Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Book Talk: "Treason on Trial: The United States v. Jefferson Davis" by Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, University of Texas at Austin (History Faculty New Book Talk)

Tue, February 11, 2020 | GAR 4.100

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM

The History Faculty New Book Series presents:

Treason on Trial: The United States v. Jefferson Davis
(LSU Press Press, 2019)

A book talk and discussion with

Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, Attorney, Ph.D.
Lecturer in the Department of History
University of Texas at Austin

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, federal officials captured, imprisoned, and indicted Jefferson Davis for treason. He faced execution if found guilty for his role in levying war against the United States. Although the federal government pursued the charges for over four years, the case never went to trial. Most historical analyses of the case focus on interpreting the political reasons why that happened by analyzing the reasons in the broadest national contours. According to Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, these global assessments, while important, do not attempt to discern how the lives and experiences of those individuals responsible for either prosecuting or defending Davis, or those with a direct interest in the outcome, influenced the handling of the case. He argues that while national politics had a role in the direction of the case, it was the actions and decisions of lesser-known men and women that ultimately were responsible for the failure to convict Davis. Treason on Trial: The United States v. Jefferson Davis focuses on precisely why that happened. 

"A Richmond grand jury indicted Jefferson Davis on charges of treason in May 1866 and set the trial date for the following month. Icenhauer-Ramirez brings a lawyer’s appreciation for legal maneuvering and a historian’s commitment to in-depth research to provide a compelling answer to the question, Why was Jefferson Davis never tried at all? Here is a vast cast of characters―President Johnson; members of Congress; justices of the Supreme Court; and Davis' wife, Varina, among many others―in a tale of personal loyalties, political ambitions, incompetent prosecution, and public-opinion manipulation. Icenhauer–Ramirez turns the treason prosecutions undertaken by the federal government into a story that will be of interest to historians, lawyers, and anyone who appreciates a fascinating story with twists and turns."
―Jacqueline Jones, author of Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War

"It takes a lawyer to talk intelligently about a great trial, and Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez is not only that but a dogged researcher and a skillful writer. His account of the Jefferson Davis treason trial―which ought to have been 'the trial of the century' but wasn't― is as absorbing a Civil War story as any battlefield narrative. The outstanding characters― Varina Davis, Charles O'Conor, William Maxwell Evarts, Salmon Chase, John C. Underwood― march vividly past, even as we gasp at the incompetence which allowed the most spectacular treason case since Aaron Burr to slip through the government's hands. Thorough in his judgments about the role of the Lost Cause, the 14th Amendment, and military tribunals, Icenhauer-Ramirez gives us an enthralling rendering of American law at its best and its worst.”
―Allen C. Guelzo, author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, and Reconstruction: A Concise History

Please RSVP to to reserve your seat and receive a copy of the reading selection to be discussed. This discussion is part of the IHS' History Faculty New Book Talk Series.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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