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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 realize that, strange as thi 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 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

    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.

  3. 4 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

  4. 4 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

    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.

  6. 5 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.)

  9. 5 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.

  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. 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?

  12. 5 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.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    Full disclosure: I have read (and own) virtually every book that Eric Foner has written since I was assigned "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men" as an undergrad in the 1970's. I use his textbook for one of my U.S. History classes and I took a summer course with him down at Columbia a few years ago. In short, I'm a fan. So, not surprisingly, I read this book quickly (it's less than 200 pages long) and I think that it's another great accomplishment. Of course, a lot of the ground that this book cove Full disclosure: I have read (and own) virtually every book that Eric Foner has written since I was assigned "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men" as an undergrad in the 1970's. I use his textbook for one of my U.S. History classes and I took a summer course with him down at Columbia a few years ago. In short, I'm a fan. So, not surprisingly, I read this book quickly (it's less than 200 pages long) and I think that it's another great accomplishment. Of course, a lot of the ground that this book covers overlaps with his magnum opus on Reconstruction, but with the focus solely on the Reconstruction amendments, he provides a lot of additional details about the crafting and, later on, the dismantling of these three essential parts of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in the late 19th century. The stories behind the forging of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments really provides great insight about how, in the American government system, politics is never set aside, no matter how righteous the endeavor. Some of the details that the book provides reinforced the contentions that I have always made to my students that the convoluted second section of the 14th Amendment was a result of the attempt by the Republicans in Congress to force the former Confederate states to give the vote to black men without forcing their own northern states to do the same thing. What I didn't know was that a more generic suggested provision to grant states Congressional representation simply based on the number of voters they registered was shot down by the fear that it would encourage some states to grant the vote to women, as well as to African-Americans. It's these type of details that make reading a Foner book an enlightening experience. The bulk of the book describes the forging of the amendments, but he then goes on to describe how the Courts of the late 19th century preceded to gut the impact of the 14th and 15th Amendments by ruling that: A. the 14th Amendment guarantees of equal treatment only applied when actions of the state, not individuals were involved, and B. the 15th Amendment did not prohibit state measures to deny the vote with things like literacy tests, provided that the wording, not the impact, of the statute was not racial in nature. Finally, in his epilogue, Foner points to all of the issues in contemporary American life (mass incarceration, birthright citizenship, photo ID requirements to vote, among others) that provide evidence that we are still wrestling with the issues of Reconstruction. As the author puts it in his final paragraph, "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." Here's hoping that the word "retirement" never beckons this iconic American historian.

  15. 4 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.

  16. 5 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 4 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.

  20. 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].

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    In the 1850s the idea of abolition was at the fringe of American political discussion. Rights of citizenship, let alone suffrage, for blacks, would have seemed ridiculous--Lincoln even joked about the absurdity of the idea. But just as Lincoln had moved towards favoring suffrage during the civil war, the country soon followed. This was partly out of a sense of justice, partly as a practical recognition that without black political power there would be no protecting the gains that were made. This In the 1850s the idea of abolition was at the fringe of American political discussion. Rights of citizenship, let alone suffrage, for blacks, would have seemed ridiculous--Lincoln even joked about the absurdity of the idea. But just as Lincoln had moved towards favoring suffrage during the civil war, the country soon followed. This was partly out of a sense of justice, partly as a practical recognition that without black political power there would be no protecting the gains that were made. This history focuses on the legal aspect of Reconstruction--primarily the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments--which after the surprising gains through the early 1870s becomes a story of despair as federal indifference and a hostile Supreme Court gutted the amendments and allowed the states to strip African-Americans of voting and civil rights.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carl

    Nobody knows the era of Reconstruction like Eric Foner knows it. This is the story of an activist, egalitarian congress which constructed & passed constitutional amendments (the 13th, 14th, & 15th) in the aftermath of the Civil War to effectuate the citizenship, enfranchisement of the vote, & guarantee of human dignity to former slaves as well as all resident non-whites. It is also the story of our system of legal justice, in particular the Supreme Court which, since the time of Reconstruction h Nobody knows the era of Reconstruction like Eric Foner knows it. This is the story of an activist, egalitarian congress which constructed & passed constitutional amendments (the 13th, 14th, & 15th) in the aftermath of the Civil War to effectuate the citizenship, enfranchisement of the vote, & guarantee of human dignity to former slaves as well as all resident non-whites. It is also the story of our system of legal justice, in particular the Supreme Court which, since the time of Reconstruction has failed to enforce these constitutional amendments & has actually worked & is still working to eviscerate them. This is a powerful indictment of our system of justice (another powerful indictment, I should add) along with a wake up call for the priority of human rights over property rights.

  25. 4 out of 5

    shoesforall

    A truly impressive and accessible history of the Reconstruction Amendments. The Supreme Court decisions after Reconstruction are not as thoroughly discussed as I would have liked but still are crucial to the thesis of this book. The author brings an impressive scholarship, including a wealth of important primary sources, to bear in addressing the Reconstruction Amendments and arguing for their crucial place in the American social contract and in the jurispudence of the US Supreme Court. While I ha A truly impressive and accessible history of the Reconstruction Amendments. The Supreme Court decisions after Reconstruction are not as thoroughly discussed as I would have liked but still are crucial to the thesis of this book. The author brings an impressive scholarship, including a wealth of important primary sources, to bear in addressing the Reconstruction Amendments and arguing for their crucial place in the American social contract and in the jurispudence of the US Supreme Court. While I have a few quibbles, this is undoubtedly an excellent book of accessible and important scholarship that I would recommend to anyone with any interest in racial politics or American history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Collins

    Foner thoughtfully details the fractious history of the 13th, 14, and 15th amendments. I especially enjoyed how he elucidated the ways these amendments continue to be disputed and reinterpreted today, and how these differing interpretations affect contemporary politics. A relevant and highly informative read!

  27. 5 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.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joel Blankenship

    Awesome book on the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution as well as the legal legacy of the Reconstruction

  29. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Li

    This book was hard to rate. The historical portions of this book are excellent. I learned alot about the reconstruction amendments and the surrounding debates about their adoption. I was surprised to learn that until relatively late in the game, Lincoln had supported compensated manumission and colonization (back to Africa policies). Only when it became apparent that freedmen did not want to leave the country, and when a rival (Fremont) was nominated in a convention supporting the abolishment of This book was hard to rate. The historical portions of this book are excellent. I learned alot about the reconstruction amendments and the surrounding debates about their adoption. I was surprised to learn that until relatively late in the game, Lincoln had supported compensated manumission and colonization (back to Africa policies). Only when it became apparent that freedmen did not want to leave the country, and when a rival (Fremont) was nominated in a convention supporting the abolishment of slavery did Lincoln fully support the 13th amendment (though his support was not constitutionally required, when it passed Congress, he signed the amendment only for the senate to clarify that his signature was not needed). Lincoln supported the amendment because he was concerned that his emancipation proclamation (which only applied to the Southern states in rebellion) might not outlast the war since he had cited military necessity. It was also interesting how many states resisted the amendment because of section 2 which explicitly grants congress the power to enforce the amendment (shifting the federal-state balance) and how many Republicans had thought that the incidents and badges of slavery provision allowed Congress to pass extensive civil rights law (Garrison even resigned and moved to abolish his anti-slavery society because in his view, the 13th ensured that the constitution was no longer a pact with the devil). I was interested to learn that the 13th amendment's text was based off of a provision from the northwest ordinance (after a rejected effort to follow the French Declaration of Rights, because the "French write bad constitutions"). That is where the exception for involuntary servitude, conviction of a crime, originated as well. The author argues that the drafters did not realize that many states would soon abuse that exception by passing black codes, and that its application in the Jim Crow era was an unfortunate oversight. There was an interesting argument that the 13th amendment would work unintended consequences in common law coverture, the idea is that the 13th amendment might end marriage, since under common law a wife had a to provide services to her husband without pay. But it was pretty clear that no one wanted to work that radical solution, and only wanted to free the enslaved. For those republicans who were concerned that the 13th amendment was insufficient, they also passed the 14th amendment, an interest hodgepodge of provisions. The drafter of the bulk of the amendment, tried to use language already existing in the constitution (privileges and immunities), due process in order to forge a new conception of national (as opposed to state) citizenship. The drafter at least thought that the privileges and immunities clause incorporated amendments 1-8, which became the project of the Warren courts (the right to freedman to arms to protect themselves gets an interesting supporting data point, a Mississippi white noted at at least half of the blacks post Civil War/Civil Rights Act owned arms, which they used to protect their mass gatherings). The clause reducing a state's congressional/electoral college seats has interesting roots and consequences. Ironically as a result of the 13th amendment, the southern states would probably get more political power, since the 3/5th clause was repealed. It was possible that the southern states would get more seats in congress despite not allowing freedmen to vote. But the problem was a little complex, since a section that penalized states for not enfranchising everyone would raise the women issue. Women were counted as part a state's population but were generally not allowed to vote. So a section that penalized lack of enfranchisement might have encouraged states to enfranchise women. Instead the section was written to penalize a state's disenfranchisement of adult males. This allowed the northern states to not enfranchise their free blacks (the role of free blacks and their pre-war political thought lays much of the background for the reconstruction amendments) while also ensuring that the southerns with much larger black populations would not do the same. This was the first introduction of the word "male" into the constitution and left many women feeling betrayed. While many suffragists had supported black enfranchisement (seeing common cause between the subordination of blacks and women) some of the suffragists were upset at the idea of enfranchising blacks before white women (and resorted to many racist arguments). The rest of the amendment worked to ensure that the reforms stuck by restricting ex-confederates from federal office. The book does a good job explaining a distinction lost today. People conceived civil rights as the rights to property, contract and to the judicial system, voting rights as "political," access to hotels/public accommodations as "public rights" and rights to associate in private as "social rights". Blacks before the war had pushed for all but "social rights" and adversaries of the reconstruction amendments always suggested that any movement towards civil and political rights would slippery slope into social rights and interracial marriage. Many had resisted the 14th amendment because they feared that it would lead to black suffrage. But surprisingly, very rapidly the republicans came to support black suffrage. What's interesting is that there were two competing versions of the 15th, one that gave the general adult male population voting rights and the other banning a state's discrimination against black voters. The first one was rejected, partially because even some republicans feared that this would lead to the chinese (who could not naturalize, but by the virtue of the 14th amendment could gain birth right citizenship) and Irish catholics voting (this led to many states dragging their feet in ratification as well). While the second option was eventually adopted into the 15th amendment, those with foresight saw that southern states could use seemingly race neutral laws like poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise blacks without violating the 15th. Again it seems like those who advocated for the 15th amendment seemed to overlooked this possibility (and also underestimated how much the felon exception would be abused). There was also an interesting argument that the right to vote implied the right to hold offices. The 15th amendment created (though very briefly) a real attempt at bi-racial governance. The last chapter on history documents the retreat from all these high minded ideals. Essentially the north lost the political will for the federal government to supervise southern governments. It did not help that the supreme court, worried by traditional conceptions of federalism, and probably not too sympathetic to freedman seemed to cut down on the amendments. In the Slaughterhouse case, the supreme court narrowed the privileges and immunity clause to a small set of national rights (including the right to travel). The court read the 14th amendment to have a "state action" requirement that did not permit banning private action (though even during the debates of the amendments, some argued that state "neglect" is itself a state action subject to the 14th). And while the 13th amendment had no corresponding state action requirement, the court narrowly interpreted incidents and badges of slavery. While the court seemed more sympathetic to 15th amendment cases (off the distinction that political rights are created by the constitution while civil rights pre-date it and are therefore subject to state regulation) and the black juror cases, the court frequently still required explicit language/elements tied to race. The court struck down laws allowing the federal government to enforce laws protecting freedmen because of the lack of a racial discrimination element or because states were capable of enforcing themselves. In Plessy (a test case brought by an activist group, supported by railroads which did not want to include more cars) the court affirmed the onerous principle of separate but equal against a man who for all intents and purposes looked indistinguishable from whites (he was 1/8 black). The book discussed Harlan, who inspired by his wife placing the inkstand that spawned Dred Scott wrote against these developments (though as the book makes clear, Harlan held strong anti-Chinese prejudices). Those parts of the book are great. I learned a lot about the politics of the era, the debates and conversations driven by americans of all walks of life. Not knowing anything beyond the broad outlines of reconstruction, I learned alot from the book. However I take issue with the author's first and last chapter. The first give away should be the author's no so subtle criticism of originalism. The author says that while originalism is a political question beyond history, there is no singular original intent, and that meaning is dynamic regardless. But that does not really answer the doctrine of originalism at all. Originalists today (after Bork in the 1980s) believe the original meaning to not be from the intent of the drafters, but the publicly understood meaning at the time of adoption. And the idea of a fixed meaning, if we are to believe the author's history, would have prevented the back sliding that occurred when reconstruction started to crumble. If meanings are dynamic and should be, why are the court's narrow interpretations of the reconstruction amendments, "wrong" instead of legitimate? That's not to say originalism is perfect, just that the author's snide attack on it shows how out of depth he is. The author's last chapter, where he argues for the rejection of the commerce clause rationale for the civil rights acts and a return to the privileges and immunities clause rationale is ironically adopted by the same conservative jurists he probably criticizes. In the last chapter the author also argues for the re-invigoration of the 13th amendment, removing the state action limit on the 14th sound in borderline crankery (and of course the obligatory reference to Trump). The legal doctrine has evolved much since the Slaughterhouse cases, but the author does not seem to have a good grasp of that at all. In short, this book is great for its reconstruction history, and even reconstruction legal analysis, but seriously deficient when the author, like too many others, steps outside of his domain of expertise. Still worth a read, as long as the reader carefully separates the corn from the cob.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I am a big fan of Foner's seminal work on the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. It is MUST reading for anyone wanting to understand that period that was so full of hope and promise and ended with such a dismal thud. I looked forward to this work as well. I slogged my way through it, but it was tough. I feel like I have compressed a graduate semester of constitutional law into two weeks. Nevertheless, this book had some amazing things to say about how the U. S. Constitution was remade ("The I am a big fan of Foner's seminal work on the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. It is MUST reading for anyone wanting to understand that period that was so full of hope and promise and ended with such a dismal thud. I looked forward to this work as well. I slogged my way through it, but it was tough. I feel like I have compressed a graduate semester of constitutional law into two weeks. Nevertheless, this book had some amazing things to say about how the U. S. Constitution was remade ("The Second Founding") by the post-war amendments. Sadly, it also goes on to tell how the courts (especially the Supreme Court) went on to undercut and undermine the amendments, so that we entered into that 100-year-long period of Jim Crow and voter suppression. It's basically a sad tale.

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