For all the faults of the Reconstruction period, which failed in its post-Civil War attempt to put America on a racially egalitarian footing, it did produce three very significant amendments to the Constitution, the full promise of which has yet to be realized. That’s the basic argument made by Eric Foner, a Bancroft- and Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar, in his compelling and deeply researched The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (W.W. Norton, $26.95). The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th constitutionalized the principle of birthright citizenship and equality before the law, and the 15th aimed to secure Black male suffrage. But as pivotal as these measures were in incorporating the principle of equality in the Constitution, they were subsequently undermined by Supreme Court decisions and state actions. The Jim Crow system followed, and only decades later, well into the 20th century, did the U.S. make renewed strides toward realizing the concepts of racial equality, due process, and individual rights reflected in the Reconstruction amendments. Foner argues that even more potential remains in these Constitutional provisions to realize the promise of equal citizenship for all.
The Second Founding by Eric Foner
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 17th, 2019