Share This Article

Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War

 Mark E. Neely Jr.; UNC Press

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Mark Neely Jr. caters to readers with a taste for legal and judicial affairs in Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation. He mines contemporary sources, including judicial opinions, presidential and state papers, newspaper editorials and political pamphlets, to explore “how lawyers, judges, justices, and government officials thought about the Constitution.”

Pamphlets are an especially rich lode. For example, How a Free People Conduct a Long War, circulated in 1862 by Charles Janeway Stillé, sold more than 500,000 copies. After Horace Binney wrote The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus Under the Constitution, a defense of Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, his pamphlet became “the most widely circulated tract on the subject,” according to Neely. The Confederacy “produced few pamphlets on constitutional and political questions,” he notes, but the antebellum South, embroiled in the secession crisis, produced “an avalanche of political and constitutional literature.”

Neely sets out to illuminate largely untapped sources. His goal is “to render the arguments lovingly, in their ingenuity, intricacy, and inconsistency.” That erudite approach may intimidate some readers, and his very limited index reflects a flaw in the book’s otherwise solid framework.


Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.