This article on HistoryNet makes the following observation about the 1864 election:

The 1864 race for the White House was the United States’ first presidential election during wartime. Proposals to postpone the election until the war ended gained little serious consideration.

(my emphasis)

The suggestion that some aides urged Lincoln to suspend the election is also mentioned in this article from BBC News.

Now, it seems that the proposals to postpone the election met little support, and Lincoln rejected them. However, if Lincoln and enough other senior politicians had wanted the election delayed, would that have been possible without a constitutional amendment?

Would the legal feasibility of such a postponement in 2020 be any different from the 1864 case? (Note: A recent poll showed many Republican voters would favour postponing the 2020 election if large-scale voter fraud were a concern. )

  • 1
    This is a good question, but a better fit for Politics SE.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 12, 2017 at 13:43
  • 6
    The other reason it is a better fit for Politics SE is because it is a "counterfactual," otherwise known as a "what if" question, that makes it off topic here. Based on my own experience with Politics SE. it's far better accepted over there.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 12, 2017 at 13:56
  • 1
    @sempaiscuba: OK, I feel the wording pushes the the question toward counterfactual. Perhaps a more historical wording is something like, "what were the relevant legal mechanisms in place in 1864... ?"(past tense) than "would it have been possible...?" (subjunctive past). Also "many Republican voters "would" favour postponing the 2020 election... " future and subjunctive.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 12, 2017 at 14:45
  • 1
    @sempaiscuba I've added a link about that poll.
    – J.G.
    Aug 12, 2017 at 15:37
  • 1
    "Such proposals met little support..." - exactly what were these proposals and by whom were they made?
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 12, 2017 at 20:33

1 Answer 1


Article 2 of the United States Constitution states that:

The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years.

So yes, it would indeed have required a constitutional amendment prior to the 1864 election for the President's term-of-office to be extended beyond four years.

This would not have been entirely without precedent. The government had previously shown that it was willing to amend the Constitution to address unanticipated problems. For example, the Twelfth Amendment was passed in 1804 to address problems that had arisen with the original procedure contained in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution during the Presidential elections of 1796 and 1800.

As you observed in the question, Lincoln rejected the suggestion from his advisers that Article 2 of the Constitution should be amended. It has not been amended since Lincoln's time, so any future proposal to extend the President's term-of-office would also require a constitutional amendment.

  • From reading the amendment's text it appears to affect the timing of the Electoral College's ruling, but not of the people's votes.
    – J.G.
    Aug 12, 2017 at 13:50
  • @J.G. Yes. The amendment is to section 3 of Article 2 of the Constitution. The limit to the President's term is set out in section 1. The amendment simply illustrates that Article 2 can be amended if it is considered necessary. Aug 12, 2017 at 14:12
  • @sempaiscuba Sure but the chances of a constitutional amendment being OKayed by the necessary number of states within 3.5 years is essentially zero. Aug 12, 2017 at 16:29
  • 1
    @Steven Burnap: But the 26th Amendment was non-controversial. Given the current approval ratings of the current holder of the office, I would say that not only is there no chance of passing an amendment that would keep him in office, even trying to do so would ensure that the officeholders voting for it would not be in office much longer.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 12, 2017 at 17:25
  • 1
    Right, no chance today, but we're talking about 1864, and also generally. Aug 12, 2017 at 17:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.