A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview
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Introduction
A Narrative of Apprehension and Application of Principles

In 1870, replying to a request from the Edinburgh Review that he prepare an article on the changes in the American Constitution resulting from the Civil War and its aftermath, the young political commentator Henry Adams begged off. He asserted that the concept of War-caused constitutional change was defective. "The essential and fatal changes in our Constitution were not the result of the war, but of deeper social causes" too difficult and complex to cover properly in a book, much less an article--"each [deeper social cause] need[s] a volume to discuss."

Perhaps, as Adams suggested, his "disordered liver," not the scope or difficulty of the commission, was the real reason for his refusal.1 Whatever it was, I wish earnestly that he had undertaken it so that his analysis could serve as a research asset. For, ninety years later, when Allan Nevins honored me with an invitation to prepare for the "Impact Series" the volume on the Constitution, I accepted.

That was ten years ago. I believed then that I was familiar with the relevant manuscript and printed sources of the pertinent legislation and resulting litigation, which was the stuff of constitutional history as I defined it at that time. My assumption was that, by re-examining those sources, I would produce an appropriate reconsideration of the constitutional impact of the War and Reconstruction.

But instead of being involved in relatively straightforward research, I soon found myself immersed in an enormous, varied

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1
Ernest Samuels, The Young Henry Adams ( Cambridge, 1948), 183.

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A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution
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