“Americans’ ideas about constitutional liberty played a crucial role in the history of Reconstruction. They provided the basis for the Republican program of equal rights; ironically, they also set the limits to that program and reduced the prospects for its success. Americans were as concerned with preserving the Constitution as they were with changing it to protect liberty and equal rights. These two commitments were in profound tension. The question was how one could change the constitutional system to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence—to entrench a republic dedicated to liberty instead of slavery—and yet preserve the essentials of federalism and local democracy. Almost 150 years later we still struggle with these problems.”
—Michael Les Benedict, from the Introduction
Historians and legal scholars continue to confront the failure of Reconstruction, exploring the interaction of pervasive racism with widespread commitments to freedom and equality. In this important book, one of America’s leading historians confronts the constitutional politics of the period from the end of the Civil
War until 1877.
Benedict updates ten of his classic essays that explore the way Republicans tried to replace the slaveholding republic with a nation dedicated to freedom and equality of basic legal and political rights—and how Americans’ constitutional commitments, and those of Republicans themselves, limited reform.
Expertly bridging legal, political, party history, the essays explore the fate of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, as well as the struggle between President and Congress over the course of Reconstruction. Brought together for the first time with a new introduction, and revised to reflect emerging scholarship, the essays are essential points of departure for students and scholars in history, law, and political science.
Specialists in the field revisiting these essays will be reminded why Benedict occupies the front rank of Reconstruction historians and will benefit from the new insights offered in his revisions. Readers new to this scholarship will encounter the fine working of a first-class mind wrestling with some of the most complex problems of this most complex period in American history.
—The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Deeply researched, and insightful, these essays offer provocative analyses of the major constitutional issues and political problems of the Reconstruction era. A valuable collection demonstrating the importance of Benedict's contribution to the field.
coeditor of The Road to Redemtion: Southern Politics, 1869–1879
“Michael Les Benedict’s superb collection of essays offers a striking analysis of how entwined the political contests of Reconstruction were with the most fundamental subjects of American constitutionalism – citizenship, civil and political rights, and federalism. They also vividly remind us that mining the rich vein of constitutional politics during Reconstruction or any other era remains a compelling task for historians.”
—Kermit L. Hall
editor of the Oxford Companion to American Law
Over the past generation, Michael Les Benedict has reshaped our understanding of the political and constitutional issues of Reconstruction. It is delightful to have these provocative essays in one accessible volume.
author of Forever Free : The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction
From an eminent constitutional authority, Preserving the Constitution is an invaluable collection of essays on the great constitutional
—Pamela T. Brandwein
transformations of Reconstruction. Lucid, nuanced, and deeply informed, Benedict lays out an apparent paradox: the program for Reconstruction maintained "the essentials" of the antebellum federal system even while
providing broad new national powers to protect rights.
author of Reconstructing Reconstruction: The Supreme Court and the Production of Historical Truth
Affirms Michael Les Benedict's standing in the field, as defined by his meticulous and incisive probing of some of the deepest questions of Reconstruction politics.
—Journal of Southern History
The best of Benedict in one volume.
Benedict’s emphasis on the political development of constitutional ideas is a welcome corrective to conventional Court-centered accounts, restoring popular constitutionalism to its rightful place in the dynamic of constitutional change. The reappearance of these essays in book form, enriched by their author’s historiographic reflections, makes these important contributions accessible to a wider audience.
—William M. Wiecek
author of The Lost World of Classical Legal Thought : Law and Ideology in America, 1886-1937