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The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, an authoritative story of the constitutional changes that built equality into the nation’s foundation. The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal, but it took the Civil War and the subsequent adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as American law. The Reconstruction amendmen From the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, an authoritative story of the constitutional changes that built equality into the nation’s foundation. The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal, but it took the Civil War and the subsequent adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as American law. The Reconstruction amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed due process and the equal protection of the law, and equipped black men with the right to vote. The federal government, not the states, was put in charge of enforcement. By grafting the principle of equality onto the Constitution, the amendments marked the second founding of the United States. Eric Foner’s rich, insightful history conveys the dramatic origins of these revolutionary amendments in citizen meetings and political negotiations. He explores the momentous court decisions that then narrowed and even nullified the rights guaranteed in these amendments. Today, issues of birthright citizenship, voting rights, due process, and equal protection are still in dispute, the ideal of equality yet to be achieved.


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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, an authoritative story of the constitutional changes that built equality into the nation’s foundation. The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal, but it took the Civil War and the subsequent adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as American law. The Reconstruction amendmen From the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, an authoritative story of the constitutional changes that built equality into the nation’s foundation. The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal, but it took the Civil War and the subsequent adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as American law. The Reconstruction amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed due process and the equal protection of the law, and equipped black men with the right to vote. The federal government, not the states, was put in charge of enforcement. By grafting the principle of equality onto the Constitution, the amendments marked the second founding of the United States. Eric Foner’s rich, insightful history conveys the dramatic origins of these revolutionary amendments in citizen meetings and political negotiations. He explores the momentous court decisions that then narrowed and even nullified the rights guaranteed in these amendments. Today, issues of birthright citizenship, voting rights, due process, and equal protection are still in dispute, the ideal of equality yet to be achieved.

30 review for The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    This is a book that will appeal to a narrow field of readers. While it is about the Reconstruction Period it is really about how the events of that era affected our Constitution and how the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments became necessary. The book then is really a Constitutional history that is shaped by the Civil War and the post war necessity of dealing with the consequences if emancipation. As I mentioned to a friend after reading this book it made me realize that, strange as This is a book that will appeal to a narrow field of readers. While it is about the Reconstruction Period it is really about how the events of that era affected our Constitution and how the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments became necessary. The book then is really a Constitutional history that is shaped by the Civil War and the post war necessity of dealing with the consequences if emancipation. As I mentioned to a friend after reading this book it made me realize that, strange as this may sound, the Civil War was a blessing. That war caused the upheaval of our society that made the passage of these amendments possible. Had there been no war and slavery died a natural death at the hands of industrialization we would probably have become an apartheid nation like South Africa and our race issues would be even worse than they are. It's something to think about and this book does layout the problems that Reconstruction had to deal with and the hoped for solutions that these three amendments would deliver. Sadly through poor drafting, politics, bigotry and a Supreme Court affected by all of these defects the hoped for solutions failed to achieve prompt meaningful success. The book is rather short for such a complex history and its issues. The book is 176 pages of text and 25 pages of notes but it is by no means a quick page turner. Since it is a constitutional history it will probably only be of interest to constitutional wonks (marginally guilty). It was very informative however and illustrated how the war and the post war event caused the transition from government dominated by states rights to a new era where the federal government became the central and key player. I found myself stopping a several places to contemplate alternative scenarios of how our history would have changed had certain things occurred or not occurred. It was during such moments that the realization of the Civil War's advantages became apparent. The war removed the obstructionism of the South and made possible the constitutional changes referred to in this book. Without the Civil War there would never have been a 14th Amendment and I shudder to think of all the advances that have been made because of that amendment. So if you are interested in reading about a very turbulent period of constitutional history then this is a book for you.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This is a great book by a great scholar on how the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment changed the political and cultural idea of the United States. I don't have a critique of the history or the book, but I disagree with the basic idea. I think the US should have scrapped the first constitution and should have just written up a new one that was not a big old concession to slavery. Sure, they gave freedmen the right to vote, but they kept the electoral college and the makeup of the senate etc etc ther This is a great book by a great scholar on how the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment changed the political and cultural idea of the United States. I don't have a critique of the history or the book, but I disagree with the basic idea. I think the US should have scrapped the first constitution and should have just written up a new one that was not a big old concession to slavery. Sure, they gave freedmen the right to vote, but they kept the electoral college and the makeup of the senate etc etc thereby ensuring that the slave states would continue to have too much influence on the future and the economy of the nation. The 13th-15th amendments were way too weak to change the trajectory of the country

  3. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    Eric Foner is known as "the expert" on Reconstruction. In this book, he expands that reputation to include the Civil War amendments. Thoroughly researched and intelligently written, this short book tells the story of the rocky road to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and how they have been interpreted. He turns particular attention to the Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the amendments, particularly during the 19th Century. Finding the Court, not really up to the job, he critici Eric Foner is known as "the expert" on Reconstruction. In this book, he expands that reputation to include the Civil War amendments. Thoroughly researched and intelligently written, this short book tells the story of the rocky road to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and how they have been interpreted. He turns particular attention to the Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the amendments, particularly during the 19th Century. Finding the Court, not really up to the job, he criticizes the decisions that for a long period of time, made them dead letters in the Constitution although he does single out Justice Harlan for being on the side of the angels (in most cases). Bowing to Southern Democrats, the Court wrote judgments that took away the protections guaranteed by the amendments. It wasn't until the Warren Court in the 1950's and 1960's that the issues were revisited and earlier bad decisions (like Plessey v. Ferguson) were overturned. That said, Foner posits that in recent years many of those protections have been turned back by the conservative court. Moreover, we still have a lot of work to do to realize the promise in the Declaration of Independence.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    We shouldn’t forget that the original United States Constitution, for all its brilliance, did explicitly condone the practice of slavery. For example, the “three-fifths compromise” counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating state representation in Congress, while Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 prohibited Congress from passing laws banning slavery until 1808. Additionally, Article 4, Section 2 states, in essence, that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners We shouldn’t forget that the original United States Constitution, for all its brilliance, did explicitly condone the practice of slavery. For example, the “three-fifths compromise” counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating state representation in Congress, while Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 prohibited Congress from passing laws banning slavery until 1808. Additionally, Article 4, Section 2 states, in essence, that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners in the original state from which they fled. In other words, the Constitution was far from perfect (luckily, it allowed for its own modification). And that’s why many historians consider the “second founding” during the Reconstruction era to be of equal or greater significance than the founding itself. The Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War saw the passage of three amendments that would forever transform politics in the US, both in terms of civil rights and in the balance of power between the federal government and the states. In “The Second Founding,” historian and Reconstruction expert Eric Foner tells the story of how these three amendments—the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth—together represent the foundation for the continuing struggle for universal rights. The abolition of slavery, birthright citizenship, equal protection under the laws, universal suffrage, and the Incorporation Doctrine (which forces the states to honor the Bill of Rights) are all the direct or indirect result of these three crucial amendments. And yet the “second founding” remains less well-known among the public than the first. This book is the remedy for that gap in public knowledge, and is invaluable for understanding not only the Reconstruction era but also the subsequent civil rights movements and the modern conservative attack on equality. Foner shows, for example, how talk of “state rights” has almost always been a cover for blatant discrimination. “State rights” has variously meant the right to enslave, the right to deny the vote to blacks and women, the right to violate the Bill of Rights, and the right to discriminate based on race and gender. As Foner wrote, “Before the war, for example, southern states adopted laws making criticism of slavery a crime without violating the First Amendment since these were state laws and not acts of Congress.” The real danger, in terms of rights violations, has always been greater within the individual states. This book can also act as a good inoculant against conservative rhetoric that hasn’t changed in at least 156 years. The reader will be amused to find the same state’s rights and reverse discrimination arguments throughout the book. Andrew Johnson, for example, in his opposition to the fourteenth amendment, said, “The distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored against the white race.” As Foner wrote, “In the idea that expanding the rights of nonwhites somehow punishes the white majority, the ghost of Andrew Johnson still haunts our discussions of race.” The underlying message of the book seems to be that any rights granted by the Constitution are worthless if not enforced. Constitutional rights can be ignored, distorted, or narrowly interpreted to deprive certain groups of equal protection and treatment under the law. But if we can’t even recognize when this is happening—and we don’t properly understand what the second founding was trying to accomplish—then we are all powerless to prevent a regression to discriminatory politics under the guise of “state’s rights,” “originalism,” and all the rest.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Dec. 2020 Review: I read this book around this time last year for my own personal pleasure. I decided to read it again because, with the issue of the paperback edition in August, I offered this book as an extra credit assignment to students in my American government classes. So, I figured that I should reread it in order to refamiliarize myself with Mr. Foner’s arguments. This is still a great work of legal and political history as Mr. Foner dives into the forces that gave birth to the Reconstruc Dec. 2020 Review: I read this book around this time last year for my own personal pleasure. I decided to read it again because, with the issue of the paperback edition in August, I offered this book as an extra credit assignment to students in my American government classes. So, I figured that I should reread it in order to refamiliarize myself with Mr. Foner’s arguments. This is still a great work of legal and political history as Mr. Foner dives into the forces that gave birth to the Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution and how by the early 20th century much of what these amendments was intended to do was ignored or subverted by the Supreme Court. While this book is relatively short, it is not an easy read, as I mentioned in my review from last year. Mr. Foner’s language is dense and, occasionally, impenetrable. Despite that, this book is incredibly valuable to understanding the intent of the authors of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and how looking at that history can provide new avenues for expanding the reach and protection of civil rights in the 21st century. As this past summer’s racial reckoning showed us, America has a long way to go in order to get rid of the “badges and incidents” of slavery and achieve the racially egalitarian society that the Reconstruction Amendment authors, as well as millions of former slaves, dreamed of. This is a valuable supplement to any history of the Reconstruction period in American history. Dec. 2019 Review: As the United States is once again engaged in a struggle for race-consciousness and democratic renewal, historians have turned their gaze to the little known and little understood period of Reconstruction. The period from 1865-1877, roughly, birthed three new amendments to the Constitution, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. In this new work by the leading historian on Reconstruction, Mr. Foner examines the history behind the creation, ratification, and legal legacy of the Reconstruction amendments and makes the argument that their intent was far more expansive than anyone, particularly the justices, past and present, of the Supreme Court, have ever dared to believe. The end of the Civil War raised a series of questions regarding the relationship between the federal government and the states, between the government and its citizens, and between white and black citizens themselves. The 13th amendment officially ended slavery in America, but Mr. Foner notes that section 2 of the amendment, which gives Congress the power to enforce the the amendment through legislation, fundamentally altered the previous federal system the country operated under. Mr. Foner notes that the Due Process clause of the 14th amendment has had long reaching consequences for Americans' civil rights, but notes how the authors of the amendment thought the Privileges and Immunities clause could be more far-reaching. And Mr. Foner notes how the 15th amendment protection of African-American mens' right to vote could have been much stronger had the politics of the time been much different. Through all of this, Mr. Foner notes the multifaceted debates that surrounded all of these amendments and how, like the story of Reconstruction as a whole, the Supreme Court's retreat from fully implementing these amendments, even working to outright nullify them at times, still lingers over the country today, like a malevolent shadow. While this book is a relatively short read at approximately 170+ narrative pages, this is by no means an easy read. Like a good historian, Mr. Foner gets into the weeds of congressional debate, lawmaking, and jurisprudence. This makes for an incredibly complicated reading experience, especially as there are no subtitles in the chapters to help orientate the different subjects Mr. Foner covers. That, more than anything, would've been extremely helpful in following along with his arguments. Still, this is an incredibly important work of political and legal history coming at just the right time to help us better understand the true history of such a maligned historical period as Reconstruction and how, in the country's ongoing quest to overcome our shared legacy of slavery, racism, and inequality, a better understanding of the past can help us better our circumstances in the present. While the complicated debates described in this book can be daunting, this is a work of history that should be read by all historians, legal scholars, judges, politicians, and lovers of American history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    A good solid overview of the Reconstruction amendments. The author argues that the battles begun in the nineteenth century are still being fought today. And I agree with him. Prejudice and discrimination are still immense forces of darkness in the modern world. All we can do as a people is fight for what we believe in and not become complacent in regards to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. A very thought provoking effort, and one worthy of your time. A good solid overview of the Reconstruction amendments. The author argues that the battles begun in the nineteenth century are still being fought today. And I agree with him. Prejudice and discrimination are still immense forces of darkness in the modern world. All we can do as a people is fight for what we believe in and not become complacent in regards to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. A very thought provoking effort, and one worthy of your time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Donald Powell

    History is so important. I wish more people would spend more time learning, discussing and making decisions based upon our own, fairly recent, history. Eric Foner is the pre-eminent historian regarding the Reconstruction/Redemption era of the United States. This book is partially a review of his more comprehensive tome regarding these events; however, he does a detailed analysis of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the constitution in this small book. He explains the events, players, politic History is so important. I wish more people would spend more time learning, discussing and making decisions based upon our own, fairly recent, history. Eric Foner is the pre-eminent historian regarding the Reconstruction/Redemption era of the United States. This book is partially a review of his more comprehensive tome regarding these events; however, he does a detailed analysis of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the constitution in this small book. He explains the events, players, politics and ethos of this time in history. He does a thorough explanation of the Supreme Court's impact on history with these amendments. It is an excellent book which anyone involved in politics (all voters?) should read and take to heart. I thoroughly enjoyed this and we could all learn from this review of our tragic and disgraceful past. There is no "fake news" in scholarly historical analysis. What is clear is how the American People, and their "leaders" are plagued by selfish, uninformed, misguided and outright evil motives, with lots of "fake news" (propaganda) feeding the pyres.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rama

    The constitutional, political, and social issues after American Civil War This is an historical account of the constitutional, political, and social crisis after the Civil War. United States was faced with an enormous task of ending the slavery constitutionally and offering a solution to institutional racism. The constitutional amendments; Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth were adopted between 1865 and 1870 to guarantee freedom to former slaves and offer equality and citizenship rights. The The constitutional, political, and social issues after American Civil War This is an historical account of the constitutional, political, and social crisis after the Civil War. United States was faced with an enormous task of ending the slavery constitutionally and offering a solution to institutional racism. The constitutional amendments; Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth were adopted between 1865 and 1870 to guarantee freedom to former slaves and offer equality and citizenship rights. The 13th ended slavery. The 14th made anyone born in the U.S. a citizen and a state in the union can't deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The 15th gave the vote to black men but not any women. What followed their adoption was the way the constitutional power was eroded by state laws and supreme court decisions throughout the late 19th and first half of 20th centuries. The full benefits of these amendments were not realized until the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The reconstruction amendments were nullified in the south, step-by-step with the compliancy of the Supreme Court of the United States. Violent groups like KKK resorted to violence to deprive blacks of their rights. This challenge to the 14th was direct but Supreme Court interpreted that it is not a state action, and the private individuals committing private acts of violence should be handled by state laws. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the states. There were additional challenges associated with slave states like Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, which had nearly three-quarters of a million slaves. Since the Proclamation was a war measure against the Confederacy, the states that were in the Union retained the constitutional protections of slavery. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that the separate but equal facilities in South is constitutional, which suggested that separation is not a form of prejudice or discrimination. It opened the door to all sorts of laws that the Southern states would pass requiring segregation in every phase of life. This became central to the Jim Crow Laws in the 20th century South. This is an exciting book written by Columbia University Professor Eric Foner who has researched this material much of his academic life. The interpretation of constitutional amendments by states and court systems is highly engaging. United States was born with a belief in individual liberty and reconstruction was intended to create a new republic. But it was created in a harsh environment of racism.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sciuto

    "The Second Founding," by Eric Foner is many things: Historically relevant, glorious, despairing, sad, and promising. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are examined and dissected with unusual clarity and precision. The three Amendments combined make up what one would consider the Reconstruction era, directly after the Civil War, where slavery was abolished, male blacks were given the right to vote, citizenship was based on being born in the United States, and the federal gover "The Second Founding," by Eric Foner is many things: Historically relevant, glorious, despairing, sad, and promising. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are examined and dissected with unusual clarity and precision. The three Amendments combined make up what one would consider the Reconstruction era, directly after the Civil War, where slavery was abolished, male blacks were given the right to vote, citizenship was based on being born in the United States, and the federal government stepped into the forefront to stop the bigotry and racism practiced mostly in the Southern states and a few Northern States. It was, for all practical purposes, a glorious 7 to 8 year period in American history, but like most things that seem way too good to be true, The Supreme Court of the United States quickly started to dismember the amendments and as the democrats took control back in many southern states blacks, once again, were disenfranchised, racism bloomed, segregation was a God send, and the states were once again in charge and the amendments' original meanings and intents, except for the 13th, were revised and distorted for nearly an entire century since the Civil War ended. In the mid-1960's The Warren Court (The Supreme Court) and The Civil Rights Crusade fought back and some resemblance of the American ideal was restored, but as history will attest never underestimate the stupidity, bigotry, and partisanship of the Court as new members take their place, and once again we seem to be moving back as a nation into the good old days before the Civil War where one's skin color is a defining character and the racial divide in our nation seems to be bigger and better than ever... How sad! President Theordore Roosevelt said many years ago that, "words and 'talk' are meaningless, unless accompanied by action." The Supreme Court and our spineless government employees would be wise to take notice of TR's advice, but then there are so few that even cast a shadow beside this great man that I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for constructive and meaningful action. Thank you Bradford for this wonderful book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    "As history shows, progress is not necessarily linear or permanent. But neither is retrogression." -Eric Foner, The Second Founding Foner's small book The Second Founding was good but a little dry at times. It describes how the three Reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) were written and debated on in Congress. He does a good job of showing how each amendment was a political compromise. The chapters on the 13th and 15th amendments are the strongest in my opinion. He ends with a discuss "As history shows, progress is not necessarily linear or permanent. But neither is retrogression." -Eric Foner, The Second Founding Foner's small book The Second Founding was good but a little dry at times. It describes how the three Reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) were written and debated on in Congress. He does a good job of showing how each amendment was a political compromise. The chapters on the 13th and 15th amendments are the strongest in my opinion. He ends with a discussion on how the amendments were strengthened and weakened by the judiciary and by state governments immediately after ratification to the present day.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Babbs

    A short account of the passing of the post- civil war constitutional amendments, the political climate of the time, and the lasting ramifications. I'll definitely be checking out Foner's more lengthy works on this period in the future. A short account of the passing of the post- civil war constitutional amendments, the political climate of the time, and the lasting ramifications. I'll definitely be checking out Foner's more lengthy works on this period in the future.

  12. 5 out of 5

    C.

    It seems like forever ago that I first read Eric Foner. To be precise, it was 30 years ago, I was a graduate student in history, and his "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution" blew me away (as it has done to many other readers over the years). To say that Foner is the dean of Civil War and Reconstruction studies in this country doesn't begin to do it justice. It says a lot about Foner that he's still producing ground-breaking scholarship on a subject that he's already written the book It seems like forever ago that I first read Eric Foner. To be precise, it was 30 years ago, I was a graduate student in history, and his "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution" blew me away (as it has done to many other readers over the years). To say that Foner is the dean of Civil War and Reconstruction studies in this country doesn't begin to do it justice. It says a lot about Foner that he's still producing ground-breaking scholarship on a subject that he's already written the book on (literally). But it also says a lot about the subject: there is still much to be studied and considered. And it feels especially relevant at this moment to be reading about both the Civil War and the Constitution. I found much to chew on in Foner's new book. His scholarship is as remarkable as ever, and his writing is lucid and enjoyable. "The Second Founding" is a fine book -- and a necessary one for our times. I hope it finds wide readership. (Thank you to W. W. Norton for an advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Ronn

    The next time politics of equality enters a conversation and someone says that they are a strict constitutionalist, ask them about forced slavery, women’s rights, and Asian immigrants. Tell them that strict constitutionalism is a bullshit excuse for not supporting equal rights. Tell them to read The Second Founding and then find someone else to talk to at the cocktail party. Recognize, today, all states have laws based on state precedent that unfairly and unevenly limit rights, and federal laws The next time politics of equality enters a conversation and someone says that they are a strict constitutionalist, ask them about forced slavery, women’s rights, and Asian immigrants. Tell them that strict constitutionalism is a bullshit excuse for not supporting equal rights. Tell them to read The Second Founding and then find someone else to talk to at the cocktail party. Recognize, today, all states have laws based on state precedent that unfairly and unevenly limit rights, and federal laws also exist that do not protect the equal rights of Americans. The history of the 13,14, and 15th amendments are the history of American reconstruction. We have come a long way, but we need a Third Founding - a constitutional mandate, an equal rights amendment that federally mandates equality for all. The founding fathers gave us a good start, but they did not provide equal rights for all. It is time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    Very good, brief account on the history of the Reconstruction amendments, how they came about, and how they were interpreted. Amendments 13/14/15 end slavery, make all native-born people citizens, and extend the vote. That's on the face of it. Beyond that, they attempt to transform and government and US Constitution to be more expensive and give the federal government more authority over protecting people's rights, whereas previously that had been left up to individual states. I knew a lot of th Very good, brief account on the history of the Reconstruction amendments, how they came about, and how they were interpreted. Amendments 13/14/15 end slavery, make all native-born people citizens, and extend the vote. That's on the face of it. Beyond that, they attempt to transform and government and US Constitution to be more expensive and give the federal government more authority over protecting people's rights, whereas previously that had been left up to individual states. I knew a lot of this beforehand (which is why it's only 4 stars), but it's a nice overview and understanding of how the amendments were phrased the way they were, and why that caused some limitations. Prior to the 13th Amendment, many abolitionists and free soilers acknowledged the Constitution allowed for slavery, but then flipped it around by saying unless laws were created in an area to allow for slavery, then the land was free. The default setting was "freedom national" and that approach to the Constitution was on the rise before the Civil War. The amendment grew out of the GOP's free labor ideology. It also made an exception for prisoners, which the South would exploit after the Civil War. Later in the book, Foner notes how this amendment has basically been a dead letter in courts. Though the end of the Amendment says Congress can pass laws to defend it, it's never been used to justify legislation to do so. The 14th Amendment creates national citizenship, but still allows for state citizenship. The first part of the amendment allows for a constitutional revolution and the next part lets states still handle requirements. The GOP was slow to embrace giving blacks the vote. The North wasn't thrilled with this idea. It was used against them in the 1868 campaign with some open racism by Democrats. But the supporters successfully argued that it was the only way to preserve the change wrought by the Civil War; the logical result of emancipation. When it passed, it voided laws in 17 northern & border states on the black vote. Over time, the Supreme Court whittled it down in the Slaughter-House Case, the Cruikshank Case, the Civil Rights Cases, and other decisions. Things changed in the mid-20th century, but no gains are guaranteed to last. These days, the Court is most likely to use the amendments to protect rights of whites fearing black gains than it is to protect blacks, who were actually designed to be protected. He notes that using the commerce clause as a charter for human rights is ridiculous because that's not what it's designed for, but the parts that are designed to aid civil rights are frequently muted to protect powers that be.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Thielen

    Foner takes an excellent, lawyerly look at Reconstruction and the three amendments to the Constitution which took place during that era: amendments to abolish slavery; provide all persons due process and equal protection of the law; and give black men the right to vote. He explains the cultural and political changes in America that led to these amendments, how they impacted the lives of black Americans – and then details the insidious resistance of southern whites to the implementation of each o Foner takes an excellent, lawyerly look at Reconstruction and the three amendments to the Constitution which took place during that era: amendments to abolish slavery; provide all persons due process and equal protection of the law; and give black men the right to vote. He explains the cultural and political changes in America that led to these amendments, how they impacted the lives of black Americans – and then details the insidious resistance of southern whites to the implementation of each of them. The book gives further weight to the true understanding of the Confederacy and the 20th century glorification of the “Lost Cause.” It was never about state’s rights; it was about contempt for black Americans, anger at the loss of slave labor and racial bigotry. But Foner also makes clear that possession of land was vital to 19th century Americans, whose lives were largely rural and agricultural. Giving freedom to black Americans – but making insufficient efforts to provide them land – virtually guaranteed decades in which southern blacks were free but too poor to move up in the world. The federal government wearied of enforcing Reconstruction and when they withdrew southern states reasserted their authority over black people. Those governments are rightly condemned for destroying much of what these pivotal amendments had granted. But it is also clear that the U.S. Supreme Court played a fateful role in confirming the southern state decisions. Unfortunately, the issues of birthright citizenship, due process, voting rights – much of what these amendments were established to protect – are under assault for today’s political forces. Will we, too, grow weary and let them chip away at people’s rights?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Online-University of-the-Left

    Excellent in its detail about the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Then Foner shows how they were largely thwarted in practice, at least for 100 years, and we are still trying to realize their full potential to this day.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    What is it to be free in America? One solution is the freedom to dominate others and to get laws to enforce your dominance over others. The other solution is equality before the law throughout the land. In the wake of the Civil War the constitution was amended with equality for all as their purpose. Equality before the law, guaranteeing the bill of rights for all, negating the previous reign of states to impose whatever hell they wanted upon their citizens, was exactly the intent and meaning of the What is it to be free in America? One solution is the freedom to dominate others and to get laws to enforce your dominance over others. The other solution is equality before the law throughout the land. In the wake of the Civil War the constitution was amended with equality for all as their purpose. Equality before the law, guaranteeing the bill of rights for all, negating the previous reign of states to impose whatever hell they wanted upon their citizens, was exactly the intent and meaning of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Read them for yourself, with out benefit of the later interpretations and see for yourself their clear meaning. But soon after their passage, the Supreme Court negated their meaning. This allowed the South and at times the North to be terrorist states and kleptocracies in regards to black people. This allowed for the disenfranchisement of black people's votes while allowing the Southern states to count them towards their congressional allotments. Foner tells the story of some, black and white, who stood up for the freedoms we assume everyone enjoys in America. He tells the story from the perspective and the bias of the Gettysburg address. We can do better, and we need to change how we view these amendments to fix our law. I recommend this book to everyone interested in American History. There is no better historian than Foner and he might be the finest for this period of history. Book groups would be well served. Democratic party and Republican party groups should read this and know it. He, in effect, sets out the constitutional agenda for how we need to redress things such as "citizen's united." This is a piece of our history that groans for completion, the story of freedom in America.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    Foner homes in on the legal legacy of the Civil War with the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. He details how the amendments were constructed and passed in Congress, and then how they were applied and enforced in real life and interpreted in the courts. Most importantly, Foner examines how the amendments were also limited and restricted by subsequent Supreme Court rulings through the early 1900s. This includes the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896, which Foner homes in on the legal legacy of the Civil War with the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. He details how the amendments were constructed and passed in Congress, and then how they were applied and enforced in real life and interpreted in the courts. Most importantly, Foner examines how the amendments were also limited and restricted by subsequent Supreme Court rulings through the early 1900s. This includes the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896, which legally allowed segregation until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also suggests ways in which those amendments could be applied to other aspects of life, such as labor law, immigration law, affirmative action, and of course, voting rights. I would argue, as Foner does here, that the 14th Amendment has been the most significant addition to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights, whose Equal Protection Clause has protected the rights of persons whose governments and employers have demonstrated bias because they are different. The Obergerfell decision in 2015 that legalized same sex marriage was won on the basis of that clause. A great book that enhances our understanding of those 3 critical amendments and their legal legacy today. A fun read as well, one that could be accomplished in an afternoon at 176 pages of very readable and sometimes passionate argument. Well done again, Mr. Foner.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ann

    January 15, 2021 I read this important book nearly a year ago and did not realize I hadn't rated it or shelved it as read until this morning when my friend David Eppenstein's excellent review appeared again in my update feed. That review and seeing Henry Louis Gates's very moving PBS documentary, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, were what motivated me to seek out the book. Despite its brevity, Foner's history offers much food for thought to anyone interested in the post-Civil War peri January 15, 2021 I read this important book nearly a year ago and did not realize I hadn't rated it or shelved it as read until this morning when my friend David Eppenstein's excellent review appeared again in my update feed. That review and seeing Henry Louis Gates's very moving PBS documentary, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, were what motivated me to seek out the book. Despite its brevity, Foner's history offers much food for thought to anyone interested in the post-Civil War period and the far-reaching implications of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. I have found myself referring to it in light of the events of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd in May and the renewed energy of the Black Lives Matter movement. Racial and economic inequality, the Covid-19 epidemic, the Trump presidency, and the 2020 election with its aftermath all seem to synergize in creating a state of social and cultural upheaval in today's America which is akin to that of the 1860s and '70s. The link is to a New Yorker interview with Eric Foner at the time of the book's publication; it's worth reading. https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-...

  20. 5 out of 5

    David Anderson

    "This book’s thesis is captured in its title: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—which, respectively, abolished slavery, granted birthright citizenship and equal protection under the law, and established voting rights for black (male) Americans—did not just change the text; they created “a fundamentally new document.” Foner has written more than 20 heralded books on the Civil War. This one traces the roller-coaster history of the core acts of Reconstruction from their p "This book’s thesis is captured in its title: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—which, respectively, abolished slavery, granted birthright citizenship and equal protection under the law, and established voting rights for black (male) Americans—did not just change the text; they created “a fundamentally new document.” Foner has written more than 20 heralded books on the Civil War. This one traces the roller-coaster history of the core acts of Reconstruction from their passage, through the “long retreat” of the Jim Crow decades, to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, to the Supreme Court’s 2013 rollback of the Voting Rights Act, to the uncertain present. The message is clear: progress is not linear. Rights can be granted, “and they can be taken away”—in this case for an entire century. The book makes constitutional jurisprudence easily accessible to nonlawyers and illuminates the United States’ continuing troubled history of racism. Without shortchanging present-day struggles, Foner’s view of the future is surprisingly hopeful." Capsule review by Jessica T. Mathews from Foreign Affairs https://www.foreignaffairs.com/review... Highly recommended; 4/5 stars.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Covers a lot of ground that Foner has gone over before. But it's not for nothing that he is the preeminent historian of the political, legal, and social revolutions that happened during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He ably narrates the political and social construction of the Reconstruction amendments and their subsequent castration by vile systemic racism and a cowardly Supreme Court. Foner also makes plain the direct relevance these amendments and their moment have to the present day. Covers a lot of ground that Foner has gone over before. But it's not for nothing that he is the preeminent historian of the political, legal, and social revolutions that happened during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He ably narrates the political and social construction of the Reconstruction amendments and their subsequent castration by vile systemic racism and a cowardly Supreme Court. Foner also makes plain the direct relevance these amendments and their moment have to the present day.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aletha Pagett

    This book, received from Goodreads, is an in depth exploration of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments. The depth of research and scholarship is superb. This should be a must read in today's volatile society. This book, received from Goodreads, is an in depth exploration of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments. The depth of research and scholarship is superb. This should be a must read in today's volatile society.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Summary: A historical look at the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments in the context of reconstruction history. I am a big fan of Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner. I have yet to read his biography of Lincoln or his book on the Underground Railroad, but those are both on my list to get to eventually. The Second Founding is mainly looking at the history around the Reconstruction Constitutional Amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th. The Second Founding, in some ways, Summary: A historical look at the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments in the context of reconstruction history. I am a big fan of Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner. I have yet to read his biography of Lincoln or his book on the Underground Railroad, but those are both on my list to get to eventually. The Second Founding is mainly looking at the history around the Reconstruction Constitutional Amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th. The Second Founding, in some ways, is a book-length exploration of what Akhil Reed Amar did in a single chapter in his America’s Constitution: A Biography. The real difference is the greater space given to the historical context in Foner’s Second Founding. There is a theme throughout Foner’s work of the reconstruction being a second founding, and he views that broadly. The way he conceives of the second founding is the expansion of what it means to be a citizen and who is allowed to be citizens so that the promises of liberty and freedom that are implicit in the founding of the US expand gradually, starting in reconstruction to include more and more people. Foner suggests that the implications of the reconstruction amendments are still being felt today (as with the Obergefell case). But whatever its chronological definition, Reconstruction can also be understood as a historical process without a fixed end point— the process by which the United States tried to come to terms with the momentous results of the Civil War, especially the destruction of the institution of slavery. One might almost say that we are still trying to work out the consequences of the abolition of American slavery. In that sense, Reconstruction never ended. The structure of the book is a historical background, a chapter on each of the three amendments individually, and then a concluding contextual section after the passage of the amendments, with a short epilogue. The main amendment chapters are both explorations of the content of the amendments and discussion around the adoption of the amendments. As with many other similar cases, sometimes the controversy at the time is roughly the same as what hist later historical debates are. And sometimes, the past discussions during the passage have almost nothing to do with the controversies that happened after passage. One of the things that comes up here, and came up a number of times in Amar’s book is how much of the constitution has almost no legal precedent. In other words, it is surprising how much of the constitution has not had any court cases that give court insight into how a passage should be understood. It is also interesting how often courts have distorted the words on the page as well. The fourteenth amendment were more likely to be used to give rights to corporations at the end of the 19th century than it was to enforce rights for Black citizens. Separate but equal was a post 14th amendment decision (over 150 cases were decided about corporations referencing the 14th amendment between 1873 and 1900, but only about 20 in regard to Black citizenship and rights.) As always it is also interesting to know how relevant history is to modern discussion. In many ways, while it is not quite the same as during the Civil Rights Era, this quote is still true, "It is worth noting that no significant change in the Constitution took place during the civil rights era. The movement did not need a new Constitution; it needed the existing one enforced." One benefit of reading about the reconstruction era is how overtly many are about White supremacy. There is a widespread belief that people with White skin are superior to people with Black skin, or other minority groups. This belief isn’t just individual animus, although it does include that, but also systemic approaches to law and culture. Even supporters of reconstruction and these constitutional amendments were often clear believers in White supremacy, even if they thought there should be legal equity. Many recent discussions about the role of the federal government or the balance of power between the federal, state, and local governments are echoing arguments around the reconstruction amendments. The expansion of the role of the federal government to act against local or state government and eventually against private businesses (also explored in White Flight around the Civil Rights era) needs to be remembered during current discussions. It is not that all small-government advocates are somehow latently racist, but that the historical reasons for why the balance shifted toward federal power has to be understood. The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette wondered why the federal government was “strong enough to give all men their freedom [and] make them citizens with all that the word implies . . . and yet not strong enough to protect them in the enjoyment of those rights.” Also interesting is the charges of ‘reverse racism’ or fears of eventual White slavery staring almost immediately after the end of the Civil War: "Johnson denied that blacks were qualified for American citizenship and denounced what today is called reverse discrimination: “The distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race.” Indeed, in the idea that expanding the rights of nonwhites somehow punishes the white majority, the ghost of Andrew Johnson still haunts our discussions of race." As is appropriate, there is also a good discussion about how women, patricianly White women, did and did not support Black male suffrage and how and why Black male suffrage was initially connected to Women’s suffrage and then disconnected. At least part of the problem was the racism within some White women advocates of women’s suffrage and the sexism within White male legislators. It is easy to wonder what would have happened if there could have been universal suffrage instead of just male ballot at the time of the 15th amendment. This summary at the end of the book does capture the spirit of the discussion: The country has come a long way toward fulfilling the agenda of Reconstruction, although deep inequalities remain. Yet key elements of the second founding, including birthright citizenship, equal protection of the laws, and the right to vote, remain highly contested. And in a legal environment that relies so heavily on precedent, crucial decisions of the retreat from Reconstruction, with what Harlan called the Court’s “narrow and artificial” understanding of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, remain undisturbed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    The protection of slavery was woven into the very fabric of our 1789 constitution in ways both explicit and subtle. Congress had the power to regulate commerce - except the slave trade until 1808. U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 9. Slave states got to count their slaves as 3/5s of a person for purpose of apportioning congressional seats and electoral college votes. U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 2. We explicitly rejected the principle that "city air makes one free" -- states were obliged return enslaved peop The protection of slavery was woven into the very fabric of our 1789 constitution in ways both explicit and subtle. Congress had the power to regulate commerce - except the slave trade until 1808. U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 9. Slave states got to count their slaves as 3/5s of a person for purpose of apportioning congressional seats and electoral college votes. U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 2. We explicitly rejected the principle that "city air makes one free" -- states were obliged return enslaved people who managed to escape. U. S. Const. art. IV, sec. 2. The desire to maintain slave patrols had a huge impact on the ultimate language of the second amendment. The Civil War and Reconstruction Amendments undid some of that. But not enough. Those amendments were themselves weak tea compared to some of what was proposed and without enforcement, they are just pretty words on paper. This is an uncomfortable book. I found it a very hard read. The 13th amendment forbids slavery -- except as punishment for a crime. The 15th amendment prohibits restricting the male franchise on the basis of race - but it dehumanizes women and allows all sorts of proxies for race to go unchallenged. And the 14th. One of the best statements of human rights I have ever read. It guarantees birthright citizen. It guarantees the equal protection of the laws and the due process of law to everyone, and does not allow the states to deny the privileges and immunities of citizenship. It give congress the power to enforce with appropriate legislation. For shining moments here and there, congress did. Pace the voting rights act. But better versions of all these amendments were proposed; ones that would have recognized the dignity and worth of women; ones that would have protected the rights of Blacks more effectively. They did not pass. Maybe they could not pass. Allowing involuntary servitude for a crime created horrific incentives to criminalize Blacks. Allowing proxies for race to prevent enfranchisement had devastating effects. And we never changed the apportionment that gave slaveholding states disproportionate power in the federal government even as they disenfranchised their Black citizens. This book catalogs how the federal courts were largely complicit in preventing these amendments from bringing full civil equality to Black citizens. From shrugging at state laws that did not allow Blacks to testify against whites to allowing explicit discrimination in travel accommodations to preventing meaningful enforcement of the fourteenth amendment. It's a painful read. I wish I could say it ends optimistically. It does not. It ends: Rights can be gained, and rights can be taken away. A century and a half after the end of slavery, the project of equal citizenship remains unfinished. However flawed, the era that followed the Civil War can serve as an inspiration for those striving to achieve a more equal, more just society. Every day we live the complex legacy of Reconstruction and its overthrow. And because the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy are always contested, our understanding of the Reconstruction amendments will forever be a work in progress. So long as the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow continue to plague our society, we can expect Americans to return to the nation's second founding and find there new meanings for our fractious and troubled times. Just today, an attorney listserve I'm on dedicated to diversity is full of arguments about whether "All lives matter" is a racist statement. (It is). We've got a long way to go.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Very good overview of how our three Reconstruction amendments came to be. The Thirteenth is the most straightforward, and has had the least judicial application since passage. The Fourteenth, on the other hand, outside of the first eight amendments in the Bill of Rights, is arguably THE Amendment to the Constitution today. And, it's very convoluted within its first section, let alone others that have almost zero legal applicability today. Foner discusses why it's that convoluted, with all the com Very good overview of how our three Reconstruction amendments came to be. The Thirteenth is the most straightforward, and has had the least judicial application since passage. The Fourteenth, on the other hand, outside of the first eight amendments in the Bill of Rights, is arguably THE Amendment to the Constitution today. And, it's very convoluted within its first section, let alone others that have almost zero legal applicability today. Foner discusses why it's that convoluted, with all the compromises behind it, and how parts of Section 2 have turned to dust when still theoretically relevant (the loss of House representation for vote infringement, not used during Reconstruction, nor during the 1960s Civil Rights era up to today). He also notes how both this and the Fifteenth Amendment touched on the push for woman's sufferage. The Fifteenth was even more an issue. Most northern states restricted black voting. The Middle Atlantic and New England states also restricted naturalized citizens' voting, with some states having property requirements for them but not the native-born, mainly to restrict Irish Catholics. Foner shows that's part of why poll taxes and literacy tests aren't mentioned in the amendment even though some Congresscritters worried about them at the very time. In all of this, a key figure on the House side was John A. Bingham. The one reason, and only real reason, this book doesn't get a fifth star is its relative slimness, and what Foner could have done with that. For instance, he notes that more than 70 possible amendments were discussed from Lincoln's death up to the Fifteenth Amendment, as well as discussing all the versions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth. Radical Republicans considered abolishing the Electoral College, for example. Would have been nice to get another 20-30 pages or so to see how close to a vote some of these things came. Also, in reading the "except as a punishment for crime" of the Thirteenth and the "previous condition of servitude" of the Fifteenth made me wonder if there's not an argument for the Constitution declaring that ex-felons have the right to vote once out of jail and off parole, at least. Foner doesn't discuss that or note whether such a play has ever been tried by civil rights lawyers.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I suspect that The Second Founding caught my eye in the bookstore because of recent Trumpian controversies over the concept of birthright citizenship, which was established in the U.S. Constitution by the 14th Amendment. I tend to read a lot of Civil War history, but must admit that my knowledge of the Reconstruction period is a little spotty. So, this seemed a perfect vehicle for filling in some of the gaps. And in many ways Eric Foner — a preeminent Reconstruction Era historian — seemed the pe I suspect that The Second Founding caught my eye in the bookstore because of recent Trumpian controversies over the concept of birthright citizenship, which was established in the U.S. Constitution by the 14th Amendment. I tend to read a lot of Civil War history, but must admit that my knowledge of the Reconstruction period is a little spotty. So, this seemed a perfect vehicle for filling in some of the gaps. And in many ways Eric Foner — a preeminent Reconstruction Era historian — seemed the perfect guide on this journey. I was right on both counts… and I was a little wrong, as well. In The Second Founding Mr. Foner provided an excellent description of the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, along with the contemporary arguments both for and against their construction and passage. His analysis was thorough and he made a compelling argument that in the adoption of these amendments the Republicans of that era intended nothing less than a redesign of the relationship between the federal government, the state governments, and their citizens. He also outlined in some detail the ways in which the federal government — and in particular the Supreme Court — failed throughout the years to deliver on the promise of equality for the slaves, their descendants, and other minorities that were embodied in these amendments. In many ways, I found The Second Founding to be informative, especially in the sections that described each of the amendments, but I had hoped for more depth and more heart in the discussion of the failures of our government and society to live up to their principles. Hence, only four stars. But I will say that Mr. Foner's work was a good starting point and that it was sufficient enough to inspire me to do more reading on the subject.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    (My copy was given to me for free and was an "Advance Reading Copy", though I did not read it in advance of publication) This is a fairly interesting book of history surrounding the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. It is has the advantage of being, short, readable, and clear in its outlook. Foner explains how the discussion during and after the Civil War led to the amendments, that the amendments can easily be read as having expanded national power (and in doing so, weakened the fe (My copy was given to me for free and was an "Advance Reading Copy", though I did not read it in advance of publication) This is a fairly interesting book of history surrounding the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. It is has the advantage of being, short, readable, and clear in its outlook. Foner explains how the discussion during and after the Civil War led to the amendments, that the amendments can easily be read as having expanded national power (and in doing so, weakened the federalism in the US), and how the law was later interpreted by the US Supreme Court in a much narrower sense. Foner's viewpoint is pretty clearly that federalism has been problematic when it comes to individual states' histories on enforcing the rights and privileges of their citizens. He offers a sound history of the era, and explains how the people who wrote and passed the amendments thought, and then does an equally good job of explaining how and why Supreme Court Justices came to different conclusions. While Foner's viewpoint is clear, I think he does a good job of not simply straw-manning the opposing viewpoint. If you are a strong endorser of the original federalism of the US Constitution or not, I think you will learn what the arguments were and are for interpreting the Constitution with these new amendments. This is a nice short treatise on the subject, which aids in its readability. It gets to the point and doesn't needlessly linger on any point. Well-written, though history with an opinion [which is fine, Foner makes it clear that he is taking a viewpoint].

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris Demer

    I found this book to be very enlightening, although the detail made it a bit of a slog for me as I do not have a deep background in American History. The voluminous sources, references to various actors in the political arena and quotations were difficult. Foner elaborates in great detail the development, debates, passages and ramifications of three key amendments that fundamentally changed the relationships between the states and the federal government. The THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT: prohibited slav I found this book to be very enlightening, although the detail made it a bit of a slog for me as I do not have a deep background in American History. The voluminous sources, references to various actors in the political arena and quotations were difficult. Foner elaborates in great detail the development, debates, passages and ramifications of three key amendments that fundamentally changed the relationships between the states and the federal government. The THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT: prohibited slavery-although there was a loophole permitting involuntary servitude of those convicted of a crime. Sadly, this loophole was used as an excuse to convict blacks of petty crimes, thereby allowing them to become slaves again under the law. In fact, to this day it allows for widespread leasing of convict laborers to mines and industries in the south. Convicts were used on "chain gangs" to build roads, clear lands and work on public safety projects. Although this began as a cost-saving measure during reconstruction, "it burgeoned after white supremacist Democrats regained control of southern governments and enacted laws greatly expanding the number of crimes that constituted felonies." This situation ultimately established a road to re-enslavement of blacks in the south. The FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT: allowed for all persons born or naturalized in the united States to be Citizens of the United States and the State in which they reside..and that states shall not deprive citizens of life, liberty or property without due process. The amendment goes on to discus representation of persons in each state (excluding Indians) and the right of adult male citizens to vote. This amendment is significant in many ways: birthright citizenship, voting rights and, most significantly, the relationship between the states and federal government, where the amendment clearly denies the rights of states to determine voting rights and citizenship and strongly reinforcing due process. An additional section addresses the limitations on the holding of national public office if the "individual has engaged in insurrection or rebellion.. or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof" referring generally to those southerners who actively worked for the Confederacy. There was an "out" however: in the event the congress voted by 2/3 in each house to remove the "disability" or limitation. The FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT: expressed the right of citizens of the U.S. to vote: the vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. (Unfortunately this amendment only referred to men-women did not get the vote until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.) The overall importance of this book is to delve into these pivotal amendments, enacted shortly after the end of the Civil War-to address the massive changes related to emancipation, clear a path ror re-union. In the process, the 'Second Founding" describes how these amendments cave primacy to the Federal Government, requiring states to adhere to rules deigned for all citizens. Importantly also, the Federal Government was charged with enforcing these amendments. I think these amendments have a great deal of meaning for us today. We are still grappling with citizenship and immigration issues, voting rights issues, where there are efforts to abridge rights of certain populations, and continuing "servitude" in the mass incarceration of minorities. It is worth grappling with some of the details to gain an understanding of these important parts of our Constitution! Highly recommended.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Liz Mc2

    A history of the debates over, passage of, and early jurisprudence around the Reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th, 15th). This is a scholarly work with lots of supporting detail from contemporary journalism, congressional debates, court cases, etc., which can sometimes bog down the general reader (by which I mean me). But it’s also a short, accessible book that makes the argument, clearly aimed in part at a general reader, that these amendments as finally ratified, and subsequent Supreme Court A history of the debates over, passage of, and early jurisprudence around the Reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th, 15th). This is a scholarly work with lots of supporting detail from contemporary journalism, congressional debates, court cases, etc., which can sometimes bog down the general reader (by which I mean me). But it’s also a short, accessible book that makes the argument, clearly aimed in part at a general reader, that these amendments as finally ratified, and subsequent Supreme Court decisions interpreting them, were a missed opportunity for a more equal America that enshrined civil rights and equality before the law much earlier and more successfully than has been the case. Foner also connects this legal/constitutional history to current issues around things like voter suppression and mass incarceration and shows how these amendments helped get us where we are today, for some good but also often for ill.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Oberholtzer

    Have you ever wondered whether the Supreme Court has always sucked or were they ever useful? The answer is they’ve sucked forever and their tortured and narrow view of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments has allowed over a century of discrimination to persist and bedevil the American polity. But more about the book. An excellent and concise account of the debates surrounding the amendments: who is a citizen? What rights do citizens have? Who guarantees those rights? The book goes on to discuss t Have you ever wondered whether the Supreme Court has always sucked or were they ever useful? The answer is they’ve sucked forever and their tortured and narrow view of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments has allowed over a century of discrimination to persist and bedevil the American polity. But more about the book. An excellent and concise account of the debates surrounding the amendments: who is a citizen? What rights do citizens have? Who guarantees those rights? The book goes on to discuss the politics that led to the precise wording of the amendments and what the crafters of those amendments thought thought they were doing. The book ends with a lengthy run down of the Supreme Court cases that chipped away at the intentions of the amendments and finally in the epilogue a brief discussion of how the amendments are viewed today. Despite all the backsliding from the true intent (or truer intent anyway) the amendments remain transformational (birthright citizenship remains a cornerstone of American democracy) in the understanding of the rights of citizenship and the federal governments duty to uphold them.

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