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American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment Hardcover – September 6, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"Magliocca presents this evidence in a fine narrative, an excellent example of an intellectual biography.  It preserves a chronological presentation, without obscuring the primacy of the subject's legal and political thoughts."-David Upham,Online Library of Law and Liberty

“How this leading antislavery lawyer shaped Union policy vis-à-vis the defeated South and wrote most of the amendment guaranteeing equal rights to all Americans.”-American History

“This volume on Bingham made me rethink some things I thought I was taught in high school history class.  Magliocca did a wonderful job of searching, often sparse records, in order to give a full-orbed view of political history in America.  I feel like the legacy of a man like Bingham is often forgotten among those who have largely left the politics to highly paid professionals who sit on Washington’s hill.  It’s stories like these, a relatively no-name person from the middle of nowhere rising to power and changing history.  We can all learn from Bingham, not only from his big wins, but from his losses as well.  We should all be so concerned for freedom as Bingham was, it would make a small difference today which may change the pages of history hundreds of years down the road.”-Protestant Voices

"Magliocca has done valuable work in bringing to public attention the story of an interesting and important states-man of the mid-19th century.  As an enemy of slavery and advocate for constitutional freedom, John Bingham has been too long neglected."-Burrus M. Carnahan,The Federal Lawyer

"Gerard Magliocca has done the country a great service by writing the first biography of one of America's most important but under-appreciated statesmen. John Bingham, the father of the Fourteenth Amendment, helped put a guarantee of individual equality into the U.S. Constitution. In this important book, Magliocca tells the fascinating story of a crucial figure in our country's long struggle to establish justice and create a more perfect union."-Jack M. Balkin,Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School

"This is a worthy biography that will illume...many of the controversies that surround interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment....Certainly, the picture that emerges from this book is much fuller than scholars have had to date."-John R. Vile,Law and Politics Book Review

Magliocca's frankly political biography embodies Bingham and his ideals sufficiently to correct the record with 'considerable explanatory force'...This lucidly written book provides just enough information about Bingham's life, roles, and thoughts to place upon him both the gloss of humanness and the prestige of framer/founder...American Founding Son helps dispel the belief that the Fourteenth Amendment is a series of platitudes to capture what was, rather than a forcefully honed and carefully crafted disruption both to create what should have been and what could be."-The Journal of the Civil War Era

“Given Bingham’s central role in the incorporation debate, American Founding Son is long overdue.  Scholars and lawyers who are interested in the incorporation debate eagerly have awaited this book.  They will not be disappointed. […] [T]hose seeking to understand the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment will find a wealth of information in the pages of American Founding Son.” -Law and History Review

“In this clearly written and extensively researched biography of John Bingham, Gerard Magliocca explains that researchers have neglected Bingham despite his important legislative contributions.”-The Historian

"Gerard Magliocca makes the most of the sometimes scanty evidence to paint an illuminating portrait of Ohio Congressman John Bingham, the author of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and perhaps our most neglected 'framer' of the Constitution.  From leading the impeachment prosecution of President Andrew Johnson, to serving as Ambassador to Japan, Bingham's life was fascinating. And so too is this book that every student of our constitutional history should read."-Randy E. Barnett,Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory & Director, Georgetown Center for the Constitution

"Gerard Magliocca rescues John Bingham from his moment of fame as the  author of the Fourteenth Amendment, and presents a nuanced understanding of his life and thought. An important contribution that provides deep insight into our constitutional tradition."-Bruce Ackerman,Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

"Gerard Magliocca traces Bingham's life from humble beginnings in Pennsylvania through his career as a leader of the Republican Party.  This is an excellent examination of Bingham, who was a major force in shaping the America that emerged from the Civil War."-Frank J. Williams,Civil War News

"Until now, however, we have lacked an adequate biography of Bingham. This lacuna has just been filled by Gerard N. Magliocca. He dubs Bingham the 'Founding Son'—the man who repaired the flawed work of the Founding Fathers and made equal citizen rights part of the Constitution. Without Bingham, writes Magliocca, “there would have been no Fourteenth Amendment as we know it” (186). His handiwork is the most important part of the Constitution. Bingham also coined that now-common phrase, the 'Bill of Rights.'"-Daniel W. Crofts ,Civil War Book Review

"Professor Gerard Magliocca spares no detail in his comprehensive review of John Bingham's life and his drafting of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. For history buffs, constitutional scholars, and civil war experts, the book is a smorgasbord of facts about a critical period in America's history. The reader is taken step by step through the political and legal hurdles required to enact one of the most significant post-Bill of Rights provisions of our Constitution."-Los Angeles Review of Books

"For someone so involved with the watershed events of 19th-century US history, John A. Bingham has largely escaped modern scholars' notice, even in the current book of Civil War-era commemorations.  This oversight is puzzling, since Bingham was a major political figure of his time, as Magliocca ably demonstrates...Magliocca takes readers through a learned yet accessible analysis of Bingham's legal and congressional careers, showing how Bingham's constitutional thought on citizenship, rights, and liberties evolved, climaxing with his drafting of the Fourteenth Amendment's preamble. Students of legal, constitutional, and Civil War-era history should read this fine volume on an important yet neglected figure."


"Gerard Magliocca has done nearly as much as anyone could to resurrect John Bingham, and he has succeeded in making Bingham come alive as an important political player in the Civil War era.  [H]e has certainly restored Bingham to a rightful place in Civil War political and legal history."-Allen Guelzo,The Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He is the author of three books on constitutional law, and his work on Andrew Jackson was the subject of an hour-long program on C-Span’s Book TV.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (September 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814761453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814761458
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on October 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very good and significant history, not in the sense that it is lyrically written, but in the welcomed light it sheds on the enduring work of an almost forgotten politician of the Civil War era.

John Bingham wrote some of the most significant words amending the U.S. constitution. Without his dogged efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives it is difficult to imagine the modern interpretational course of our nation's constitutional law.

Those interested in the congressional politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction, general race relations in our country, the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, constitutional legal history, and even Japan's Meiji period will benefit from Professor Magliocca's notable effort.

While Mr. Bingham had his faults, his name should now rank high on any list of the best federal office holders who have served our country.
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Format: Hardcover
"American Founding Son" is a commendable, if somewhat perfunctory effort to fill a lacuna in the scholarly literature about a major figure in American history, John A. Bingham, an Ohio lawyer and congressman who also served as one of the prosecutors at the trial of the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln, one of the chief architects of Reconstruction, a manager (prosecutor) at the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, and U.S. ambassador to Japan. Despite the fact that he was among the most influential leaders of his time, Bingham is almost unknown today. This is regrettable, since it is largely due to his vision and legal insight that the Bill of Rights, or at least most of it, came to be applied to the states.

Until the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, states could and did run roughshod over rights Americans now take for granted. Slavery was only the most outrageous example. Whites who went south to speak against the "peculiar institution," for example, could have their bags and papers seized without a warrant, be tossed into jail and held indefinitely, have a confession beaten out of them, and undergo trial without benefit of counsel or the ability to call witnesses on their behalf. In short, while the Bill of Rights limited what the federal government could do to you, states operated with a free hand and as a result, being an American citizen could mean absolutely nothing as far as civil rights were concerned, depending on what state you had the misfortune to visit.

Gerard Magliocca is a law professor at Indiana University. "American Founding Son" is broken into bite-sized bits, very much like a law school course. Its episodic approach lacks the narrative flow and continuity of most biographies.
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As a student of American History I seldom read a book that taught me anything new. American Founding Son taught me a lot! I had heard of John Bingham but nothing close to the detail in this book. The Author (Gerald Magliocca) listed over a hundred pages of reference and documentation materials. A definite credible read of the Fourteenth Amendment and our political thinking during and just after the Civil War. If it wasn't for Male White Evangelical Radical Crazed Republican Christians the horror of slavery would still exist today and I would never be allowed to offer a comment less the ability to read. For that I thank John Bingham for risking it all for men like me and my father. The Fourteenth Amendment was written to prevent Democrats and the newly founded KKK from starting slavery all over again.This book should be required reading for Middle School students and above.
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This is a brilliant addition to the pantheon of Constitutional literature, on par with some of the work of one of his mentors, Akhil Reed Amar. Don't let the emphasis on Bingham as a biography fool you- this is hard-core exposition on the 14th Amendment. Magliocca puts Bingham on the same plane as James "Federalist Papers" Madison, and is absolutely right to do so. The lens of Bingham's work fills a significant, if curious, gap in the literature. Other than Michael Kent Curtis' "No State Shall Abridge . . .," a surprising dearth of publications exist on the 14th Amendment, the key to much of the ongoing debate about judicial activism and originalism, equal protection, substantive and procedural due process, and the eviscerated privileges and immunities clause. Highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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.

These words have, for the most part, been lost on the American people. There are, however, certain plays which are being made by those in government offices which are calling people back to a more pointed focus on the Constitution. There are epochs of time which so stir the soul of the American people which call them back to the great men and women who founded this country on the truths of God's Word. John Bingham, who we shall discover in American Founding Son, lived during such a time where history was being shaped before his very eyes.

Born in a two-story brick house on the 21st of January in 1815, John Bingham was brought up on the south side of the town square in what is now used as the Republican Party Headquarters. Growing up in Cadiz, OH Bingham was likely exposed to the two centers of interest in that small quaint city, the Church and the Courthouse. As the seat of Harrison County, Cadiz was positioned so importantly that lawyers from miles around to transact business there and also served as a platform which produced names like Edwin M. Stanton, who would later become the secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Along with the platform Cadiz provided, it was also a place where Bingham would forge lasting friendships with men who would shape history. Matthew Simpson was one such friend who became one of America's most influential clergymen and would provide the funeral oration for President Lincoln.
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