I’ve been looking forward to reading Eric Foner’s new book The Second Founding: How The Civil War And Reconstruction Remade The Constitution for months now. The title of the book made it sound like something that I would agree with. I went out and bought a copy last night.
I wasn’t disappointed:
“Together with far-reaching congressional legislation meant to provide former slaves with access to the courts, ballot box, and public accommodations, and to protect them against violence, the Reconstruction amendments greatly enhanced the power of the federal government, transferring much of the authority to define citizens’ rights from the states to the nation. They forged a new constitutional relationship between individual Americans and the national state and were crucial in creating the world’s first biracial democracy, in which people only a few years removed from slavery exercised significant political power. All three amendments end with a clause empowering Congress to enforce their provisions, guaranteeing that Reconstruction would be an ongoing process, not a single moment in time. This in itself was a significant innovation. The Bill of Rights said nothing about how the liberties it enumerated would be implemented and protected. Introducing into the Constitution the words “equal protection of the law” and “the right to vote” (along with the qualifying “male,” to the outrage of the era’s women’s rights activists), the amendments both reflected and reinforced a new era of individual rights consciousness among Americans of all races and backgrounds. So profound were these changes that the amendments should be seen not simply as an alteration of an existing structure but as a “second founding,” a “constitutional revolution,” in the words of Republican leader Carl Schurz, that created a fundamentally new document with a new definition of both the status of blacks and the rights of all Americans.”
I agree with every bit of this.
This has been my position for 15 years now. Lincoln and the Black Republicans destroyed the Republic of the Founding Fathers, substituted in its place the American Empire and reduced the South to the status of an internal colony. The Reconstruction Amendments are effectively a Second Constitution, one imposed by the victorious North on the rest of the country during the Reconstruction era, which reversed the constitutional relationship between the states and the federal government. As nostalgic as we might be for the Revolutionary generation, the White Republic that they had created for their posterity was destroyed by Lincoln. Rhett was correct that we live under a consolidated despotism.
Note: Check out the Roman fasces on the Lincoln emancipation monument. There are also fasces on the Lincoln Memorial.