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Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy Paperback – January 16, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0195156287 ISBN-10: 0195156285 Edition: 1St Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (January 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195156285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195156287
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.7 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #703,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Garry Wills and others have described the Gettysburg Address as a redefinition of American democracy. Fletcher (With Justice for Some) argues that this unprecedented document, along with the three Reconstruction amendments (i.e., the 13th, 14th and 15th ) to the Constitution, form the core of a "second Constitution," based on "organic nationhood, equality of all persons, and popular democracy... principles radically opposed" to those of the first Constitution, which promulgated "peoplehood as a voluntary association, individual freedom, and republican ‚litism." Despite a superficial crudity in this abstract opposition, Fletcher the Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence at Columbia develops a powerful case for this second Constitution, born from the need for redemption under law for the nation's crime of slavery and blood spilled in civil war. Drawing parallels to France's Napoleonic Code civil in the aftermath of the Terror and to Germany's Basic Law following WWII and the Holocaust, Fletcher argues most persuasively that this second constitution is rooted in the idea of a religiously based higher law grounded in historical necessity. His argument that the second Constitution was driven underground, only to gradually reemerge, makes sense in terms of Supreme Court rulings and constitutional amendments cited, but slights substantial historical conflicts. Yet this hardly matters for his purpose in developing a novel perspective to expand our constitutional horizons and identify fundamental wrong turns such as the post-13th Amendment focus on supervising and correcting state governments, rather than directly ensuring equal protection and democratic rights, or the failure to use "all men are created equal" as a guiding maxim of constitutional interpretation. With subtlety and coherence, Fletcher presents a lively critique of constitutional law. Agent, Angela Miller.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

By carefully analyzing the words and deeds of Abraham Lincoln, Fletcher (law, Columbia Univ.) successfully portrays the birth of a new constitutional order that emerged from the blood and bullets of the Civil War. This new spirit of cohesion reflected Lincoln's zest for bringing together the interrelated elements of a political entity toward the goal of a common good and a higher order. The values of nationhood, equality, and democracy complement and support one another, and the Gettysburg Address brings these concepts together in a way that crystallizes the proposed new scheme of things. Juxtaposing themes also common to the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as two Inaugural Addresses, and an element of spirituality intrinsic to the Declaration of Independence, the author chronicles the ups and downs of Lincoln's attempt to establish a cornerstone for progress for the post-Civil War era. Fletcher probes the extent to which the universal principles so revered by Lincoln and so inherent in the 13th and 14th Amendments would emerge in the coming years and would indeed influence the outcome of struggles between the banal interests of state legislatures and the notion of a legal order of a higher magnitude, akin to the English common law, in shaping the nature of citizenship, the rights of minorities and women, and, most recently, the rights of voters to select a president. Fairly easy for general audiences to read, this book is recommended for public and academic libraries. Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Steve Sheppard on April 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
American worship our constitution, and like many devotees, we'd rather have faith that we know the object of our devotion than explore the truth of our knowledge. So, many believe that the U.S. Constitution is a coherent idea, somehow preserved as first coined and ensuring freedom, equality, and justice.
In George Fletcher's newest book, he tells the history of our constitution and demonstrates the importance of the U.S. Civil War, and particularly Lincoln's war rhetoric, in transforming both the constitution and the country. Its most compelling effect, Fletcher argues, was to transform the fundamental role of government from primarily securing freedom of the citizen to also promoting fairness and equality among citizens. The echoes of this transformation in the constitutional structures of the United States can be heard to this day in our arguments over religious tolerance, free speech, abortion, even the recent elections.
There is much to contend with in this book, which in the spirit of full disclosure, this reviewer read in draft form. Some will find Fletcher's definition of "constitution" to be too broad. Some will find his notion of equality as a cardinal American virtue to be unworkable or improper, regardless of its historical pedigree. Some will disagree with Fletcher's historiography. None will be able fairly to reject his arguments without conceding their significance.
Building, and in many cases greatly extending, the work of historians such as Eric Foner and constitutional scholars such as Bruce Ackerman, Fletcher, a Columbia Law Professor, has written a compelling and controversial argument.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Price on May 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
George Fletcher presents an interesting thesis, that we have two constitutions. One created in 1787 the other in 1865. The new constitutional order was found to represent the principles of equality, nationalism, and democracy which Fletcher argues was best expressed in the Gettysburg address.
Now Fletcher makes a number of interesting points in his analysis. For example, he provides a wonderful explanation for Lincoln's extraconstitutional use of power during the Civil War; that his commitment to nationalism lead him to reject constitutional limitations when they didn't allow him to perserve the nation. Also Fletcher provides a brief discussion of the logical inconsistencies in the 10th amendment, that states created after 1787 couldn't delegate power to a federal government that essentially created them.
But the good points are overwhelmed by Fletcher's tendency towards historical simplicity. He seems to believe that the principles of his 2nd constitution sprung forth only as a result of the Civil War. But the principles of equaltiy, nationalism, and democracy existed since the begining of the republic. While these principles didn't dominate they were present and growing during the antebellum period. Particularly the principle of democracy spread rapidly during the period, this is evidenced by the fact that all white males had the right to vote by the 1820s and they voted for practically all state officials including judges. While its true that this isn't our idea of democracy and equaltiy but it is evidence of a developing trend that probably would have continued without the war.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on December 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The author asks us to put aside our conventional assumptions and confront a 'subtle and unusual argument', that the Civil War called forth a new Constitutional order, in the Reconstruction Amendments. This new order is so radically different from that established in the original Constitution of 1787 that it amounts to a new Constitution altogether, a second American republic, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The book becomes then a fascinating discourse on Lincoln's Gettysburg address, in the incremental transformation created by the war from preserving the Union to abolishing slavery. The outcome is the passage from disguised elitism to the real birth of popular democracy in the redemptive experience of confronting the contradictions latent in the birth of the American nation.
"...we resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain..."
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By silver dollar on May 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Received "Our Secret Constitution, How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy" by George P. Fletcher in the mail today. This book is a huge disappointment. I usually stay away from books that praise Lincoln and the Lincoln Cult. Fletcher states, "I have benefited greatly from the works of our talented Civil War and Reconstruction historians. It is hard to match Eric Foner in mastery of the period and his passion for racial justice, or Garry Wills in his learned and imaginative style, or James McPherson in his ability to synthesize the grand moments of post bellum America."

Fletcher is correct in that Lincoln created a "second constitution." But fails when he claims the second is far superior to the "first constitution." In truth the first protected "liberty at the expense of government," while Lincoln's constitution trashed liberty at the expense of We the People, and made slaves of all citizens. If you can't "leave," you ain't free!! Today Americans are prisoners of Lincoln's constitution and the huge bureaucratic centralized government that followed. To insure Lincoln's Constitution became the rule of law, Lincoln took up arms and murdered over 300,000 southerners.

In the end Fletcher trashes the Southern Point of View and the Founding Father's Constitution. An amazing feat to accomplish both in one book. Fletcher's adoration and praise for Eric Foner in the Introduction makes this book suspect and downright useless for historical purposes.

Claiming to view the war from a southern point of view Fletcher misleads many and guides most to the Lincoln Cult's point of view. Only the true Southerner will be able to see fact from fiction in this book. My opinion is Fletcher has written another Yankee revisionist version of the War for South Independence. I could not get any further than the Introduction before discarding Fletcher's book.
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