Sunday, March 11, 2007


Mark Graber

Just got my copy of Daniel Hamilton's, The Limits of Sovereignty: Property Confiscation in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. The work, in my judgment, is a model for other young scholars. First, and most important, the scholarship is remarkably thorough. Hamilton covers all of the debates over the constitutionality of confiscation in both the Union and the Confederacy, in both Congress and the Courts. The result is that readers have a better context for appreciating how narrow the judicial opinions on confiscation were, that radical efforts to confiscate Confederate property that were watered down by Lincoln were further watered down by judicial decision (which provides further evidence for Lincoln as a conservative Whig, very much concerned that southern society not be too disrupted by the emancipation of slaves). Second, the book successfully advances an intriguing thesis. While the Civil War is normally understood as a time when federal power expanded, federal power to confiscate, in fact, contracted. Americans during the Revolutionary war confiscated property with little opposition (though courts after the war made limited efforts to restore property). Americans during the Civil War, however, bitterly fought over the extent to which government could confiscate and, in doing so, began to reconceptualize property rights in ways that would make way for greater constitutional protection for property after the war. I suspect a good many of us are going to have to revise a number of lectures to incorporate this material, which is not only scholarly but a fun read. Whatever you make of the general thesis, one I find largely convincing, The Limits of Sovereignty clearly demonstrates why students of American constitutional development must understand the confiscation debates of the Civil War and does so with polish and intelligence. With some luck, there should be a major raid on Amazon and the University of Chicago Press tonight.

NOTE: For those interested in watching me mangle syntax orally (instead of in writing), you can find on on-line video of my appearance last night on C-Span discussing Dred Scott.


where is the link?

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