CLAIM: Vice President nominee Kamala Harris claimed in her “little history lesson” during the Vice Presidential debate that former President Abraham Lincoln chose not to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat 27 days before the election because he said the American people should decide.
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson. Let’s do that a little more. In 1864 one of them, I think political heroes, certainly the President, I assume you also, Mr. Vice President, is Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection and it was 27 days before the election. And a seat became open on the United States Supreme Court. Abraham Lincoln’s party was in charge, not only of the White House, but the Senate,” Harris said. “But Honest Aid said, ‘It’s not the right thing to do. The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States. And then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land.’ And so Joe and I are very clear — the American people are voting right now and it should be their decision about who will serve on this most important body for a lifetime.”
Fact Check — FALSE!
There is no evidence or proof in the history books that Lincoln was ever quoted saying, “It’s not the right thing to do. The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States. And then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land.”
Worth to note more importantly is the fact that during this time there was a Civil War occurring. Lincoln decision in waiting to reveal his Supreme Court nominee was not based on what Harris or the Democrats are claiming of feelings that the “American people deserve to make the decision.” The only feeling Lincoln had in holding off to name someone was his political motivation to advance his agenda.
Americans in 1864 didn’t politicize the Supreme Court the way that politicians do today in terms of swaying voters to have one to worry about picking a president who will have the option to select a person based on their political preference.
The only thing that Harris said that was true from her “little history lesson” was that “Honest Abe” Lincoln did wait until after his re-election to fill the Supreme Court seat, but not because of the reason for what she is claiming.
On Oct. 12, 1864, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney passed away. With 27 days before an election, Lincoln waited to select and name his nominee. He could have named a nominee before his re-election, but that seat wouldn’t have been filled at the same time. Congress was in recess since July 4th & wouldn’t reconvene until December 5th.
According to Lincoln archives, “Lincoln was the shrewd politician and in October of 1864, he saw no profit in alienating any of the factions of his political support by making a selection before the election. There is no evidence that he seriously considered announcing his choice before he was re-elected.”
By delaying to announce his choice before the election, Lincoln saw this as a chance to entice this prize and others to several aspirants as a way to help him secure his support for re-election and help him beyond in terms of governing a post-war nation. The highest prize — the Supreme Court, Lincoln enticed Salmon P. Chase, the former Senator, Governor, Secretary of the Treasury. According to historian David Donald, Chase had a huge politically following and took the “cue” and stumped for Lincoln throughout the Midwest. With Chase help, Lincoln won his re-election.
Once Congress returned from recess, Lincoln nominated Chase, as Justice Taney’s replacement in the Supreme Court, on Dec. 6, 1864. Within the following week Congress confirming the nomination.