A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen's Rights, 1861-1866, is an account of how laws, policies and constitutional amendments defining and protecting the personal liberty and civil rights of the country's African American population were adopted during the Civil War. A study in legal and constitutional history, it complements and forms a necessary predicate to the social history of emancipation that is the principal focus of contemporary Civil War scholarship. The relevance of the legal dimension in the struggle for black freedom is attested by the observation that many slaves "learned the letter of the law so they could seemingly recite from memory" passages from congressional measures prohibiting the return of escaped slaves to disloyal owners and guaranteeing their personal liberty.
Herman Belz is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Maryland. He is the author of some fifty-six articles or chapters in books and nineteen essays, and he has served as consultant to the American Historical Association's Constitutional History in the Schools Project, National Endowment for the Humanities, Educational Testing Service, National Video Communications, Vision Associates, and the Carter Museum and Library. Professor Belz has won grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the American Bar Foundation for Legal History, among others. His first book was awarded the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association. He has served on numerous University of Maryland committees, was Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History, and was a member of the Campus Senate Executive Committee and a member of the Graduate Council. Professor Belz was a Visiting Research Scholar in the James Madison Program at Princeton University in the academic year 2001-2002 and was appointed to the National Council on the Humanities in 2005.