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March 22, 2013
Abraham Lincoln’s Code of Conduct for War Subject of Book Discussion
Code Serves as Basis for Rules of Conduct Today
In the fateful closing days of 1862, three weeks before emancipation, the administration of Abraham Lincoln commissioned a code setting forth the laws of war for the armies of the United States. The code announced standards of civilized conduct in wartime concerning issues such as torture, prisoners of war, civilians, spies and slaves. The code Lincoln approved ultimately shaped the course of the Civil War, and when the conflict was over, the same code reshaped warfare the world over. By the 20th century, the 157 articles of Lincoln’s code had become the basis of a new international law of war. European powers adopted the American code. International agreements like the Geneva Conventions incorporated and expanded it.
In his new book, "Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History" (Free Press, 2012), historian John Fabian Witt tells the hidden story of the laws of war in the first century of the United States and of the extraordinary code that emerged from it to change the course of world history. Witt will discuss and sign his book on Tuesday, April 9, at noon in the Mary Pickford Theater, located on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond event, sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, is co-sponsored by the Library’s Federal Research Division. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
"Lincoln’s Code" is the haunting and inspiring story of an idea rooted in American history: that conduct in war can be regulated by law. For many, the very idea of a law for war seemed like an oxymoron. Witt unfolds the story of the cast of characters who invented the modern laws of war. He notes that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin championed Enlightenment rules for civilized warfare.
John Fabian Witt is the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He writes in the history of American law and in torts. His books include "Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law" and "The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows and the Remaking of American Law." He has written articles for the American Historical Review, the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal and other scholarly journals. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate and The Washington Post and he has been a guest on NPR’s "All Things Considered." In 2010 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his project on the laws of war in American history.
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