Is the United States, as an international actor, different from all other international actors? If so, how is it different? What makes it different? How does American sovereignty fit into a larger conception of international law? These questions go back to the beginning of the Republic, and they remain pressing today. Many have debated this question in terms of the legacy of the Founding. Some find in the Founding the seeds of multilateralism and perhaps even cosmopolitanism; others, rejecting this interpretation, advance a nationalist and unilateralist account of the Founding. But the Founding is not the whole story.
This Article argues that our answers to these questions need to account for the Civil War, when the question whether the United States would survive as the continuation of the tradition commenced in 1776 was answered through an unprecedented and, since then, unrepeated violent transformation. The state reconstructed through that war arguably became a new kind of creature in international law, radically different from the arrangements that governed the antebellum regime, thus re-conceiving American sovereignty and refashioning American practice of international law in the image conceived by Abraham Lincoln's rhetoric, statecraft, and worldview. In brief, Lincoln's achievement was to transform the plural United States from a sui generis institutional arrangement in the community of states into a singular nation-state performing a sui generis role in the community of states. In this new role, the United States would serve as an exemplar of a particular kind of society and the kind of person Lincoln thought normatively superior, a vehicle for the formation of a kind of person he believed made such a society possible, and perhaps even a force in the world for the progressive and universal realization of those ideals. Much as Lincoln's achievement was to refashion the American state, Lincoln's vision of American sovereignty made possible and necessary an entirely new approach to international law in which the American state re-defined its relation to the world.
Antonio F. Perez, Lincoln’s Legacy for American International Law, 28 EMORY INT’L L. REV. 167 (2014).