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Professor John Fabian Witt ’99 awarded Bancroft Prize for Lincoln’s Code

Professor John Fabian Witt ’99, Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law, has been awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize by Columbia University for his book, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History. Winners were announced on March 18, 2013.

The Bancroft Prize is awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia University. Winners are judged in terms of the scope, significance, depth of research, and richness of interpretation they present in the areas of American history and diplomacy. It is considered one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history. This year, there were 223 books nominated that were considered for the 2013 prize. The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, will be presented at a dinner next month.

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, which was released during the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, 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. 

John Fabian 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. Witt previously taught at Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Professor Witt’s work has appeared in top publications, including The New York Times, Slate, the Harvard Law Review, and The Yale Law Journal. 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.