We Can’t Afford Delay. The Draft Will Continue While the Supreme Court Reviews Its Constitutionality.
March 1863. In New York City, the draft riots stemming from the passage of the country’s first draft law on March 3 resulted in a thousand casualties and significant property damage. It might not then be surprising that it was the governor of New York who wrote Lincoln to suggest a suspension of the draft until its legality could be tested before the Supreme Court. On April 7, Lincoln wrote back Governor Horatio Seymour:
I do not object to abide a decision of the United States Supreme Court, or of the Judges thereof, on the constitutionality of the draft law. In fact, I should be willing to facilitate the obtaining of it. But I can not consent to lose the time while it is being obtained. We are contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into a slaughter-pen. No time is wasted, no argument is used. This produces an army which will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they shall not be sustained by recruits as they should be. It produces an army with a rapidity not to be matched on our side, if we first waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system, already deemed by Congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted as to be inadequate; and then more time to obtain a Court decision as to whether a law is constitutional which requires a part of those not now in the service to go to the aid of those who are already in it; and still more time to determine with absolute certainty that we get those who are to go in the precisely legal proportion to those who are not to go. My purpose is to be in my action just and constitutional, and yet practical, in performing the important duty with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity and the free principles of our common country.
Your obedient servant,
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director
The Union Reader: As the North Saw the War, Richard Harwell, ed., (1958) p. 247.