Professor Witt Awarded ABA Silver Gavel Award for Lincoln’s Code

John Fabian Witt ’99, Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law, has been awarded the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for his book, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History.

The Silver Gavel Awards, the highest honor presented by the ABA, have been given annually since 1958 to recognize exemplary works in media and the arts that foster the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system.

Lincoln's Code (Free Press, September, 2012) charts the alternately troubled and triumphant course of the development of the laws of war in America, from the Founding to the cataclysm of the Civil War and on to the dawn of the modern era. The book was released during the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and is based on extensive original archival research. Professor Witt is the first historian to tell the surprising story of how slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation helped shape the modern laws of armed conflict, and how a code of 157 rules issued by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War became the basis for the rules established in the Geneva Conventions and for today’s internationally accepted laws of war.

Lincoln’s Code has received numerous awards since its publication last year, including the Bancroft Prize for distinguished work in American history and the Willard Hurst Book Prize of the Law and Society Association. Professor Witt was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. The book was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2012; a Kirkus Books Best of 2012; and was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice.

This year, the ABA will present four Silver Gavels and four Honorable Mentions among nearly 150 entries received. A ceremony will take place in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. 

Professor Witt teaches American Legal History and History of the Laws of War at Yale Law School. He is also a Professor of History at Yale University and a Guggenheim Fellow. He is the author of two previous books: Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007), and The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004), which was awarded book prizes by the Harvard Press Board of Syndics, the American Society for Legal History, and the Law and Society Association.