20 July 2018

BOOK: Peter Charles HOFFER, Uncivil Warriors : The Lawyers’ Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). ISBN 9780190851767, £18.99

Oxford University Press has published a book on the role of law and lawyers during the American Civil War.  


In the Civil War, the United States and the Confederate States of America engaged in combat to defend distinct legal regimes and the social order they embodied and protected. Depending on whose side's arguments one accepted, the Constitution either demanded the Union's continuance or allowed for its dissolution. After the war began, rival legal concepts of insurrection (a civil war within a nation) and belligerency (war between sovereign enemies) vied for adherents in federal and Confederate councils.

In a "nation of laws," such martial legalism was not surprising. Moreover, many of the political leaders of both the North and the South were lawyers themselves, including Abraham Lincoln. These lawyers now found themselves at the center of this violent maelstrom. For these men, as for their countrymen in the years following the conflict, the sacrifices of the war gave legitimacy to new kinds of laws defining citizenship and civil rights. The eminent legal historian Peter Hoffer's Uncivil Warriors focuses on these lawyers' civil war: on the legal professionals who plotted the course of the war from seats of power, the scenes of battle, and the home front. Both sides in the Civil War had their complement of lawyers, and Hoffer provides coverage of both sides' leading lawyers. In positions of leadership, they struggled to make sense of the conflict, and in the course of that struggle, began to glimpse of new world of law. It was a law that empowered as well as limited government, a law that conferred personal dignity and rights on those who, at the war's beginning, could claim neither in law. Comprehensive in coverage, Uncivil Warriors focus on the legal side of America's worst conflict will reshape our understanding of the Civil War itself.


Peter Charles Hoffer is Professor of History, University of Georgia; he is the author of many books, including Cry Liberty and The Federal Courts.


Introduction: A Civil War Of, By, and For Lawyers?
Prologue: The Inseparability of Politics and Law: The First Lincoln-Douglas Debate
Chapter One: The Contested Legality of Secession
Chapter Two: A Tale of Two Cabinets and Two Congresses
Chapter Three: In Re Merryman and its Progeny
Chapter Four: Was Secession a Crime?
Chapter Five: An Emancipation Proclamation
Chapter Six: "A New Birth of Freedom"
Epilogue: The Lawyers' Reconstruction
Conclusion: The Lawyers' Civil War in Retrospect

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