McAdams and Corre on New Light on the Trial of Billy Budd

Richard H. McAdams, University of Chicago Law School, and Jacob Corre have published New Light on the Trial of Billy Budd as University of Chicago Public Law Working Paper No. 684. Here is the abstract. We add to the extensive literature on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor, with a careful inquiry into the legal questions it poses. Our ultimate position is that Captain Vere is neither clearly a hero nor clearly a villain. Instead, the novel embraces ambiguity by intentionally arming each side of the debate with considerable firepower, leaving readers with a quandary that would have been familiar to Herman Melville’s contemporaries, as it was parallel to the national debate over the 1842 case of the USS Somers, where the captain had ordered the summary execution of three suspected mutineers. In his influential writing on Billy Budd, Professor Richard Weisberg is correct to criticize what was, previous to him, an unreflective consensus valorizing Vere. However,…

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