• The Second Founding

  • How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution
  • By: Eric Foner
  • Narrated by: Donald Corren
  • Length: 7 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Military
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (239 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar, a timely history of the constitutional changes that built equality into the nation's foundation and how those guarantees have been shaken over time. 

The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal, but it took the Civil War and the subsequent adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as American law. The Reconstruction amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed all persons due process and equal protection of the law, and equipped black men with the right to vote. They established the principle of birthright citizenship and guaranteed the privileges and immunities of all citizens. The federal government, not the states, was charged with enforcement, reversing the priority of the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In grafting the principle of equality onto the Constitution, these revolutionary changes marked the second founding of the United States. 

Eric Foner's compact, insightful history traces the arc of these pivotal amendments from their dramatic origins in pre-Civil War mass meetings of African-American "colored citizens" and in Republican party politics to their virtual nullification in the late 19th century. A series of momentous decisions by the Supreme Court narrowed the rights guaranteed in the amendments, while the states actively undermined them. The Jim Crow system was the result. 

Again today there are serious political challenges to birthright citizenship, voting rights, due process, and equal protection of the law. Like all great works of history, this one informs our understanding of the present as well as the past: knowledge and vigilance are always necessary to secure our basic rights.

©2019 Eric Foner (P)2019 Recorded Books

What listeners say about The Second Founding

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Excellent book - problematic narrator

I admit to being disappointed that Professor Foner was not reading his book in his distinctive and familiar voice, but determined to give this narrator a try. After he has mispronounced Chief Justice Taney’s name four times within the first hour of the narration, however, I am distracted and disappointed. Audible, if you won’t let historians read their own work, make sure the narrators are knowledgeable about the period, please!

19 people found this helpful

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Excellent History

Stuff I never learned in school. Finally understand how deeply rooted institutional racism is in this country and how few people in the government have been willing to take a principled stand to work and fight to end it over the past 150 years. Recommend this book for anybody who wants to understand how our past affects us now.

6 people found this helpful

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Essential Reading in 2020

The legacy and impact of slavery and Jim Crow have cast a long shadow and Eric Foner gives us an in-depth and insightful look at the 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments.

5 people found this helpful

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Very relevant in our age of voter suppression

Clearly presents the complex story of how the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments came to be and how they ultimately failed to protect black rights and freedoms during the Jim Crow era.

3 people found this helpful

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Great book.

A copy should be mailed to every supreme court justice. Short but powerful interpretation of these consequential amendments.

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Eye opening

Learned how much the 13th 14th and 15th amendments changed US government; how the potential of amendments was restricted by the Supreme Court; what happened during Reconstruction; and about the depths of racism in American history..

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Wonderful book

The Second Founding is a great book. I, like most Americans, had little knowledge of the reconstruction amendments and how they were subverted by southern state governments and the Supreme Court. The history of how these amendments were essentially nullified is tragic and disturbing. Every American should read this book and join the struggle to ensure that every American enjoy equal treatment, equal protection, and equal rights granted by the Constitution.

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Gets political

injects current opinion politics in the story. Has a good author changing history for a narrative.

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A good account of the reconstruction amendments.

This book is a concise commentary of the Reconstruction amendments to the US Constitution and provides an interesting summary of how we continue to struggle to define citizenship in this country. Thoughtful and articulate. A worthwhile book.

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A vital work

Don't read this book because future generations will remember it as a foundation for a revitalized "textualist" constitutional jurisprudence. Though I'm sure that's true, read it because it's both entertaining and useful for anyone with an interest in US history.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Alex
  • 05-06-21

Generally decent account by an extreme left-winger

This book describes the political battles that ensued after the Civil War in America, where there was a fight to ensure fair treatment for the former slaves with three Reconstruction amendments, which guaranteed freedom, equal treatment, and franchise respectively. One chapter is dedicated to each of the three Reconstruction amendments, and we get an overview of how the legal decision-making evolved through the 19th century. Not much bad can be said about these chapters, and Foner is highly regarded for his historical analyses.

However, in this book, Foner constantly injects his own personal opinions, which universally skew in one direction, and not a moderate one at that. This becomes clear in the introduction, where he absurdly equates post-Reconstruction policies which denied blacks the right to vote with modern-day policies which require identification before one is allowed to vote. He seems to have some understanding of the rest of the world, as he does point out that the US is one of the few countries that has birthright citizenship, but this knowledge suddenly disappears when it comes to Photo ID - which is close to universal outside the US.

When whites invoke the 14th amendment, he remarks that this is "ironic" (because it was intended to improve the lot of blacks) because it was not used for the people for whom it was originally intended, but he also complains when the Supreme Court did not sufficiently apply it to women and other minorities who are deserving of equal treatment in the author's opinion.

Court decisions are not evaluated based on the legal merits, but based on whether or not they effected the policy outcomes that Foner likes. Of one of the decisions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, he says that it should be a black stain on his record based on no more evidence than the fact that Foner did not like the effects of the decision.

Discriminatory policies which have effects that Foner welcomes are labeled as 'race-conscious' policies, and he complains when such policies are struck down because they discriminate - again, without any legal reasoning to back it up besides his personal policy preferences. Basically, this is a historical work wrapped around an analysis that reeks of critical race theory.

When one knows sufficiently to disregard the latter, it is decent. For people who are interested in an introduction to Reconstruction, the work by Allen Guelzo is far less biased and tainted by presentism.;

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  • mr t a graham
  • 07-11-20

Such a timely read

One of the USA's best historians gives a consise and clear understanding of reconstruction and the constitutional ammendments that are in debate today with the BLM movement. The author sets out reconstructions positives and negatives really well. Read really well.