“Which Constitution Is Amy Coney Barrett Talking About?”

Jamelle Bouie:

Barrett’s Constitution is the Constitution of 1787, written in Philadelphia and made official the following year. That’s why her formulation for originalism rests on ratification, as she states at the outset of a paper she wrote called “Originalism and Stare Decisis….

Many Americans think the same, identifying the Constitution with the document drafted by James Madison to supplant the Articles of Confederation and create more stable ground for national government. But there’s a strong argument that this Constitution died with the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

The Civil War fractured an already divided country and shattered the constitutional order. What came next, Reconstruction, was as much about rebuilding that order as it was about rebuilding the South. The Americans who drafted, fought for and ratified the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did nothing less than rewrite the Constitution with an eye toward a more free and equal country. “So profound were these changes,” the historian Eric Foner writes in “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution,”

that the amendments should not be seen simply as an alteration of an existing structure but as a “second founding,” a “constitutional revolution,” in the words of Republican leader Carl Schurz, that created a fundamentally new document with a new definition of both the status of blacks and the rights of all Americans.

Whereas the Constitution of 1787 established a white republic in which the right to property meant the right to total domination of other human beings, the Reconstruction Constitution established a biracial democracy that made the federal government what Charles Sumner called the “custodian of freedom” and a caretaker of equal rights. To that end, the framers of this “second founding” — men like Thaddeus Stevens, Lyman Trumbull and John Bingham — understood these new amendments as expansive and revolutionary. And they were. Just as the original Constitution codified the victories (and contradictions) of the Revolution, so too did the Reconstruction Constitution do the same in relation to the Civil War.

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