Civil War Book Review: Federal Laws of the Reconstruction

Hosen, Frederick E. Federal Laws of the Reconstruction: Principal Congressional Acts and Resolutions, Presidential Proclamations, Speeches and Orders, and Other Legislative and Military Documents, 1862-1875. McFarland & Company, Inc. (April 2010). 206 pp., tables, appendices, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-0-7864-4668-1 $49.95 (Paperback).

Near the end of the Civil War and on into Reconstruction, many “battles” were fought in the courtroom, in the White House, and the halls of Congress to ensure, among other things, that newly freed slaves were given their proper rights, that the formerly seceded states came back into the Union in a way that was acceptable to the Radical Republicans, and that laws properly defined the terms of rebellion and covered the suspension of the writ of habeus corpus.  Frederick E. Hosen’s Federal Laws of the Reconstruction is a research book which covers laws directly and sometimes indirectly covering the Reconstruction period in America.

Frederick E. Hosen has compiled/written several books for McFarland & Company pertaining to laws of the United States, including books on the Great Depression and various Indian treaties and laws.  Unfortunately I could find little else on the compiler of this book, which turns out to be an important question later in this review.

The book consists of numerous Presidential Proclamations, Acts of Congress, military orders, and laws pertaining to various aspects of the Reconstruction.  Several of these documents are from the Civil War era, including the famous Emancipation Proclamation as well as laws dealing with pardons for former Confederates, the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and making the way smooth for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.  As the book moves into the Reconstruction years, various laws mention protecting the rights of former slaves, suspensions of the write of habeus corpus, laws dealing with areas still considered in rebellion, especially in South Carolina, and some military orders.

The first thing one notices about the book is the complete lack of interpretation and explanation provided.  The compiler (not an editor or author) simply collected these laws in one place and missed an opportunity to provide context as to why they were created, unintended consequences if any, and their ultimate effect on the Reconstruction process.  In addition, the book contains a bibliography with only five entries, and lacks any notes.  The book is clearly intended to be a research work but the documents are not sourced so interested readers can quickly find them elsewhere, either online or while doing further research in their own or other libraries.  This flaw makes the book less useful than it otherwise could have been.

Sine this book is a compilation of laws deemed important to Reconstruction, the quality of the choices falls mainly on the person doing the compiling.  As was mentioned earlier, other than doing several other compilations of laws for various time frames in United States History, it is unclear how and why Mr. Hosen is the best person for this task.  Please note that he very well may be eminently qualified, but the lack of information provided in the book and on McFarland’s web page leaves prospective buyers in the dark on that question.  Add to this the $50 price tag and the number of people who are both interested in and can afford this book will not be all that high.

Frederick E. Hosen’s Federal Laws of the Reconstruction is a compilation solely intended as a research volume.  Its lack of notes and failure to source the documents compiled is a serious flaw.  With that said, this book does provide those interested in the legal history of the Reconstruction period with the full text of many important laws from this era.  Those interested in this subject who can afford a $50 paperback will find some use from the book.

I would like to thank Beth Cox at McFarland & Company.

Editor’s Note: A copy of this book was provided gratis for the above review.


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