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A Matter of DisputeMorality, Democracy, and Law$
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Christopher J. Peters

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195387223

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195387223.001.0001

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Epilogue

Epilogue

The Limits of Law

Chapter:
(p.349) Epilogue
Source:
A Matter of Dispute
Author(s):

Christopher J. Peters (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195387223.003.0010

This short Epilogue parallels the Prologue by recalling another profound American crisis that raised the issue of official obedience to law: the Civil War, and in particular Lincoln's arguably unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus in the war's early days. The Prologue uses Lincoln's suspension of habeas to illustrate two basic points about the limits of legal authority. First, the law remains subject to morality: Sometimes the morally correct thing will be to disobey the law, and the best the law can do is provide strong reasons to consider and respect its commands in times of crisis. Second, the law is constrained by reality: Its success requires a deep level of consensus about basic substantive and procedural values and about the imperative to peacefully resolve disputes. That consensus will not exist always and everywhere, and it requires attention to social and cultural issues, not merely legal ones.

Keywords:   legal authority, Abraham Lincoln, American Civil War, habeas corpus, legal disobedience, social consensus, dispute resolution

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