Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reid Book Award to Witt, "Lincoln's Code"

Via H-Law, we have more awards news: the winner of the 2013 John Phillip Reid Book Award for the best book in Anglo-American legal history by a senior scholar went to John Fabian Witt (Yale Law School) for Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History. Earlier this year the book received the 2013 Bancroft Prize.

The citation reads as follows:
John Fabian Witt’s broadly resonant and illuminating Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History demonstrates that Americans’ efforts to balance the competing goals of justice and humanitarianism are historically enmeshed with the struggle over slavery. Integrating comprehensive synthesis with careful archival research, Witt challenges reigning assumptions about the laws of war in American history. Slavery’s defenders used humanitarian laws of war to justify human bondage, Witt reveals, while Lincoln’s pursuit of justice led him to rewrite them to justify total war in the name of military necessity, fully realized in the devastation of the Civil War as well as in slavery’s end. Witt shows how Francis Lieber’s resulting Code, designed to legitimate the war on slavery, shaped the international law of armed conflict for generations to come, including by authorizing while also containing America’s imperial turn. The book is notable for advancing public understanding in addition to historical scholarship. Relevant and readable, it seeks to sweep away the “dangerous fictions” that have informed contemporary debate. In their place, it offers “ugly complexities” that might serve as a “useful source of moral engagement” in future conflicts. Witt’s book captures the complications and tensions inherent in setting boundaries to violence while, at the same time, insisting upon the need to grapple with these vexing moral and legal questions.
The members of this year's John Phillip Reid Book Award Committee were:
Sophia Z. Lee, University of Pennsylvania (Chair)
Catharine MacMillan, Queen Mary School of Law
Richard Ross, University of Illinois 
Laura Weinrib, University of Chicago
Steven Wilf, University of Connecticut
Congratulations to John Witt!

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