How the Civil War and Reconstruction Changed the Constitution
The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, enacted during the Civil War and Reconstruction, fundamentally changed American society. They irrevocably abolished slavery, provided the first definition of American citizenship and the rights citizens were to enjoy, sought to guarantee to black men the right to vote, and fundamentally altered relations between the states and the federal government. This class will consider why and how the amendments were enacted, what they were intended to accomplish, how they inaugurated an unprecedented period of interracial democracy in the South, how they were, in some ways, abrogated after the end of Reconstruction, and why they remain relevant to issues facing American society today.
Eric Foner, a preeminent historian of our time, is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he won the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. He specializes in the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and 19th-century America. His book Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the period. In 2011, his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Lincoln prizes. His latest book is Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.