Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Ex parte Milligan"

Last night I went to work polishing the Documenting America files I will need to do the marketing. I took another look at the query letter--probably the 50th time--and couldn't find a word to change. Then I pulled out the critique group comments for #0006, and went through them. I had already gone through the critique group comments for the query letter and #0001.

Some of the comments required that I double check the original document quoted in the column, to check for errors, and to make a better reference in two places. So I pulled the volume off the shelf at home and re-read it. The subject matter of this particular column was a Supreme Court decision in 1866. Designated "Ex parte Milligan", it was a decision that determined that trial by military court was inappropriate where civilian courts were functioning and where war was not present nor anticipated.

I hesitated, a couple of years ago, to choose this as a topic. Who am I to examine, extract, and comment on legal issues before our highest court? But I found the issue fascinating, studied it, and determined I could give a "layman's" view of it, and did. Today I decided to do just a little more research, and so Googled "ex parte Milligan". To my surprise this resulted in 28,800 hits. Yikes! This may be an obscure court decision for the layman, but obviously not for the legal professional. This once again caused fear of error to rear up. Layman or not, I'd better be sure I know what I'm talking about for the limited commentary in the column.

As I did this work last night, I skimmed through the table of contents of the volume and found other documents that appear good items for future columns. I read one of them, marking with pencil the parts I will likely quote. Two or three others I marked for columns based on the topic and a very quick scanning of the text.

All of this, between yesterday and today, took about two hours. Two very enjoyable hours. Two hours where I felt I was in my element. Two hours where I was able to stick to business, not including some time dreaming of success in this endeavor.

Ever closer, ever closer.

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