A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction

A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction : A Nation of Rights

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Although hundreds of thousands of people died fighting in the American Civil War, perhaps the war's biggest casualty was the nation's legal order. A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction explores the implications of this major change by bringing legal history into dialogue with the scholarship of other historical fields. Federal policy on slavery and race, particularly the three Reconstruction amendments, are the best-known legal innovations of the era. Change, however, permeated all levels of the legal system, altering Americans' relationship to the law and allowing them to move popular conceptions of justice into the ambit of government policy. The results linked Americans to the nation through individual rights, which were extended to more people and, as a result of new claims, were reimagined to cover a wider array of issues. But rights had limits in what they could accomplish, particularly when it came to the collective goals that so many ordinary Americans advocated.
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Product details

About Laura F. Edwards

Laura F. Edwards is the Peabody Family Professor of History at Duke University. Her book The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South was awarded the American Historical Association's 2009 Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in law and society and the Southern Historical Association's Charles Sydnor Prize for the best book in Southern history.
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Table of contents

Introduction; 1. The United States and its use of the people; 2. The Confederacy and its legal contradictions; 3. Enslaved Americans, emancipation, and the future legal order; 4. The federal government and the reconstruction of the legal order; 5. The possibilities of rights; 6. The power of law and the limits of rights; 7. Conclusion.
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Review quote

'Bold, brilliant, and sweeping, this concise history places the transformation of American law at the center of the Civil War. In clear analysis of constitutional amendments, Supreme Court decisions, expanding wartime powers, and everyday people's bold claims, Edwards shows that a war fought to preserve a legal order ended up almost entirely remaking it. The legal dismantling of American slavery not only extended rights to new people but also reconfigured what rights meant and why they were so central to the new American nation that the war made.' Gregory Downs, City College and Graduate Center, City University of New York 'A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction offers a compelling new account of how the Civil War transformed the American legal order. Edwards, a leading historian of the nineteenth century, connects developments at the federal level with the histories of African Americans, women, and organized laborers. Her treatment of the complex relationship between individual rights and inequality should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of the modern United States.' Kate Masur, Northwestern University 'In A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Laura Edwards combines a brilliant synthesis of decades of scholarship with original insights and analysis. She lucidly demonstrates how the social tumult and fearsome politics of the Civil War era reshaped the nation's legal order and Americans' ideas about the meaning of rights.' Michael A. Ross, University of Maryland
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