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Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America

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ISBN13: 9780805071306
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A riveting narrative of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, an act which revolutionized the U.S. constitution and shaped the nations destiny in the wake of the Civil War

Though the end of the Civil War and Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation inspired optimism for a new, happier reality for blacks, in truth the battle for equal rights was just beginning. Andrew Johnson, Lincolns successor, argued that the federal government could not abolish slavery. In Johnsons America, there would be no black voting, no civil rights for blacks.

When a handful of men and women rose to challenge Johnson, the stage was set for a bruising constitutional battle. Garrett Epps, a novelist and constitutional scholar, takes the reader inside the halls of the Thirty-ninth Congress to witness the dramatic story of the Fourteenth Amendments creation. At the books center are a cast of characters every bit as fascinating as the Founding Fathers. Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, among others, understood that only with the votes of freed blacks could the American Republic be saved.

Democracy Reborn offers an engrossing account of a definitive turning point in our nations history and the significant legislation that reclaimed the democratic ideal of equal rights for all U.S. citizens.

Garrett Epps is the author of The Shad Treatment and The Floating Island: A Tale of Washington. He is the Orlando John and Marian H. Hollis Professor at the University of Oregon School of Law. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.
The last battle of the Civil War was not fought at Appomattox, but in the Pacific Railroad Committee Room of the U.S. Capitol, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, and in the hotels and gambling dens of Washington, D.C. It was fought not by dashing young generals or young soldiers but by middle-aged men in frock coats. Yet is was a war all the same—a desperate struggle for the soul and future of the new American Republic that was rising from the ashes of Civil War. It was the battle that planted the seeds of democracy, under the bland heading "Amendment XIV." Scholars call it the "second Constitution." Over time, the Fourteenth Amendment—which at last provided African Americans with full citizenship and prohibited any state from denying any citizen due process and equal protection under the law—changed almost every detail of our public life.
 
Democracy Reborn tells the story of this desperate struggle, from the halls of Congress to the bloody streets of Memphis and New Orleans. By stealth, calculation, and compromise a small group of antislavery political leaders outmaneuvered Lincoln's successor, who was determined to keep America a white republic; won the nation to their side; and enshrined the idea of equality into America's Constitution for the first time. Americans today live in the house they redesigned.
 
One-sided compromises with slavery had weakened the Constitution in 1787, rewarding the white South with disproportionate power. In 1865, the South's armies were humbled, but its politicians were prepared—with President Andrew Johnson's support—to reenter Congress and run the nation as they had before Fort Sumter. In opposition, congressional leaders knew they had only a few weeks to seat a new Congress and begin the process of constitutional reform. Led by Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, and Robert Dale Owen, their high-stakes political game took place against a backdrop of mob violence, threats of a coup d'etat, and an angry southern president who considered the reformers traitors. Each choice the reformers made would shape the new nation for decades, even centuries to come.
 
Both a novelist and a constitutional scholar, Garrett Epps unfolds a story against a panoramic portrait of America on the verge of a new era. Included in that portrait are Walt Whitman, feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and dozens of others, famous and unknown, who took part in the battle that reshaped our democracy. No reader who hopes to understand American history can ignore the constitutional revolution that produced the Fourteenth Amendment.
"'Americans know that they have rights,' Garrett Epps contends in his engaging book Democracy Reborn. 'But too few understand that the source of our rights is not Philadelphia 1787 but Washington 1866.' Epps, a law professor and novelist, draws on much recent historical scholarship in arguing that the Civil War and Reconstruction forged a 'second Constitution' for the U.S. . . . Epps' book can help a broad readership realize that whenever Americans declare their rights, they owe much of their expanded freedom to the end of slavery and the 'second founders' of the republic."—David W. Blight, Chicago Tribune

"Garrett Epps has nearly covered the waterfront as a writer: novelist, historian, op-ed commentator, humorist. (Word is that this University of Oregon Law School prof holds his students' attention in the lecture hall pretty well, too.) His latest book, Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America, shows off his abilities as a strategic historian—one who makes the chess moves of the past come alive and seem sharply relevant to the present and future . . . Democracy Reborn reveals the ego and bluster inevitable in congressional doings. More importantly, its close view gives readers the tools with which to understand the legacy of blood, sweat and political maneuvering behind the civil rights in place today."—Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, The Oregonian

"'Americans know that they have rights,' Garrett Epps contends in his engaging book Democracy Reborn. 'But too few understand that the source of our rights is not Philadelphia 1787 but Washington 1866.' Epps, a law professor and novelist, draws on much recent historical scholarship in arguing that the Civil War and Reconstruction forged a 'second Constitution' for the U.S. . . . Epps' book can help a broad readership realize that whenever Americans declare their rights, they owe much of their expanded freedom to the end of slavery and the 'second founders' of the republic."—David W. Blight, Chicago Tribune

"The 14th Amendment was 'by far the most sweeping and complex change ever made in the original Constitution,' argues Garrett Epps in this valuable history of the amendment's adoption. Over time, he writes, it has 'changed almost every detail of our national life.' A University of Oregon law professor and former Washington Post reporter who has published two novels, Epps brings crisp writing to a story whose political complexities and obscure cast of characters pose tall hurdles for any popular history."—David Garrow, The Washington Post

"The Civil War amendments redeemed the Constitution from the slavery concessions that had betrayed its preamble and perpetuated human bondage both North and South. Garrett Epps' new book is indispensable reading for Americans to know how our constitutional history has affected us all. A combination of the finest scholarship with unsurpassed insight."—William Van Alstyne, Perkins Professor of Law emeritus, Duke University; Lee Professor of Constitutional Law, College of William and Mary

 
"Garret Epps is one of our best legal historians, and he has produced a fascinating book on the creation and impact of the 14th Amendment. The people who wrote our Constitution were America's original Founders, but the amazing group that produced the 14th Amendment were like our second wave of Founders, helping our nation be reborn into the democracy it is today."—Walter Isaacson, author, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
 
"It is best to be blunt. This is a thrilling book. Garrett Epps has woven together the tragic strands of America's effort to deal with the issue of race in the Constitution.  Law, politics and statecraft clash in a great drama."—Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon's Trumpet
 
"Garrett Epps is one of the most fluid and accessible writers in the legal academy.  Not surprisingly, he has written a marvelous overview of immediate post-Civil War politics that gave us the Fourteenth Amendment and, as importantly, a new understanding of the American experiment."—Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School, author of Our Undemocratic Constitution: How the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It)
 
"[A] passionate account of Reconstruction politics . . . [Epps's] energetic prose transforms potentially tedious congressional debates into riveting reading."—Publishers Weekly

Review:

"In December 1865, the 39th Congress had urgent business, says Epps in this passionate account of Reconstruction politics. If the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union, ex-slaves would swell those states' congressional power, but without congressional protection, the freedmen would never be allowed to vote, and the Southern white elite would have disproportionate influence in the federal government. Epps follows every twist of Congress's response to this problem, and his energetic prose transforms potentially tedious congressional debates into riveting reading. He illuminates the fine points, such as the distinction in the 19th century between civil rights — relating to property and employment, which many thought blacks should have — and political rights, which some thought only educated men of wealth should have. Congressmen were not the only people energized by the conundrums of electoral representation. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton petitioned for women's suffrage on the same grounds as blacks. While Congress hammered out the 14th and 15th Amendments, white Southerners were putting in place the Jim Crow codes that would subvert those amendments until the 1960s. As constitutional scholar and novelist Epps (The Shad Treatment) notes in a rousing afterword, there are many corners in which they are not fully realized today. 7 pages of b&w illus. (Sept. 1)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"The 14th Amendment was 'by far the most sweeping and complex change ever made in the original Constitution,' argues Garrett Epps in this valuable history of the amendment's adoption. Over time, he writes, it has 'changed almost every detail of our national life.' A University of Oregon law professor and former Washington Post reporter who has published two novels, Epps brings crisp writing to a story... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Synopsis:

"Engaging . . . With a novelist's eye for biographical detail, Epps has written an . . . enthralling book."--David W. Blight, Chicago Tribune
 
The last battle of the Civil War wasn't fought at Appomattox by dashing generals or young soldiers but by middle-aged men in frock coats. Yet it was war all the same--a desperate struggle for the soul and future of the new American Republic that was rising from the ashes of Civil War.  It was the battle that planted the seeds of democracy, under the bland heading "Amendment XIV." Scholars call it the "Second Constitution." Over time, the Fourteenth Amendment--which at last provided African Americans with full citizenship and prohibited any state from denying any citizen due process and equal protection under the law--changed almost every detail of our public life.

Democracy Reborn tells the story of this desperate struggle, from the halls of Congress to the bloody streets of Memphis and New Orleans. Both a novelist and a constitutional scholar, Garrett Epps unfolds a powerful story against a panoramic portrait of America on the verge of a new era.

Synopsis:

A riveting narrative of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, an act which revolutionized the U.S. constitution and shaped the nation's destiny in the wake of the Civil War

Though the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation inspired optimism for a new, happier reality for blacks, in truth the battle for equal rights was just beginning. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, argued that the federal government could not abolish slavery. In Johnson's America, there would be no black voting, no civil rights for blacks.

When a handful of men and women rose to challenge Johnson, the stage was set for a bruising constitutional battle. Garrett Epps, a novelist and constitutional scholar, takes the reader inside the halls of the Thirty-ninth Congress to witness the dramatic story of the Fourteenth Amendment's creation. At the book's center are a cast of characters every bit as fascinating as the Founding Fathers. Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, among others, understood that only with the votes of freed blacks could the American Republic be saved.

Democracy Reborn offers an engrossing account of a definitive turning point in our nation's history and the significant legislation that reclaimed the democratic ideal of equal rights for all U.S. citizens.

About the Author

Garrett Epps is the author of The Shad Treatment and The Floating Island: A Tale of Washington. He is the Orlando John and Marian H. Hollis Professor at the University of Oregon School of Law. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.

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OneMansView, January 6, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Unrealized attempt for justice (4.25*s)

This book primary focuses on the legislative efforts of the Congressional Republicans in the year of 1866, within the 39th Congress, to counter the lenient policies of President Johnson towards the vanquished Southern states. By far their most important legislative act was the formulation of the Fourteenth Amendment in June, 1866, which clarified and expanded the meaning and scope of the Bill of Rights. That amendment along with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which granted US citizenship to all born in the US and the “same right … to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens,” was truly transformative of the Constitutional landscape of the US, especially to the new freedmen.

Johnson had been an ardent pro-Unionist during the War, having been selected the military governor of occupied Tennessee in 1862. Upon assuming the presidency in April, 1865, after Lincoln’s assassination, he vowed to “punish and impoverish” the Southern traitors. However, in an extraordinary about face, he quickly granted amnesty, restoring full citizenship and confiscated property, to all except the most prominent Confederates, and they had only to declare loyalty to the Union and apply for a pardon. He basically enabled Southern oligarchs to resume the domination of freedmen – or in other words re-establish de facto slavery. Clearly, his anti-black sentiments outweighed his earlier class-based anger at the aristocratic, planter secessionists. Johnson is the major figure throughout the book and is portrayed in highly unflattering terms. His drunken speech at his inauguration was only a small window into a rigid, impulsive, belligerent, vindictive, and self-important personality. He absolutely could not accept or grasp that the Civil War had shifted the ground beneath his states’ rights, Jacksonian principles of a Union consisting only of white men.

The Republicans were not all of one stripe; a moderate faction was desirous of reconciliation with the South. But Johnson’s swift accommodation of Southern interests was alarming to the entire Republican Party. His allowance of Southern state elections under their old constitutions in 1865 of Congressman was about to give the Democrats the votes to block Reconstruction legislation. Furthermore, the freedmen, though still disenfranchised, would count as full persons in allocating representation adding to Southern power after the 1870 census. Equally disturbing was the passage of so-called Black Codes throughout the South that disallowed idleness and forced freedmen to work under year-long labor contracts, barred freedmen from living in cities, restricted their occupations, required passes to move freely, allowed harsh punishments for minor infractions, took children from families to apprenticed to former masters, and the like. Those Codes were enforced by vigilantes, thus establishing a reign of terror in parts of the South. The newly elected representatives were not seated through creative technical maneuvers, but the Republicans could only see the old, monolithic Slave Power and its control at both the local and national level firmly on the road to restoration. The formal freedom guaranteed by the Thirteenth Amendment was proving to be a chimera. Even moderates insisted on basic civil rights for freedmen, though suffrage was still viewed as a privilege by many. The author points out that several commentators and observers at the time held that freedom for all residents of the South was conditional. The thinking of the Southern oligarchy was so permeated Southern society that any dissent in speech or actions was dealt with suddenly and harshly. That is the atmosphere into which civil rights was to be introduced.

The ascendance of the old South is the situation that Congress and the huge Republican majority faced when it convened on Dec 4, 1865. It also faced an enlarged presidency; Lincoln had gathered by necessity more power than any previous president. Congress was not anxious for a confrontation with the President, who had declared, Jackson-like, that he was the sole legitimate authority over the Confederate states. As the author observes, the Republicans constantly made overtures to Johnson over the next year for him to acknowledge the plight of freedmen, but to no avail. After rejecting the newly elected Southern congressmen, Rep Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican from PA, introduced a concurrent resolution that resulted in the establishment of The Joint Committee on Reconstruction on Dec 13, 1866, consisting of 15 members drawn from both Houses, with the task to "inquire into the condition of … the so-called Confederate States of America, and report whether they, or any of them, are entitled to be represented in either house of Congress." The Joint Committee’s report, issued by chairman Sen. William Pitt Fessenden, a moderate from Maine, in June, 1866, and drawn from testimony solicited from over one hundred Southerners, confirmed what was largely known from numerous journalistic tours of the South, that is, that the South did not have the governmental structures or even a desire on the personal level to protect the civil rights of all persons such that those states should regain their former standing in the national government. In addition to the report, the Committee was also tasked to submit needed legislation to back up their findings. Despite the inclination of several Radical members to consider the Southern states essentially dissolved, thereby becoming territories, and subject to broad Congressional control including wholesale land redistribution, the more moderate but still sweeping Fourteenth Amendment was the result and passed both Houses by June 13, 1866.

The Civil Rights Act of April, 1866, establishing citizenship and equal civil rights, was established under the auspices of the Thirteenth Amendment and predated the Fourteenth Amendment. It was passed over Johnson’s veto, which was the first Congressional override of a veto in US history. But in the author’s estimation, it was the Fourteenth Amendment that fully represented a new, expanded Constitutional vision. It completed what had been left at loose ends by the Founders in terms of rights and their scope and applicability; no longer could states deny the protections of the Bill of Rights. In addition, states could not selectively define eligibility for citizenship. Interestingly enough, many of the Republican Radicals were not appreciative of the Amendment’s revolutionary nature, being fixated on the lack of a specific suffrage section. Section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” has been one of the more debated and widely used parts of our Constitution ever since its passage. For example, it is the basis of so-called corporate personhood.

The book is largely concerned with the various interactions, with some Constitutional niceties being glanced at, surrounding the Joint Committee’s work and Congressional efforts to create and pass the Civil Rights Act and to renew the Freedman’s Bureau legislation, the latter of which was vetoed by Johnson and not overridden. The Freedmen’s Bureau had a tremendous impact in first year after the War, easing the freedmen’s transition to independence by not only providing immediate relief but also by building schools and distributing federally held lands – all of which was contrary to Jacksonian individualism. In addition to background information on the Southern situation, the author does provide succinct mini-profiles of several of relevant individuals both within and without Congress. It goes without saying that Stevens is profiled, but he also recognizes Fessenden, Sen. Charles Sumner of Mass, Rep. John Bingham of OH, Sen. Lyman Trumbull of IL, German-American soldier and diplomat Carl Schurz, and quixotic, utopian reformer Robert Dale Owens, who was instrumental in creating the Freedman’s Bureau. He also, less successfully, veers off into the women’s suffrage movement and its relegation to secondary status compared to freedmen suffrage. The author captures well the emotions of the times: the fears and determination of the Republicans, and the fierce resistance of those who wanted a return to ante-bellum society.

The book is somewhat narrow in its focus. It largely ends with Johnson’s disastrous tour of the North in the late summer of 1866 to create a National Union movement opposed to the Fourteenth Amendment and the basis of a new political party with him being the standard bearer in 1868. His responses to various hecklers only added to the evidence of a very disturbed personality. Of course, Johnson little knew that he had the travails of impeachment ahead. While the legislation of 1866 provided a legal basis, so-called Radical Reconstruction involving military control was actually implemented under the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which regrettably is not a part of the book. The situation for freedmen, which never came close to the legislative promise of 1866, was beginning to rapidly deteriorate by the mid-1870s. Any belief that the entrenched Southern system could straightforwardly be changed had proven to be complete fantasy. The author notes that it had became evident beyond doubt by the turn of the century that freedmen’s rights, both civil and political, were under total assault under a regime of “Jim Crow,” with both the Supreme Court and Congress abdicating their Constitutional duties of properly judging and enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment. At the same time, the Civil War and Reconstruction were being widely reinterpreted as examples of Northern interference in Southern agrarian and internal interests. Southerners had fought the good fights achieving a kind of nobility. Even though “Jim Crow” had formally been disallowed, the author claims that the Fourteenth Amendment remains an incompletely understood and implemented statute.

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Product Details

ISBN:
9780805071306
Subtitle:
The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America
Author:
Epps, Garrett
Publisher:
Holt Paperbacks
Subject:
General
Subject:
History
Subject:
Civil Rights
Subject:
Constitutional
Subject:
United States - 19th Century
Subject:
Ethnic Studies - African American Studies - Histor
Subject:
Political Freedom & Security - Civil Rights
Subject:
General History
Subject:
United States - Reconstruction Period (1865-1877)
Subject:
United states
Subject:
African Americans - Civil rights - History -
Subject:
US History-1860 to 1920
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20070904
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1 8-pg insert
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.13 in

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Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America Used Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Henry Holt & Company - English 9780805071306 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In December 1865, the 39th Congress had urgent business, says Epps in this passionate account of Reconstruction politics. If the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union, ex-slaves would swell those states' congressional power, but without congressional protection, the freedmen would never be allowed to vote, and the Southern white elite would have disproportionate influence in the federal government. Epps follows every twist of Congress's response to this problem, and his energetic prose transforms potentially tedious congressional debates into riveting reading. He illuminates the fine points, such as the distinction in the 19th century between civil rights — relating to property and employment, which many thought blacks should have — and political rights, which some thought only educated men of wealth should have. Congressmen were not the only people energized by the conundrums of electoral representation. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton petitioned for women's suffrage on the same grounds as blacks. While Congress hammered out the 14th and 15th Amendments, white Southerners were putting in place the Jim Crow codes that would subvert those amendments until the 1960s. As constitutional scholar and novelist Epps (The Shad Treatment) notes in a rousing afterword, there are many corners in which they are not fully realized today. 7 pages of b&w illus. (Sept. 1)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by ,
"Engaging . . . With a novelist's eye for biographical detail, Epps has written an . . . enthralling book."--David W. Blight, Chicago Tribune
 
The last battle of the Civil War wasn't fought at Appomattox by dashing generals or young soldiers but by middle-aged men in frock coats. Yet it was war all the same--a desperate struggle for the soul and future of the new American Republic that was rising from the ashes of Civil War.  It was the battle that planted the seeds of democracy, under the bland heading "Amendment XIV." Scholars call it the "Second Constitution." Over time, the Fourteenth Amendment--which at last provided African Americans with full citizenship and prohibited any state from denying any citizen due process and equal protection under the law--changed almost every detail of our public life.

Democracy Reborn tells the story of this desperate struggle, from the halls of Congress to the bloody streets of Memphis and New Orleans. Both a novelist and a constitutional scholar, Garrett Epps unfolds a powerful story against a panoramic portrait of America on the verge of a new era.

"Synopsis" by ,
A riveting narrative of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, an act which revolutionized the U.S. constitution and shaped the nation's destiny in the wake of the Civil War

Though the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation inspired optimism for a new, happier reality for blacks, in truth the battle for equal rights was just beginning. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, argued that the federal government could not abolish slavery. In Johnson's America, there would be no black voting, no civil rights for blacks.

When a handful of men and women rose to challenge Johnson, the stage was set for a bruising constitutional battle. Garrett Epps, a novelist and constitutional scholar, takes the reader inside the halls of the Thirty-ninth Congress to witness the dramatic story of the Fourteenth Amendment's creation. At the book's center are a cast of characters every bit as fascinating as the Founding Fathers. Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, among others, understood that only with the votes of freed blacks could the American Republic be saved.

Democracy Reborn offers an engrossing account of a definitive turning point in our nation's history and the significant legislation that reclaimed the democratic ideal of equal rights for all U.S. citizens.

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