The Second Founding
How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution
Eric Foner, CC'63, GSAS'69
DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History
Pulitzer Prize winner in History
Our Constitution as originally written represented a series of compromises necessary in 1787 to unite 13 Colonies with disparate populations, economies, and ways of life. Included in its Preamble is the statement "We the People ... in Order to … secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution ...". To win an agreement, the founders left unresolved fundamental issues about the continuation of slavery and the rights and status of blacks, which begs the question, who among “our Posterity” have been secured the blessings of liberty?
How the 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments addressed those questions fundamentally altered our legal framework. Their origins, how they have been applied, continue to evolve and affect our lives are the subject of Prof. Eric Foner’s masterful new book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, and of our 2021 annual Hamilton Lecture.
ColumbiaDC is honored to invite you to this historic lecture by Prof. Eric Foner, America’s pre-eminent scholar on Reconstruction. It will include a discussion of the three Constitutional provisions relating to “persons in servitude,” and Hamilton’s and the Founding Fathers’ expectations with respect to the continuation of slavery. Prof. Foner's remarks will be followed by Q&A.
About the book: New York Times Supreme Court Correspondent Adam Liptak wrote of The Second Founding, "Sometimes a book makes you reconsider a subject you’ve studied all of your adult life." Its publisher, W.W. Norton & Co., describes it as tracing “the arc of the three foundational Reconstruction amendments from their origins in antebellum activism and adoption amidst intense postwar politics to their virtual nullification by narrow Supreme Court decisions and Jim Crow state laws.… (remaining) strong tools for achieving the American ideal of equality, if only we will take them up.”
Eric Foner CC'63, GSAS'69 is DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History, and specializes in the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and 19th-century America. He is one of only two persons to serve as President of the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians. He has also been the curator of several museum exhibitions, including the prize-winning 'A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln', at the Chicago Historical Society. His book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Lincoln prizes for 2011.
Professor Foner’s 2007 awards included Festschrift in honor of Eric Foner: Contested Democracy: Freedom, Race, and Power in American History, and the Columbia College Alumni Association’s John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement. In 2006, he received Columbia University’s Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the New England History Teachers Association’s Kidger Award for Teaching and Scholarly Excellence. In 2005, the American Bar Association honored him with its Silver Gavel Award. Columbia College’s Class of 2006 presented him its Distinguished Professor Award in April 2004. The Association of American Publishers, for Columbia American History Online awarded First Place, Electronic Product of 2003. In 2002, Iona College awarded Professor Foner an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, and in 1995, the N. Y. Council for the Humanities made him Scholar of the Year.