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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  778 ratings  ·  161 reviews
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
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published September 17th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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David Eppenstein
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Colleen Browne
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Ryan Boissonneault
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Donald Powell
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
Joseph Sciuto
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"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 ...more
Jun 27, 2020 rated it liked it
"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
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
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
Kurt Ronn
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Chris Jaffe
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Kristi Thielen
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
David Anderson
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
"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 ...more
Ted Hunt
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Aletha Pagett
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Adam Shields
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
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.
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
May 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, us-civil-war
(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
Chris Demer
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, history
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
Liz Mc2
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Apr 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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.

Angie Boyter
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
This was a meticulously researched, meticulously documented history of the legal aspects of the Reconstruction and its aftermath. People who are avid history fans will probably enjoy it, but I found it extremely tedious and boring, and I confess I skipped large portions of it. I read it for my book group and do not look forward to the discussion. As my husband commented, the overwhelming flood of details, like what little-known congressman chaired the relevant committee when a particular proposa ...more
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
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 ...more
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. His Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the p ...more

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