An exploration of several legal conundrums of the Civil War.
In this slender volume, prolific historian Hoffer (History/Univ. of Georgia; John Quincy Adams and the Gag Rule, 1835-1850, 2017, etc.) considers a variety of legal issues raised by what he calls "a Civil War by lawyers, of lawyers, and in the end, for lawyers." These include the legality of the states' secession, justifications for the suspension of habeas corpus and the use of military courts in civilian areas, the legitimacy of the blockade and the status of ships and cargo seized as blockade runners, the legal basis for the Emancipation Proclamation, and the debate over the extent and nature of the civil rights of freedmen after the war. Two themes run throughout. The first is that the dominance of lawyer-politicians in both governments and in the leadership of the armies rendered this war "unlike civil wars before and after, remarkably rule-bound" and thus far less savage than it might have been. The second is that the war forced a shift away from an earlier constitutional concept of a federal government of severely limited powers; its aftermath "so fundamentally changed the shape of national law and federalism that it created a second constitution." As the author puts it, "the most lasting achievement of the lawyers in the Civil War era was turning that terrible conflict into a new and lasting regime of law." Hoffer's explication of the legal conflicts is remarkably clear and perceptive, both in the details of the individual issues and in their significance to a contemporary understanding of what the war was about and what the two sides were fighting for. He raises, and then largely answers, questions that even many Civil War buffs have likely never considered, thus providing a rare fresh approach to a conflict that has been exhaustively surveyed.
A worthy addition to the thinking person's Civil War library.