Lincoln and the Court

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Harvard University Press, 2008 - Law - 375 pages
2 Reviews

In a meticulously researched and engagingly written narrative, Brian McGinty rescues the story of Abraham Lincoln and the Supreme Court from long and undeserved neglect, recounting the compelling history of the Civil War president's relations with the nation's highest tribunal and the role it played in resolving the agonizing issues raised by the conflict.

Lincoln was, more than any other president in the nation's history, a "lawyerly" president, the veteran of thousands of courtroom battles, where victories were won, not by raw strength or superior numbers, but by appeals to reason, citations of precedent, and invocations of justice. He brought his nearly twenty-five years of experience as a practicing lawyer to bear on his presidential duties to nominate Supreme Court justices, preside over a major reorganization of the federal court system, and respond to Supreme Court decisions--some of which gravely threatened the Union cause.

The Civil War was, on one level, a struggle between competing visions of constitutional law, represented on the one side by Lincoln's insistence that the United States was a permanent Union of one people united by a "supreme law," and on the other by Jefferson Davis's argument that the United States was a compact of sovereign states whose legal ties could be dissolved at any time and for any reason, subject only to the judgment of the dissolving states that the cause for dissolution was sufficient. Alternately opposed and supported by the justices of the Supreme Court, Lincoln steered the war-torn nation on a sometimes uncertain, but ultimately triumphant, path to victory, saving the Union, freeing the slaves, and preserving the Constitution for future generations.


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Lincoln and the Court

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It's not easy to find Lincoln territory where good, open grazing land remains, but McGinty has found it. Combining expertise as an attorney and historian with a style that welcomes readers, he gives ... Read full review

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This is a brisk and clear introduction to the constitutional history of the period. Don't look for extensive analysis of the issues. Clearly that is not the purpose of the book, but the presentation of the issues may very well prompt the reader to explore them further.


A Solemn Oath
Dred Scott
First Blood
Judges and Circuits
The Prizes
The Boom of Cannon
The Old Lion
A New Chief
The Union Is Unbroken
History in Marble
The Legacy

A Law for Rulers and People

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About the author (2008)

Brian McGinty is an attorney and writer specializing in American history and law.

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