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Edmund M. Morgan Papers on the Drafting of the Uniform Code of Military Justice

Edmund M. Morgan Papers

As part of a statement read before a Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in 1949, Harvard Law School Professor Edmund M. Morgan stated that,

“We were convinced that a Code of Military Justice cannot ignore the military circumstance under which it must operate but we were equally determined that it must be designated to administer justice. We, therefore, aimed at providing functions for command and appropriate procedures for the administration of justice. We have done our best to strike a fair balance, and believe that we have given appropriate recognition of each factor."
Edmund M. Morgan Papers, 1925-1949, Paige Box 1, Volume VI, Folder 22, Digital Image Sequence 4884.

The “we” mentioned in Professor Morgan’s statement were the members of the Committee on a Uniform Code of Military Justice or CUCMJ, the formation of which acknowledged a need to improve administrative justice in the United States military.

Committee on a Uniform Code of Military Justice

Established in 1948 by the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, the Committee on a Uniform Code of Military Justice was charged with creating a single uniform code to replace the separate codes that existed for the Army and Navy. The new code would also apply to the recently created Air Force, as well as the Coast Guard and Marine Corps. A key element of any new code would be to address court martial procedures that heavily favored commanders and neglected individual service personnel. Professor Morgan served as chair for the committee.

The resulting code, formally known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was signed into law by President Truman on May 5, 1950, and it did include expanded rights for service personnel, including the adoption of some civilian procedures. Prominent among the new procedures was the establishment of the Court of Military Appeals as a civilian court. Also, individuals were accorded the right to representation by a qualified attorney – a seemingly fundamental right that today is taken for granted by most citizens, but in 1950 this represented a significant break from nearly 200 years of traditional military justice.

Edmund M. Morgan Papers

Professor Morgan donated material he collected while chair of the CUCMJ to the Harvard Law School Library in 1950. These papers are now part of the Edmund M. Morgan Papers held by the Law School, which also include material relating to Morgan's service as chief reporter for the American Law Institute's Model Code of Evidence, his membership of the Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Rules for Civil Procedure, and work as chairman of the War Shipping Panel of National War Labor Board. Also included are teaching notes, student theses, and other papers from his career at Harvard Law School.

The digitization of the CUCMJ materials contained in the Morgan Papers is a joint project of the Harvard Law School Library, The Judge Advocate General's School Library, and the Library of Congress. Researchers interested in military law may be interested in the the Military Legal Resources site hosted by the Library of Congress.

Image credit: Detail, Edmund M. Morgan Papers, 1925-1949, Paige Box 1, Volume III, Folder 19, Digital Image Sequence 1536. Harvard Law School Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

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