The Limits of Sovereignty
Property Confiscation in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War
Americans take for granted that government does not have the right to permanently seize private property without just compensation. Yet for much of American history, such a view constituted the weaker side of an ongoing argument about government sovereignty and individual rights. What brought about this drastic shift in legal and political thought?
Daniel W. Hamilton locates that change in the crucible of the Civil War. In the early days of the war, Congress passed the First and Second Confiscation Acts, authorizing the Union to seize private property in the rebellious states of the Confederacy, and the Confederate Congress responded with the broader Sequestration Act. The competing acts fueled a fierce, sustained debate among legislators and lawyers about the principles underlying alternative ideas of private property and state power, a debate which by 1870 was increasingly dominated by today’s view of more limited government power.
Through its exploration of this little-studied consequence of the debates over confiscation during the Civil War, The Limits of Sovereignty will be essential to an understanding of the place of private property in American law and legal history.
“In The Limits of Sovereignty, Daniel Hamilton uses the mostly ignored debates over confiscation to explore the tensions between individual property rights and community rights throughout the nineteenth century. This is a wonderfully engaging and thoughtful book—one that I have learned much from.”--Alfred L. Brophy, University of Alabama Law School
“Clearly written and richly detailed, The Limits of Sovereignty demonstrates the crucial role debates over confiscation during the Civil War played in the construction of modern constitutional liberalism. This fascinating study will be of interest to specialists in American constitutional, legal, and political development, as well as to general readers wishing to learn about a vital, but often unexplored, episode of constitutional policy making during the Civil War.”--Mark A. Graber, University of Maryland
“Diverse combatants presently debate limiting government’s eminent domain power over private property. The debaters, and all of the readers of core Civil War–Reconstruction histories, should exploit Hamilton’s lucid inquiry into Lincoln-era property confiscation policies.”
“The Limits of Sovereignty makes an important contribution to the legal and constitutional history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Hamilton shows how debates over property confiscation in the Union, the Confederacy and in the Supreme Court raised fundamental questions of constitutional rights and civil liberties. This well-researched and well-written book provides new insights into how ideas of property and state power were debated and defined during the Civil War, with consequences that reach from Reconstruction to the present day.”-- Robert J. Kaczorowski, Fordham University School of Law
“A well written concise consideration of an important feature of the Civil War—first, the confiscation of enemy property by the Union sovereignty, and second, that of the so-called Confederacy during the Civil War. . . . An excellent introduction into one of the lesser known but signmificant legal aspects of the war."
“Hamilton has crafted an important advancement in the legal history of the era of the United States Civil War. . . . [The book] ought to find a place on the shelf of every serious scholar of the era, regardless of field."