Inventing Equality: Reconstructing the Constitution in the Aftermath of the Civil War

Inventing Equality: Reconstructing the Constitution in the Aftermath of the Civil War

by Michael Bellesiles


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The evolution of the battle for true equality in America seen through the men, ideas, and politics behind the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments passed at the end of the Civil War.

On July 4, 1852, Frederick Douglass stood in front of a crowd in Rochester, New York, and asked, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” The audience had invited him to speak on the day celebrating freedom, and had expected him to offer a hopeful message about America; instead, he’d offered back to them their own hypocrisy. How could the Constitution defend both freedom and slavery? How could it celebrate liberty with one hand while withdrawing it with another? Theirs was a country which promoted and even celebrated inequality.

From the very beginning, American history can be seen as a battle to reconcile the large gap between America’s stated ideals and the reality of its republic. Its struggle is not one of steady progress toward greater freedom and equality, but rather for every step forward there is a step taken in a different direction. In Inventing Equality, Michael Bellesiles traces the evolution of the battle for true equality—the stories of those fighting forward, to expand the working definition of what it means to be an American citizen—from the Revolution through the late nineteenth century. He identifies the systemic flaws in the Constitution, and explores through the role of the Supreme Court and three Constitutional amendments—the 13th, 14th, and 15th—the ways in which equality and inequality waxed and waned over the decades.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250091918
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/20/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 306,048
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Michael A. Bellesiles, once a visiting professor at Trinity College in Connecticut and a professor of history at Emory University, is the author of numerous books on American history-including 1877 and A People's History of the U.S. Military. He lives in Connecticut.

Joe Barrett has been a working stage, screen, and recording booth actor since 1974 and an award-winning and eight-time Audie Award-nominated audiobook narrator since 1999. He also practiced law for five years-but don't hold that against him. Joe is married to actress Andrea Wright, and together they have four children.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Corrupted from the Start 7

2 The Supreme Court Chooses Inequality 39

3 Learning Equality 67

4 Fixing the Constitution 111

5 Defining and Defending Citizenship 155

6 Equality for Half 199

7 The Supreme Court Strikes Back 229

Epilogue 273

Acknowledgments 285

Notes 287

Index 317

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