This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is with John Fabian Witt on his new book Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History. Promulgated by President Lincoln in 1863 (General Order No. 100) and followed by the Union Army in the last two years of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Code, Witt argues, was tied to the Emancipation Proclamation and utilizing the newly freed slaves on behalf of the Union effort.
The code’s drafter, Francis Lieber, was a Prussian who was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo, who then came to America and taught at South Carolina College before arriving at Columbia College to teach at its law school. Fascinated by war, Lieber’s code of war was central to the war effort of the Federal army. Readers and listeners can obviously judge for themselves if that was a good thing or a bad thing. For starters, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous March to the Sea does not appear to run afoul of the code. Lieber’s code was widely adopted by European nations in the late 19th century, and subsequently formed the basis for the multilateral treaties on the conduct of war-making in the 20th century.