Lincolns Code – The Laws of War in History Book Review

by fifer1863 on October 13, 2013

I’m finally getting an opportunity to catch up on some reading and have another book review for you.  Lincoln’s Code: The laws of War in American History by Yale Law Professor John Fabian Witt is a “story of how slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation helped shape the modern laws of armed conflict, and how a code of 157 rules issued by Abraham Lincoln became the basis for the rules established in the Geneva Conventions and for today’s internationally accepted laws of war.”

Lincoln's Code Book Cover

Simply put this well-written and well-researched book is an overview of how the United States developed laws during times of war.  In this case, from the Revolutionary War to President Lincoln and the Civil War.  While the title references Lincoln, the book actually goes back to Washington’s presidency and looks at the events following the Revolution.  Witt also discusses how Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War setup a legal argument for what  would later become the Geneva Convention treaties.  Interesting to note is that Lincoln changed the way wars were fought by attempting to establish rules for fighting and soldier conduct that would minimize harm to civilians and prisoners of war.  This is similar to some of the work being done by Clara Barton and the International Red Cross.

Overall this is a good book but pretty academic and probably not good for a K-12 classroom but could be used in higher ed.  I highly recommend it.

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