Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gerard N. Magliocca's "American Founding Son"

Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He is the author of three books on constitutional law, and his work on Andrew Jackson was the subject of an hour-long program on C-Span’s Book TV.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Founding Son talks about John A. Bingham’s work as one of the prosecutors in the military trial of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators. Although Bingham is best known for his time in the House of Representatives, where he wrote the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, his role in the Lincoln assassination trial was the most controversial part of his career. Even though the accused were citizens and the District of Columbia had a civilian government, they were denied an ordinary criminal trial with a jury and many of the other protections of the Bill of Rights. This is ironic because Bingham would later be one of the leading champions of extending those fundamental rights to state criminal trials, which were not covered by the Bill of Rights at the time. Nevertheless, Bingham defended the military procedures applied to the alleged conspirators because he believed that the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process of law” was far more limited in wartime. All of the defendants were convicted and four of them were executed; a result that many historians still criticize. Here is an excerpt from Page 99:
Judge Advocate Holt took most of the witnesses during the trial, but Bingham gave the closing argument for the prosecution. It was a spellbinding performance that lasted two days, and one man in the courtroom stated that Bingham’s “invective burned and seared like hot iron. But when he touched upon the great and lovable qualities of the martyred Lincoln his lips would quiver with emotion, and his voice became as tender and reverent as if he were repeating the Lord’s Prayer.”
Learn more about American Founding Son at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue