Selected Other Writing
The Wall Street Journal published “A Story of Military Justice and Civil Rights,” in which Christian examines the experiences of black Union soldiers during the Civil War.
In another piece published by Forbes.com, “How A Supreme Court Precedent From 1837 Supports Uber’s Fight Against Taxi Monopolies,” Christian uses an 1837 Supreme Court case to provide context into the tension between innovation and old technology and draw historical parallels as to how people react to the fear of competition in the face of new business models.
Christian’s essay, “Thomas F. Meagher, Patrick R. Guiney and the Meaning of the Civil War for Irish America: the Questions of Nationalism, Citizenship, and Human Rights,” is accessible here for free and was published in a volume edited by Lorien Foote and Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai entitled So Conceived and So Dedicated: Intellectual Life in the Civil War Era North. In it, Christian examines how two Irish American leaders considered, and helped to shape, several threads within the transformation of American nationalism that took place during the Civil War era. Both men went further than simply urging devotion to the Union; they interpreted military service to that cause as a way for Irish Americans to claim fuller inclusion in the American people. As Christian shows, Meagher and Guiney point to a more nuanced possibility than is offered by most historians who debate whether Irish American service to the Union helped accelerate assimilation of their ethnic community into American society: fuller integration alongside maintenance of an ethnic and religious identity. As a part of this impulse, Meagher and Guiney envisioned a more robust and better defined concept of American national citizenship in law and practice, one that incorporated greater protection for naturalized citizens abroad and a stronger emphasis on human rights overall. Moreover, in the context of war, both men underwent a political transformation to espouse the ideals of the Republican Party regardless of the criticism aimed at them by some of their fellow Irish Americans for doing so. While Meagher died early in Reconstruction, Guiney revealed the depth to which he embraced Republican egalitarianism by serving as a vocal proponent of its principles during his postwar political career in Boston. Meagher and Guiney not only contributed to the Union by serving in its army but also by helping to interpret the ideological meaning of its victory.
In “The Civil War and American Law,” accessible here and published in The Cambridge History of the American Civil War edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Christian examines various aspects of legal development during the Civil War. These changes went beyond affirming the perpetuity of the Union and resolving the fate of slavery to involve an expansion of the borders and mechanics of state coercion during a time of crisis, a more robust role for the federal government in promoting economic development, and the formulation of a better defined understanding of national citizenship. Christian shows how an overarching theme emerges in Civil War legal development, even when specific components seem unrelated: the strengthening of the U.S. as a nation-state (meaning here something beyond maintenance of the territorial integrity of the U.S., critical though that was). The Civil War removed the one issue in U.S. history – slavery – so politically divisive it could rend the Union. Structural initiatives, such as railroad construction and banks, helped link markets and improve communications nationwide, and the end of slavery placed the entire reunified U.S. within the free labor ideology. While federalism remained important during the 1860s and remains so to this day, the federal government that emerged from the Civil War could play a greater role in shaping economic development (shifting the pendulum from the paradigm of the Jeffersonians and Jacksonian Democrats to the model of the Hamiltonians and Whigs) and safeguarding rights newly associated with national citizenship (in contrast to citizenship in the antebellum period, when states had much broader prerogatives to determine rights for people within their borders). Many of these events were unforeseen as of April 1861 and all of them were shaped by wartime circumstances, highlighting how legal development is influenced by politics, society, and other factors in ways that are not predetermined.
In “The Intersection between Military Justice and Equal Rights: Mutinies, Courts-martial, and Black Civil War Soldiers,” published in Civil War History, Christian uses a previously neglected source – courts-martial records – to examine how black soldiers vigorously refuted past lives as slaves now to claim rights as freedmen and citizens. Black mutineers sought to change laws which distinguished between white and black people and to bring ofﬁcial legal practices into conformity with their vision. Black soldiers turned the court-martial into an important way station on the road to freedom and citizenship, even where it punished those who violated military law. Besides revealing a surprising level of due process, general courts-martial records show the extent to which black soldiers situated themselves as American citizens by opposing discrimination, defying legal precedents that failed to acknowledge their equality, and advancing their interpretation of legal meanings and practices. Moreover, the experiences black troops, including many former slaves, had in courts-martial proceedings helped to shape their postwar agenda of legal change. Once in the courtroom, black soldiers encountered, often for the ﬁrst time, the concepts of the rule of law, equality before the law, and due process protection, all of which were very different from arbitrary discipline under slavery and on plantations. Courts-martial in the army provided black soldiers with an unexpected, and neglected, encounter with core ideas that helped inform their demands during Reconstruction for color-blind justice as a component of American citizenship and their sense that the law could serve as a bulwark to protect their newfound freedom and changed status. Christian also examines these topics in more detail in a chapter in his book, Becoming American under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era. You can read that chapter here for free.