cover image The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America

The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America

Noah Feldman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-11664-4

Harvard law professor Feldman (The Arab Winter) analyzes in this probing study how Abraham Lincoln, in justifying the Civil War and signing the Emancipation Proclamation, transformed the Constitution from “a compromise that preserved slavery” to a “moral compact—a higher law that embodies an ideal form of government.” Even as he wrestled with his own contradictory beliefs that civil war was necessary to preserve the Union, and that slavery “was enshrined in the Constitution,” Feldman writes, Lincoln embarked on a mission to convince his Cabinet and Congress that emancipating enslaved human beings would not shatter the Constitution. His efforts to decouple the Constitution from slavery began with war measures that suspended habeas corpus, permitted the enlistment of African Americans in state militias, and prohibited escaped slaves from being returned to their Confederate owners. Feldman also examines how Lincoln crafted public pronouncements such as the Gettysburg Address with a view toward preparing whites in the North and slaveholders in the Confederacy for emancipation, and discusses how 20th-century leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. furthered Lincoln’s project of redeeming the country from its original sin. Though the wealth of detail on Lincoln’s life and travels bogs down the narrative somewhat, this is an astute and eye-opening look at an underexamined aspect of the quest to end slavery. Agent: Andrew Gallo, ICM Partners. (Nov.)