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Brian McGinty and Archy Lee.jpg

Brian McGinty is an attorney, writer, and historian with a special interest in American history and law. He is the author of thirteen published books and 200 articles that have appeared in popular magazines and scholarly journals.

His last book is Lincoln and California: The President, the War, and the Golden State. It describes the long overlooked ties that bound Lincoln to California, and California to Lincoln, and details his important relationship with the Western state both before and during the war. It was published in 2023 by Potomac Books, a division of the University of Nebraska Press.

His previous two books relate to the heroic struggle of African Americans to achieve liberty during the nineteenth century. The Rest I will Kill: William Tillman and the Unforgettable Story of How a Free Black Man Refused to Become a Slave, was published by Liveright/W.W. Norton in 2016. Archy Lee’s Struggle for Freedom: The True Story of California Gold, the Nation’s Tragic March toward Civil War, and a Young Black Man’s Fight for Liberty was published by Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield in 2019. 


Three of McGinty’s previous books describe other important chapters in Abraham Lincoln’s life and career, both as a practicing lawyer in Illinois and as the embattled president of the United States during the Civil War. Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America, describes Lincoln’s participation in a hotly contested pre-Civil War trial that made it possible for the first railroad to cross the Mississippi River. It was published by Liveright/W.W. Norton in 2015. Lincoln and the Court discusses Abraham Lincoln’s difficult but critically important relations with the Supreme Court during the Civil War. It was published by Harvard University Press in 2008.

McGinty is also the author of a complete magazine issue that was published by American History Illustrated in the summer of 1987. Titled “We the People: A Special Issue Commemorating the Two-Hundredth Anniversary of the U. S. Constitution,” it appeared with a foreword by retired United States Chief Justice Warren Burger, then serving as leader of the U.S. Constitution Bicentennial celebration.


McGinty’s work has been praised by critics and reviewers. James M. McPherson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, Tried by War, and many other books, has written that Lincoln’s Greatest Case “ highlights the role of Abraham Lincoln in assuring the superiority of railroad transport over river navigation in the nation’s development but also how the case gave a boost to Lincoln’s career both as a lawyer and as a political leader.” Harold Holzer, prolific Lincoln historian, president of the Abraham Lincoln Forum, and winner of the prestigious Lincoln Prize, has written that Lincoln’s Greatest Case “has provided the definitive account of a crucial episode in Abraham Lincoln’s career as an attorney. . . Americans will find this book absolutely essential.” Michael Burlingame, distinguished Lincoln biographer and president of the Abraham Lincoln Association, has written about Lincoln’s Greatest Case: “Of the 5,000 plus. cases in which attorney Abraham Lincoln participated, none had more national significance than the one that Brian McGinty so ably describes and analyzes in this highly readable volume.”


Frank J. Williams, distinguished Lincoln scholar. former Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and founder of the Lincoln Forum, has described The Body of John Merryman: Abraham Lincoln and the Suspension of Habeas Corpusas as an “original, comprehensive, and well-written narrative about the first constitutional crisis pitting Abraham Lincoln against Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.” Mark E. Steiner, accomplished Lincoln scholar, author of An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, and professor of law at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas, has written of Lincoln’s Greatest Case: “McGinty has written the definitive account of the Effie Afton case by not only skillfully explaining the lawsuit but also establishing its wider significance. . . . The fifth chapter does a masterful job of describing the collision itself.” John D. Gordan, III, practicing attorney in New York City, distinguished legal scholar and historian, has written that “McGinty’s talents as a litigator and relentless researcher, coupled with his ability to recognize trials of interest, are well displayed in The Rest I Will Kill. . . . Aspects of this book are of particular importance to those interested in the history of the southern district of New York.” 


And Paul Finkelman, prolific and noted scholar of American legal history, has written: “Brian McGinty is an enormously talented storyteller and historian. He has a journalist’s sense of how to ferret out facts and stories and weave them together. His book, Archy Lee’s Struggle for Freedom, . . . is a fun book with a great California story. But it has three important messages. First, it shows that human freedom and dignity really do matter, and in the late 1850s a significant number of Californians, white and black, were willing to take risks to preserve the liberty of an 18-year-old man they did not know. Second, it reminds us that who sits on the courts matters and matters a great deal. Finally, the story reminds us that tenacious lawyers and community activists can team up to protect liberty and defeat tyranny.”


McGinty’s awards include the 2009 Scribes Book Award of the American Society of Legal Writers, issued for John Brown’s Trial; the Book One Arizona designation for 2008 and 2009, issued by the Arizona State Library, for McGinty’s The Oatman Massacre: A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival; the Editor’s Award for Historical Scholarship issued by the Sonoma County Historical Society for Strong Wine: The Life and Legend of Agoston Haraszthy; and the Excellence in Writing Award issued by the National Historical Society for his article titled “Friend of the Wilderness: John Muir,” which was published in American History Illustrated in July 1977.

McGinty received an A.B. in American history from the University of California in Berkeley and a J.D. from the same university’s Berkeley Law. He practiced law in trial and appellate courts at the state and federal level while beginning a long career of freelance writing. He has taught political science courses at a California college and been an editor and a writer for a large national legal publisher, where he participated in writing and editing practice books for lawyers all over the country.

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