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Justice in Blue and Gray

Justice in Blue and Gray

A Legal History of the Civil War

Stephen C. Neff

ISBN 9780674036024

Publication date: 02/25/2010

Stephen C. Neff offers the first comprehensive study of the wide range of legal issues arising from the American Civil War, many of which resonate in debates to this day.

Neff examines the lawfulness of secession, executive and legislative governmental powers, and laws governing the conduct of war. Whether the United States acted as a sovereign or a belligerent had legal consequences, including treating Confederates as rebellious citizens or foreign nationals in war. Property questions played a key role, especially when it came to the process of emancipation. Executive detentions and trials by military commissions tested civil liberties, and the end of the war produced a raft of issues on the status of the Southern states, the legality of Confederate acts, clemency, and compensation. A compelling aspect of the book is the inclusion of international law, as Neff situates the conflict within the general laws of war and details neutrality issues, where the Civil War broke important new legal ground.

This book not only provides an accessible and informative legal portrait of this critical period but also illuminates how legal issues arise in a time of crisis, what impact they have, and how courts attempt to resolve them.


  • [Neff] shows us how the legal events of [the Civil War] resulted in the formation of legal principles that today influence American and international legal systems. He brings its history into the 21st century with analyses of terms such as ‘combatants, military tribunals, detention of persons without due process, unlimited incarceration and habeas corpus.’ I frequently had to remind myself that I was reading about the war between the states—not the War on Terror… Neff has included so much in this impressive and useful work… What he has done for legal scholarship in showing the modern relevance of meaningful legal history is deserving of high praise, and of an enthusiastic recommendation for it to be read, especially in governmental houses of justice.

    —Philip Kemp, Times Higher Education


  • 2010, Winner of the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History or Biography


  • Stephen C. Neff is Reader in Public International Law at the University of Edinburgh School of Law.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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