Books – Eric Foner – Historian of the Civil War & Reconstruction

Eric Foner

The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution 

  • 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 nineteenth 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.

Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War 

A significant reevaluation of the causes of the Civil War, Foner’s study looks beyond the North’s opposition to slavery and its emphasis upon preserving the Union to determine the broader grounds of its willingness to undertake a war against the South in 1861.

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

With the Confederacy’s defeat, Reconstruction seemed like the dawn of a new era to blacks and progressive whites, but it was not to be. “This invaluable, definitive history re-creates the post-Civil War period as a pivotal drama in which ordinary people get equal billing with politicians and wheelers and dealers,” praised Publishers Weekly

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Foner traces the complexities of Lincoln’s evolving ideas about slavery and African Americans

More Civil War era books

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