Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History

John Fabian Witt. Free Press, $32 (512p) ISBN 978-1-4165-6983-1
This significant work by Witt, a professor at Yale Law School, adds to the history of the Civil War, and of America’s major contribution, starting with the Revolution, to the idea that war’s conduct can be regulated by law. That notion originated in December 1862, when Abraham Lincoln commissioned Francis Lieber to develop a code for the Union Army that summarized the customary rules for armies in combat as understood by all the armies of Europe. The code’s 157 articles, short and pithy, define right conduct in specific situations and establish the reasoning and the principles underlying the rules. Its author, not a lawyer but a professor of history and political science, produced “a working document for the soldier and the layman.” Witt (The Accidental Republic) establishes and supports a provocative case that the code reflects two competing, fundamental American ideals: humanitarianism and justice. Their interaction means America’s laws regulating war have been developed in the context of a distinctively destructive American style of war making. They have been repeatedly adapted to fit “the felt imperatives of the moment.” But, Witt suggests, war’s laws are more than self-interested redefinitions. Their durability and the equally durable debates surrounding them offer reasonable expectations, though not utopian hopes. Agent: Andrew Wylie. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/25/2012
Release date: 09/04/2012
Show other formats
Ebook - 512 pages - 978-1-4165-7012-7
Paperback - 498 pages - 978-1-4165-7617-4
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Email Address


Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.