John Fabian Witt
Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law
(on leave, spring 2016)
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. His most recent book, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, was awarded the 2013 Bancroft Prize, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was selected for the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book for 2012.FULL BIOGRAPHY
John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. His most recent book Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History was awarded the 2013 Bancroft Prize, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was selected for the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book for 2012. Professor Witt is currently writing the story of the men and women behind the Garland Fund: the 1920s foundation that quietly financed the efforts that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education. He is finishing a casebook, Torts: Cases, Principles, and Institutions, forthcoming with CALI, and co-editing a scholarly edition of a lost nineteenth-century manuscript on martial law, tentatively titled To Save the Country: A Lost Manuscript of the Civil War Constitution (with Will Smiley).
Previous writing includes Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007), and the prizewinning book, The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004), as well as articles in the American Historical Review, the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, and other scholarly journals. He has written for the New York Times, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. In 2010 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his project on the laws of war in American history. Professor Witt is a graduate of Yale Law School and Yale College and he holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as law clerk to Judge Pierre N. Leval on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, has elected Yale Law School Professors George L. Priest and John Fabian Witt ’99 to its 2014 Class of Members.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Professor John Fabian Witt has been awarded the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for his book, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Professors John Fabian Witt ‘99 and James Oakes will discuss their new works about the Civil War and emancipation on Monday, April 8, 2013.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Professor John Fabian Witt '99 is the recipient of the 2013 Bancroft Prize from Columbia University for his recent book.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Professor John Witt’s book, Lincoln’s Code, and Professor Akhil Amar’s book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, have been named notable books of 2012 by two top newspapers.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Professor Witt’s Lincoln’s Code Released as Country Celebrates 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation
In his new book, Lincoln’s Code, Professor John Fabian Witt ’99 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.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
John Fabian Witt ’99 will present his inaugural lecture as the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law on February 28, 2011.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Douglas Kysar has been named the Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale Law School, and John Fabian Witt ’99 has been named the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law.
Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (The Free Press, 2012)
ABA Silver Gavel Award
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History
Littleton-Griswold Prize from the American Historical Association
John Phillip Reid Prize from the American Society for Legal History
J. Willard Hurst Award for the Best Work in Sociolegal Legal History
New York Times Notable Book for 2012
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction of 2012
Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007)
The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004)
William Nelson Cromwell Prize from the American Society for Legal History
J. Willard Hurst Book Prize from the Law and Society Association
Thomas J. Wilson Prize at Harvard University Press
Firestone Library Noteworthy Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics
Chinese edition, Lei Tian, trans., Shanghai Joint Publishing Co., 2008)
“Civil War Historians and the Laws of War,” 4 Journal of the Civil War Era 159 (2014)
"The Dismal History of the Laws of War," 1 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 895 (2012)
"War and Law in America," 115 American Historial Review 768 (2010)
“Form and Substance in the Law of Counterinsurgency Damages,” 41 Loyola Law Review 1455 (2008)
“The Metaphysics of Mind and the Practical Science of the Law,” 26 Law & History Review 161 (2008) (with Sarah A. Seo)
“Contingency, Immanence, and Inevitability in the History of Accident Law,” 1 Journal of Tort Law (no. 2, 2007)
“Empire and the Crisis of the Legal Frame (Will the Real British Empire Please Stand Up?),” 120 Harvard Law Review 754 (2007)
*Winner of The Green Bag’s “Exemplary legal writing” prize, 2007*
“Bureaucratic Legalism, American Style,” 56 DePaul Law Review 261 (2007)
“The Long History of State Constitutions and American Tort Law,” 36 Rutgers Law Journal 1159 (2005)
“The Internationalist Beginnings of American Civil Liberties,” 54 Duke Law Journal 697 (2004)
“The Inevitability of Aggregated Settlement: An Institutional Account of American Tort Law,” 57 Vanderbilt Law Review 1571 (2004) (with Samuel Issacharoff)
“Narrating Bankruptcy / Narrating Risk,” 98 Northwestern University Law Review 303 (2003)
“Speedy Fred Taylor and the Ironies of Enterprise Liability,” 103 Columbia Law Review 1 (2003)
“Toward a New History of American Accident Law: Classical Tort Law and the Cooperative First-Party Insurance Movement,” 114 Harvard Law Review 690 (2001)
“From Loss of Services to Loss of Support: The Wrongful Death Statutes, the Origins of Modern Tort Law, and the Making of the Nineteenth-Century Family,” 25 Law & Social Inquiry 717 (2000)
“Rethinking the Nineteenth-Century Employment Contract, Again,” 18 Law & History Review 627 (2000)
“Making the Fifth: The Constitutionalization of American Self-Incrimination Doctrine, 1791- 1903,” 77 Texas Law Review 825 (1999)
“The Transformation of Work and the Law of Workplace Accidents, 1842-1910,” 107 Yale Law Journal 1467 (1998)
“On Adopting a Posture of Moral Neutrality,” in Bradley Jay Strawser, ed., Opposing Perspectives on the Drone Debate (Palgrave, 2014)
“Two Conceptions of Suffering in War,” in Austin Sarat, ed., Knowing the Suffering of Others (University of Alabama, 2014)
"The Secret History of the Chief Justice's Obamacare Decision," in Persily, Metzger, & Morrison eds., The Health Care Case (Oxford University Press, 2013)
"The Political Economy of Pain: An Essay from the Archives in Honor of William E. Nelson," in volume in honor of William E. Nelson (Bernstein & Hulsebosch eds., forthcoming)
"The Social Histories of International Law," in William Dodge, Michael Ramsay & David Sloss, eds., The U.S. Supreme Court and International Law: Continuity or Change? (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
“Obama, the Least Lame President?,” New York Times, December 21, 2014
"Debunking A Progressive Constitutional Myth; or, How Corporations Became People, Too," Balkinization Blog, November 15, 2012
"Freedom and Restraint," New York Times, September 21, 2012
"The Secret History of the Chief Justice's Obamacare Decision," Balkinization Blog, June 29, 2012
"The Legal Fog Between War and Peace," New York Times, June 10, 2012
"All Things Considered on Corporate Personhood," National Public Radio, October 24, 2011 http://www.npr.org/2011/10/24/141663195/what-is-the-basis-for-corporate-personhood
"Lincoln's Laws of War," Slate, February 11, 2009
"History Lesson Ye Olde Gitmo," Slate, December 9, 2008
“A Declaration the President Ignores,” Washington Post, July 4, 2007
“First, Rename All the Lawyers,” New York Times, October 24, 2006
“Tactical Withdrawal: The Easy Way Out for the Supreme Court on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’” Slate, December 5, 2005 (with Ariela R. Dubler)
“Can Chinese Industry Be Made Safe?,” The Korea Herald, May 8, 2004; The Pakistan Daily Times, May 8, 2004; The Jakarta Post, May 8, 2004; Taipei Times, May 10, 2004; The Singapore Straits Times, May 7, 2004; The Bangkok Post (May 8, 2004)
ENTRIES, SHORT REVIEWS, ETC.
Review of Stacy Pratt McDermott, The Jury in Lincoln’s America (Ohio University Press, 2012), in Journal of American History (2014) 100 (4): 1201-1202
Review of Jamie Bronstein, Caught in the Machinery: Workplace Accidents and Injured Workers in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford 2008), in British Journal of Sociology (June 2011)
Review of Kal Raustiala, Does the Constitution Follow the Flag? (Princeton, 2009), 28 Law & History Review 569 (2010)
Review of Kenneth S. Abraham, The Liability Century: Torts and Insurance from the Progressive Era to 9/11, in Law & History Review (Fall 2009)
Review of Sally H. Clarke, Trust and Power: Consumers, the Modern Corporation, and the Making of the United States Automobile Market, in Law & History Review (Fall 2009)
“Tort Law,” in The Encyclopedia of Legal History (Oxford University Press, 2009)
“Elias Hill,” in African American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Review of Laura Kalman, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations (University of North Carolina Press, 2005), in New England Quarterly, September, 2006, pp. 347-49
“Bureaucratic Legalism, American Style: Private Bureaucratic Legalism and The Governance of Tort System,” 56 DePaul Law Review 261 (2006)
“Internationalism and the Dilemmas of Strategic Patriotism,” 41 Tulsa Law Review 787 (2006)
“Workers’ Compensation,” in Eric Arnesen et al. eds., Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working- Class History (Routledge, 2007) (with Jean-Denis Grèze)
Review of George I. Lovell, Legislative Deferrals: Statutory Ambiguity, Judicial Power, and American Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2003), in 45 Labor History 390-92 (2004)
“Lessons from History: State Constitutions, American Tort Law, and the Medical Malpractice Crisis,” Pew Charitable Trusts Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania (March 2004)
“The Federal Employers’ Liability Act,” in Major Acts in Congress (Macmillan Publishers 2003)
PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS
“Slavery and the Laws of War,” New York Historical Society Seminar, New York, Sept. 19-Oct. 24, 2014.
“What is Law?” Yale Law School New Students Orientation, New Haven, CT, August 27, 2014.
“Lincoln’s Code,” Yale Law School Alumni, Miami, FL, June 5, 2014.
“Neutrality’s Discontents: International Law and Its History,” History of International Law Workshop, Columbia University, New York, May 26, 2014.
“Lincoln and the JAGS: The Origins of the Modern Laws of War,” United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Washington, DC, May 21, 2014.
“Two Humanitarianisms,” Yale Law School Faculty Workshop, New Haven, CT, April 28, 2014.
“Lincoln’s Code,” Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA March 13-15, 2014.
“From Gettysburg to Guantanamo: 150 Years of the Lieber Code, Columbia Law School, New York, NY Nov. 21, 2013.
Chair, “Civil Liberties Law and the Administrative State,1930-1950,” American Society for Legal Historians Annual Conference, Miami, FL, Nov. 8-9, 2013.
“Lincoln’s Code and the Laws of War,” The Lincoln Forum Annual Symposium, Gettysburg, PA, Nov. 8, 2013.
Keynote Address, Southern Historical Society Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO, Nov. 1, 2013.
“Constructing the Story of the Union Blockade, 1861-1865: A Case Study in the Tactical Utility of International Law,” Engaging the Writings of Martti Koskenniemi 2013 Laura H. Carnell Chair Workshop, Temple University, April 12, 2013.
“Lincoln’s Code,” Library of Congress Center for the Book, Washington, DC, April 9, 2013.
“Lincoln’s Code,” International Security Studies and Grand Strategy Lecture, Yale University, April 2, 2013.
“Two Conceptions of Suffering in War,” Fordham Law School Faculty Workshop, January 17, 2013.
“Two Conceptions of Suffering in the Laws of War," Harvard Law School International Law Workshop, November 1, 2012.
“Emancipation's Hidden Legacy: Lincoln and the Laws of War,” Proclaiming Emancipation Symposium, University of Michigan, October 26, 2012.
“Sherman at Atlanta: The Moral Structure of the Laws of War,” Project on War and Security in Law, Culture and Society, Emory University School of Law, October 22, 2012.
"Lincoln's Code," International Criminal Law Colloquium, Columbia Law School, New York, NY, October 5, 2012.
“Lincoln in Afghanistan: The Laws of War and Emancipation's Global Legacy," Sealy Lecture, University of Texas School of Law, , Austin, TX, October 1, 2012.
"The Great Playground Debate: Tort Law and the American Playground," Yale Law School, New Haven, CT, September 21, 2012.
"Connecting Foreign Relations and Domestic Law in the Early Republic," Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Meeting, Hartford, CT, June 29, 2012.
“Two Humanitarianisms,” University of Alabama Law School, March 30, 2012
“Legacies of the Civil War,” David Brion Davis Lecture, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Yale University, March 29, 2012
“Symposium on G. Edward White,” Law in American History, University of Virginia Law School, Feb. 27, 2012
“Schools of Misrule,” debate with Walter Olson, Yale Law School Federalist Society, Feb. 22, 2012
“Lincoln’s Code,” Columbia Human Rights Law Seminar, Feb. 21, 2012
“Lincoln’s Code,” Stanford Law School Legal History Colloquium, Feb. 6, 2012
“Francis Lieber and the Laws of War,” University of Connecticut School of Law Faculty Workshop, Jan. 25, 2012
“Emancipation and the Laws of War,” American Association of Law Schools, Jan. 7, 2012
“The Origins of the Modern Laws of War,” Yale Law School Annual Meeting at the American Association of Law Schools, Jan. 5, 2012
“Francis Lieber, Abraham Lincoln, and the Laws of War,” Yale International History Conference, Nov. 29, 2011
“Drones and Targeted Killings,” Yale Law School Federalist Society, Nov. 16, 2011
“Prosecuting Terrorists: Military Commissions,” Yale Law School American Constitution Society, New Haven, Connecticut, September 28, 2011 (with Gene Fidell)
“The Civil War and the Law of War,” American Society for International Law, Washington, DC, May 18, 2011
“Rules of Wrong: The Crime-War Boundary and the American Invention of the War Crime, 1815-1848,” Stanford Law School Legal Studies Seminar, “April 7, 2011
“Inventing the War Crime,” Zocalo Public Square, Los Angeles, California, March 14, 2011
“Lincoln’s Code: The Puzzling History of the Laws of War,” Harvard Law School Legal History Workshop, March 3, 2011
“Lincoln’s Code: The Puzzling History of the Laws of War,” Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Inaugural Lecture, February 28, 2011
“Emancipation and the Laws of War,” Princeton University Politics Department, February 10, 2011
“Balancing Acts: 20th Century Democracies and Respect for the Law,” American Society for Legal History annual meeting in Philadelphia, November 19, 2010
“A False Feeling of Mercy: The Laws of War in the Age of Jackson,” University of Michigan Law School, November 8, 2010
“The Future of Gun Control,” Yale Law School Federalist Society, October 2010
“Reflections on the Laws of War in American History,” University of California at Irvine, April 2010
“The Political Economy of Pain,” Conference in Honor of William E. Nelson, NYU School of Law, May 2010
“The Constitution and the Economy,” Seminar at the New York Historical Society, co-leader with James Surowiecki, February to March 2010
“Powers of War and Peace: The Laws of War in Early America,” NYU Golieb History Colloquium, February 16, 2010
Moderator, The Medical Malpractice Debate, Yale Law School / American Constitution Society, December 7, 2009
“The Problem of International Law in America,” Yale Law School / American Constitution Society, December 1, 2009
“The Social Histories of International Law,” Santa Clara University, November 6, 2009
“Learned Puffendorffs and Jacksonian Soldiers: The Laws of War in American History,” Yale Human Rights Workshop, September 24, 2009
“Humanity in America,”
Harvard International Law Workshop, October 18, 2008
Yale Law School Faculty Workshop, October 2008
Cornell Public Law Workshop, April 2009
University of Chicago Legal History Workshop, April 2009
NYU Public Law Workshop, October 19, 2009
“Values and Assumptions in American Labor Law,” University of Buffalo, September, 2008
“The Political Economy of Pain,” The Common Good / Brookings conference on The Boundaries of Litigation, April 12, 2008
“The Law of Counterinsurgency Damages,” University of Chicago Public Law Workshop, April 8, 2008
Commentator, Alberico Gentili Conference, NYU School of Law, March 14, 2008
“The Law of Counterinsurgency Damages,” Loyola Law School conference on the Frontiers of Tort Law, January 2008
Patriots and Cosmopolitans, George Washington University, April 9, 2007
Patriots and Cosmopolitans, Fordham Law School Faculty Workshop, March 2007
Commentor, “Governing Globalism: The U.S. and the World,” American Society for Legal History, Baltimore, November 17, 2006
“The King and the Dean,” Boalt Hall Faculty Workshop, November, 2006
“The Law of the Erie Canal,” Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York, Buffalo, New York, October 4, 2006
“The Little Dictatorship of the Plaintiffs’ Lawyer: Rules of Law and the Rule of the Market in American Tort Law,” Clifford Symposium, Depaul University, April 2006
“The Organization of the American Plaintiffs’ Bar,” New York Law School Symposium on the Plaintiffs’ Bar, March 2006
“The King and the Dean: Melvin Belli, Roscoe Pound, and the Common Law Nation,” Yale Legal History Workshop, January 31, 2006
Commentor, “The Early History of the International Law of Occupation,” Columbia Center for International History, November 18, 2005
Columbia History Department Faculty-Graduate Seminar, December 1, 2006
University of California at Berkeley, November 8, 2006
Columbia Law School Faculty Paper Series, September 29, 2005
Stanford Law School Legal Theory Workshop, September 22, 2005
“Internationalism and the Dilemmas of Strategic Patriotism,” University of Tulsa Legal Scholarship Symposium honoring the work of Nadine Strossen, September 19, 2005
“The Pyramid and the Machine: James Wilson’s American Founding,” New York University School of Law Legal History Colloquium, August 31, 2005
“An Institutional Account of American Tort Law,” Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy, SUNY Buffalo, Mar. 25, 2005
“The Internationalist Beginnings of American Civil Liberties,” Yale Legal Theory Workshop, Jan. 27, 2005
New York Law School Workshop on “Master Trends in the Law,” November 16, 2004
Brooklyn Law School Mass Torts Series, November 22, 2004
Institute for Law and Economic Policy, Miami, April 24, 2004
New York City Torts Group Brown Bag Series, April 7, 2004
Columbia Law School Faculty Lunch Series, April 1, 2004
“State Constitutions and American Tort Law: A History,” Columbia Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper 04-67 (March 7, 2004)
“Add Women and Stir? The Internationalist Beginnings of American Civil Liberties,” National Women’s History Month Presentation to the Columbia Law Women’s Association, March 2004
Law & Society Association Meeting, Las Vegas, June 2005
American Society for Legal History Annual Conference, October 30, 2004
USC Legal Theory Workshop, October 2004
University of Texas Faculty Colloquium, September 2004
UCLA Law School Legal History Workshop, November 20, 2003
Columbia Law School Faculty Workshop, November 6, 2003
Brooklyn Law School Legal Theory Workshop, November 13, 2003
University of Kyoto, May 18, 2004
University of Tokyo, May 19, 2004
“The Passion of William Werner,” Harvard Law School Faculty Workshop, November 17, 2003
“The Accidental Republic: Contingency and Risk in the Making of American Accident Law,” American Society for Legal History, Washington, D.C., November 15, 2003
Participant in the Robert Levi Leadership Symposium on Compensation for Victims of Terrorism, Johns Hopkins University, November 13-14, 2003
“Some Thoughts on Interdisciplinary Legal Scholarship,” Law & Humanities Conference, Columbia Law School, June 1, 2003
“The Passion of William Werner,” University of Michigan Law School Legal History Workshop, March 28, 2003
“The Passion of William Werner,” Boston University Legal History Workshop, February 28, 2003
“An Evolutionary History of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund,” paper presented at the Insurance Section of the American Association of Law Schools annual meetings, January 2003
“From Free Labor to Actuarial Risk: Workmen’s Compensation and the Statistical Revolution in American Law,” paper presented at the American Society for Legal History, San Diego, November 2002
“Some Historical Thoughts on the Appearance of Distributive Justice in American Tort Law,” paper presented at “Law and the Disappearance of Class in Twentieth-Century America,” University of Pennsylvania Law School, November 2002
“Accidents and the Statistical Revolution in American Law,” paper presented to the Columbia Law School Society for Law and Ideas, November 2002
“The Passion of William Werner,” Columbia Law School Faculty Retreat, October 2002
“Workmen's Compensation and the Logics of Social Insurance,” Columbia Law School, Pub. Law Research Paper No. 02-41, April 2002, available at
“Workmen’s Compensation and the Logics of Social Insurance,” presented at the N.Y.U. Legal History Colloquium, April 2002
“Commentary on Douglas Hay, ‘Master and Servant in the British Empire,’” presented at the Columbia Law School Legal History Series, April 2002
“Accident Law, the Family Wage, and the Gendered Structure of the American Welfare State,” presented at the American Society for Legal History, Chicago, October 2001
Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S. Ct. 2229 (2008), Brief of Legal Historians as Amici Curiae
Ramroop v. Flex-Craft Printing, Inc., __ N.E.2d __ (N.Y. 2008), Brief of New York Labor and Employment Law Professors as Amici Curiae
FAIR v. Rumsfeld, 547 U.S. 47 (2006), Brief Amici Curiae of 56 Columbia Law School Faculty Members