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Publishers WeeklyBloodier and more destructive than any other American conflict, the Civil War also provoked the nation's severest constitutional crisis. Neely contends in this path-breaking analysis that during the 1860s the constitution was "'twice tested"-in both the Union and in the Confederacy-since the combatant polities had adopted more or less identical charters. Revisiting and expanding on many of the questions addressed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, Neely presents a wide-ranging discussion on federal policy, local activism, legal controversies, and the making of public opinion. Three major issues arise here: the Union's attitudes toward civil liberties, the Confederacy's struggles to overcome state-rights doctrine and create a strong federal power, and the constitutional crisis engendered by the institution of slavery. Of these, the discussion of emancipation is the most significant. Before the war, antislavery advocates had railed against a malignant "Constitutional racism," while finding themselves incapable of stopping it. The Constitution, as ratified in 1787, was powerless to combat slavery as an institution. Rectification of this lacuna required decades of activism, a bloody Civil War, and a series of amendments that would fundamentally rewrite the Constitution, and reimagine the nation as a whole. Neely's argument is much more than a dry recitation of facts; having unearthed numerous anecdotes via scrupulous research, this work is alive with character and narrative.
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