiday. During the holiday, all banks were checked for fiscal soundness. By the end of the holiday, all banks would reopen, which would boost the nation’s economy. The Emergency Banking Bill was the first bill he proposed to Congress as a president. (Davis 52).
Congress passed the bill with a vote of 73/1, after just 40 minutes of debate. FDR signed the bill. FDR put forth several New Deal plans (a.k.a. alphabet soup plans) such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Today, bank accounts in America are still insured by the FDIC (Davis 112).
By the mid 1940’s the labor unions had come to prominence and provided the ingredients for President Harry Truman’s most famous dilemmas. Even though railroad strike of 1946 was not officially a national crisis, many people panicked over the incident. At that time, railways were the chief transportation system. If they stopped working, America stopped working (McCullough 494).
The railway strike began during the largest coal strike in America. The two major railroad union presidents had enough power to halt all railroad transportation. The unions demanded higher wages or else they would have a national strike. A.F. Whitney was president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and Alvabley Johnston was president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers; both were also Truman’s allies (McCullough 494). This alliance served only to make the situation tougher for Truman. The strike was scheduled for May 18 (McCullough 494).
Truman attended the next cabinet meeting and asked for some suggestions on how to deal with the railroad strike (McCullough495). The cabinet couldn’t think of any ideas to give Truman. The day before the strike, Truman called Whitney and Johnston into his office. The union leaders both agreed that the strike had to be carried out. The employees wanted the strike. Truman listened to the union leaders’ arguments. “He then leaned forward on his desk and stated, ‘I’m going to give you the gun’” (McCullough 495). He then produced and signed the executive order for the government to seize and run the railroads. Whitney and Johnston panicked and both decided to postpone the strike for five more days.
During the five days of the strike, Truman called on all striking railroad workers to return to their jobs as “a duty to their country” (Mcullough 503) by 4 p.m. on May 25. If the strikers didn’t return to work, Truman would call the army and have them take whatever action necessary to break the strike. That afternoon, Truman read a seven-page speech he had written the night before and proposed a bill to Congress to draft all strikers into the military. The bill passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 306/13. This ended the troublesome strike and the nation rejoiced. Whitney and Johnston were furious. Whitney vowed he would spend every last dollar in the treasury of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen to defeat Truman in the 1948 election (McCullough 504). However, the bill to draft the strikers into the military did not pass the senate. By a vote of 70/13, the issue became moot. The strike ended and America’s first line of transportation was working once again.
Truman proposed bills to Congress to prevent an extremely large national crisis. “The strike threatened to paralyze all our industrial agricultural, commercial, and social life. The disaster would of spared no one.” (McCullough 504). Truman did the expedient thing in order to save his country from a transportation disaster.
All three of these presidents proposed bills to stop or prevent the national crises that plagued the country. Some of the presidents took affirmative action like Truman, while presidents like Lincoln took a more negative approach to the national crisis. All three presidents tested the limits of their constitutional authority in order to help to nation recover. Some of their proposals, like the Emergency Banking Bill passed Congress, and some did not. In the end, all three presidents resolved the national crisis, and the nation resumed its normal course of events.
Davis, Kenneth S. FDR: The New Deal Years 1933-1939. New York: Random House Inc., 1986.
McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln The Prairie Years & The War Years. USA: Pictorial Review Co., 1954.
Court TV Online. “Texas vs. Carla Faye Tucker.” 19 October 2000 .