Laura F. EdwardsA Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights

Cambridge University Press, 2015

by SIOBHAN BARCO on July 26, 2015

Laura F. Edwards

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In this podcast I talk with Laura F. Edwards, Peabody Family Professor of History at Duke University about her book, A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights (Cambridge University Press 2015).

Per the book's introduction, "[a]lthough hundreds of thousands of people died fighting in the 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 American's 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. Ultimately, Laura F. Edwards argues, this new nation of rights offered up promises that would prove difficult to sustain."

Some of the topics we cover are:
–The way, in the lead up to the Civil War, all arguments came back to the Constitution.
–How wartime policies in both the Confederacy and the states that remained in the Union fundamentally remade the –legal authority of the nation.
–Why the Confederacy's legal order was at odds with its stated governing principles.
–Popular conceptions of Reconstruction-era legal change.

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