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

Norton. Sept. 2019. 288p. notes. index. ISBN 9780393652574. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393652581. HIST
Foner (De Witt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia Univ.), doyen of scholars on the Reconstruction era, whose Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 presents a seminal work on the topic, here focuses on the changes wrought on the U.S. Constitution by the Civil War and Reconstruction. When first adopted, the Constitution’s power was vested in the states. The conclusion of the war saw the federal government seize preeminent authority through the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Those amendments abolished slavery, provided due process and equal rights under the law to African Americans, and granted black men the right to vote. Foner details how the freedmen engaged in the political process, only to see the very rights granted to them eroded during Reconstruction. The federal government’s abandonment of the principles it ensconced in the three landmark amendments set the stage for the subsequent imposition of Jim Crow laws throughout the South. Foner brilliantly shows that the federal government’s actions in the 19th century continue to resonate today.
VERDICT A must-read for anyone interested in U.S. history.

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