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Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America Paperback – August 22, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"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)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (August 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507130X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805071306
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,751,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on January 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
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.
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Few documents are cited as frequently as the US Constitution by people who have never bothered to read it. Buried in the middle of the short document is the source of modern liberty, the 14th Amendment, this book shows how freedom and liberty was imposed from high minded elites against the will of a violently racist society.

Most people imagine that democracy in America was something that came with the Revolutionary War. In reality, the founding fathers were deeply suspicious of the common people to make decisions regarding their political future. It would be a stretch to imagine that they foresaw the attack ad ridden political culture of today, but there is some merit in this thought. In the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, a mere 2% of the voters of the state of New York were permitted to vote. In 1828, only 7% of the population took part in the election of Andrew Jackson. Popular voting for president occurred in South Carolina only after the Civil War. Changes came about only as migration to west made some of the property requirements irrelevant, but up until Reconstruction, White Male America might enjoy political rights (the franchise) and civil rights (the right to marry, make contracts) although not everyone had those rights (and would not until the repeal of the poll tax in the 1960s! African Americans were prevented from registering to vote until the mid-1960s, and there are still election year purges of the voting rolls in doubtful states in election years) .

The status of slaves evolved rapidly from 1858-1865, when Dred Scott asserted that slaves were not citizens, but chattel and enjoyed no more rights than cattle to the idea that newly freed Africans Americans would have both political and civil rights.
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Format: Paperback
This book tells the story of the constitutional transformation wrought by the Civil War, culminating in the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. The focus of the book is on the time after Lincoln's assasination until Congress' passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to be ratified by the States. Although this time period, and the story told in the book, has been the focus of many scholarly articles and books, this appears to be the first treatment of the topic for a popular audience.

Garrett Epps is a skilled writer and Democracy Reborn is very readable. He ably captures the excitement of the time. The book is also a fairly complete recounting of the roles of most of the major players in the drama. All in all it is a very enjoyable and educational.
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