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    Justice Curtis in the Civil War Era: At the Crossroads of American Constitutionalism

    Stuart Streichler

    Justice Curtis in the Civil War Era presents a constitutional history of the antebellum period, the Civil War, and Reconstruction by focusing on one of the nation’s most brilliant Supreme Court justices, Benjamin R. Curtis. In this period when the Constitution was radically transformed, Justice Curtis was at the center of constitutional crisis and conflict. Best known for dissenting in the Dred Scott case with a compelling argument in favor of African-American citizenship, Curtis also authored the Supreme Court’s first opinion on due process and the seminal Cooley opinion on the dormant commerce clause. Having resigned from the bench in the wake of the Dred Scott decision, Curtis during the war publicly challenged Lincoln’s conception of executive power and his presidential military tribunal system. As President Andrew Johnson’s lead attorney during the impeachment trial of 1868, Curtis delivered an opening argument which not only marked a turning point in the trial but also shaped the understanding of presidential impeachment. By tracing Curtis’s constitutional career, Justice Curtis in the Civil War Era explores the age of Civil War as a contest over American constitutionalism.


    “In this important new book, Stuart Streichler finally gives Benjamin Curtis the sustained scholarly attention he deserves and makes a persuasive case that we need both to rethink the traditional understanding of Curtis’s dissent [in the Dred Scott case] and to restore him as one of the leading constitutional thinkers of his era.... a nuanced and original analysis of the different opinions in Dred Scott.... If only to better understand the meaning and dynamics of Scott v. Sandford, there has long been a need for a biography of Benjamin Curtis. Not only has Streichler admirably met this need, he has also successfully made Curtis an essential part of the discussion of constitutional thought and interpretation in the era of the Civil War.”
    — Daniel W. Hamilton, Journal of Southern History

    “Excellent.”
    — Henry J. Abraham, Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia

    “Stuart Streichler's Justice Curtis in the Civil War Era is an excellent work best suited for specialists in U.S. constitutional history.… Given that no book-length study of Curtis previously existed, Justice Curtis is a welcome edition, especially since it adds considerable insight into the evolving nature of nineteenth-century constitutional history.”
    — Robert Saunders, Jr., American Journal of Legal History

    “A graceful and rewarding study of jurisprudence-in-action, making this one of those rare books that sits comfortably both in the research library and on the nightstand.... A fascinating story. Streichler’s prose is fluid, and he is particularly deft at explaining difficult legal concepts in plain English. Anyone wishing to understand more about the transforming power of the Civil War era on American constitutional thought and practice will benefit from reading this book.... A first-rate work on an important figure.”
    H. Robert Baker, H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences

    “Relating the law in action to the underlying ideas and wider social context, Streichler’s [Justice Curtis] is a model study of the American legal mind at work.”
    — Tony A. Freyer, University of Alabama

    “Stuart Streichler has now provided a comprehensive, readable, and sympathetic biography of Justice Curtis that masterfully fills that gap and hopefully will bring new attention to this important nineteenth-century figure.… Curtis had a long and complicated career debating the meaning and implications of the Constitution, and Streichler provides a welcome introduction to those debates and Curtis's role in them.”
    — Keith E. Whittington, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

    “Curtis was an extremely important political and legal figure during the nineteenth century, yet he remarkably lacks a serious biography.... Professor Streichler does a first-rate job. No need exists for a further biography.”
    — Mark Graber, University of Maryland

    “The depth and breadth of Streichler's research is impressive, and his dedication to use of original documents is a testament to the efforts he put into this work.… The chapter dedicated to Curtis's defense of Andrew Johnson during his impeachment trial should be required reading for students of American Politics or the presidency.”
    — Tobias T. Gibson, Law & Politics Book Review

    “Clear and engaging writing style…. A remarkable grasp of the meaning and the implications of Curtis' own work.”
    Michael C. Berheide, Civil War Book Review

    “An excellent book. Professor Streichler writes with a clarity and occasional wit not always found in academics’ prose.”
    — Robert J. Muldoon Jr., Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

    A “wonderfully clear and cogent intellectual history of Curtis’s legal legacy.”
    — R. Owen Williams, Chicago-Kent Law Review