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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
3/1/2013 3:05:49 PM

Book Review: A Documentary History of the American Civil War Era, Vol. 1: Legislative Achievements


Mackey, Thomas C., ed., A Documentary History of the American Civil War Era, Vol. 1:  Legislative Achievements (Knoxville, Tenn.:  Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2012), 331 pp., ISBN: 1-57233-869-5, ISBN-13: 978-1-57233-869-2, $49.95 (hardcover)

Produced as part of the University of Tennessee Press’ “Voices of the Civil War” series, this volume is the first of a projected three-volume set compiling selected primary documents of the “Civil War era,” which covers a period ranging from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).  Each of the 51 document headings in the first volume, which focuses on legislative material, is introduced with an essay establishing a historical context for the document(s) contained therein.  Not surprisingly, by far the most prevalent source is the United States Statutes at Large.  Despite certain idiosyncratic editorial decisions and a few transcription errors in the primary documents, the first volume will prove a useful resource for historians of both legal and non-legal focus, and its value should increase once the remaining two volumes are released.

This first volume is intended to cover “Legislative Achievements”; the second, due out on April 15, “Political Arguments”; the third, release date to be announced, “Judicial Decisions.”  Given the stated organization, certain of the selections in this first volume may raise an eyebrow or two.  Excluding the presidential vetoes, which make sense in this context, there are three inclusions from the executive branch that pose a bit of a mystery, although one could say that two of them are quasi-legislative in character, and the third is combined with an act of the Kentucky House of Representatives.  Even so, this tends to make the set’s topical delineation a little counter-intuitive. 

As the introduction notes, the selection of documents “is not meant to be complete, just representative” (Mackey, supra, at xv).  Although the bulk of the selections have to do with the origins and conduct of the War and Reconstruction, with particular emphasis on civil rights, there are a couple of outliers as well—the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 and the National Banking Act of 1863, for example--which appear to have been included because of their long-term importance to modern American infrastructure.  Indeed, less than half of the selections actually occur during the Civil War, and, with a couple of exceptions, the volume disregards Confederate legislation.  The more extensive coverage is on the postwar period to 1878, with particular emphasis on the running battle between Andrew Johnson and the Republican Congress, culminating in Articles of Impeachment against the President in 1868.  I, for one, think this emphasis was an excellent decision, and, for the constitutional law scholar, the interplay between the Executive and Congress on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Reconstruction Acts, and the Freedmen’s Bureau Acts raises thorny issues echoed in the current Voting Rights Act debates—especially Johnson’s stated belief that there was no need for the legislation, and that it unfairly targeted Southern states. 

There are some very minor transcription errors, but they’re reasonably manageable with an application of context.  The work is also indexed well, although one or two items are placed out of chronological order—usually because paired with another document from an earlier date.  Ultimately, though, these don’t detract substantially from the work’s utility.

Overall, I found Mackey’s explanatory essays to be concise and informative.  The occasional repetition between them makes clear that this work isn’t intended primarily to be read cover-to-cover, but as a reference work for legal historians and political scientists.  The legal focus will also draw your constitutional law professors in, and I believe that the value of the selections will only increase when the other two volumes appear.  A preview of forthcoming content is even provided in the form of a chronology that lists all the primary documents in the set.  Whether your faculty’s field is civil rights, Con Law, or legal history, they should find this a convenient resource for primary source research into many of the laws that formed modern America.

David E. Matchen, Jr., is the Circulation/Reference Librarian at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and is trying his hand at fantasy baseball this season.

Posted By David Matchen at 3/1/2013 3:05:49 PM  0 Comments
2/26/2013 11:29:19 AM

The March Issue of Spectrum is Now Available on AALLNET

We hope you enjoy the articles from the latest issue of Spectrum and encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback using the "comments" link below!

Public Relations: Digital Signage
A new tool in your arsenal of knowledge
By Deborah Schander

How Can We Make Our Discovery Layer More User-Centric?
Using Banned Books Week to reconnect with our users
By Christine Korytnyk Dulaney

The "Social" Side of Law Libraries
How are libraries using and managing social media
By Ashley Ahlbrand

Request for Proposal: a Requirement for all Professionals
Using an RFP to select the best technology system for your library
By Richard Jost

Cheaper Online?
Our firm library's gradual move to all electronic
By LaJean Humphries

Attitude is Everything
Surveying the perceptions and attitudes of embedded law librarians
By Andrea Alexander and Jordan Jefferson

The Missing Link
Making research easier with linked citations
By Nick Harrell

From the Editor
Fresh Bread
By Mark E. Estes

From the President
2013-2016 Strategic Directions: Mission Based, Goal Oriented
By Jean M. Wenger

Washington Brief
Opening the Government
By Emily Feltren

The Reference Desk
I have been serving on the Executive Board of my regional association as secretary-treasurer, and it is almost expected that I run for vice president/president-elect. However, I am in the process of changing jobs. I am torn between my committment to my association and my responsibilities to my new employer. What steps should I take?
By Susan Catterall

Member to Member
When you are taking notes, do you prefer to use a computer, tablet, smart phone, or paper and pen? Why?

Views from You
A view of the Placer County Courthouse in Auburn, California, from the front porch of the Placer County Law Library

Posted By Ashley St. John at 2/26/2013 11:29:19 AM  0 Comments
TOPICS: spectrum
2/25/2013 3:46:57 PM

Book Review: The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking

David Brian Robertson, The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking. Oxford University Press 2013 (344 pages); $29.95, hardcover edition.

David Brian Robertson’s The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking is a valuable title for anybody interested in Constitutional Law, specifically the history of the United States Constitution.  Mr. Robertson examines the documents and proceedings from the Constitutional Convention and examines how the framers struggled with the creation of the United States government while maintaining state rights.  While the documents Mr. Robertson uses are available in other formats, he takes the time to assemble the information by subject, allowing the reader to fully follow the pertinent topic from initial proposal to its final form, rather than by chronological order.

While the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land, this title examines how the Constitution was actually created.  The author examines the disagreements, the arguments and the eventual compromises that led to the creation of this document.  Delegates from the thirteen (13) states each had the interests of their states in mind, as well as the interests of a unified government, and many times these interests did not mesh with the interests of the other delegates.  Delegates from the South wanted to ensure the continuance of slavery for their states, while states in the North had no interest in slavery and had more interest in ensuring their manufacturing and trade was protected.  Small states worried about larger states dominating Congress, while large states wanted to ensure proportional representation.  Some delegates wanted stronger federal control, while some delegates wanted to ensure that the state governments were not unnecessarily infringed upon.  In order to meet all these needs, the delegates participated in negotiation and compromise.  In some instances, the only solution was to let one of the government branches deal with the issue once they were in place.

The book spends a large section dealing with the creation of the federal government, analyzing the arguments on what the House of Representatives and Senate should be, who they should represent and how they should be elected.  The ideas discussed as far as Presidential elections, terms, succession (which led to the creation of the position of Vice President) and powers created equally heated discussion.  And while the creation of the Court did not create as much controversy as the other two branches, there was still much discussion and disagreement as to how the federal court system should operate.  Reading these sections of the book gives great insight into what our government could have looked like if just one or two states had been swayed in voting differently, and the evolution of what our government looks like today.

In the end, the delegates created the United States Constitution, “not the product of a careful plan, but rather the cumulative by-product of a sequence of political negotiations and compromises.” (page 232).  In fact, for many the document was apparently the lesser of all evils.  While some delegates pushed for a second Constitutional Convention, others refused feeling that nothing better could be created than what was already agreed upon; they believed a second Constitutional Convention would only lead to more disagreements, more questionable compromises and be no better than what was already created.  Feeling that the document they created was imperfect, the delegates ensured for the ability to amend the Constitution to solve any issues that may have been neglected.

Overall, this The Original Compromise gives a very insightful look at the creation of the United States Constitution.  Reading through the title provides the reader with many opportunities to ask “What if?” and consider how different our country could have been without the compromises these delegates made.  While questions persist today about this document, it is startling to see what type of questions existed at the time of its drafting and the questions even the framers had during its creation.

Paul D. Venard is reference librarian at University of Dayton's Zimmerman Law Library in Dayton, Ohio. 

Posted By Paul Venard at 2/25/2013 3:46:57 PM  0 Comments