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The Broken Constitution: Lincoln's Transformation

Lincoln's choices and evolution didn't just transform the meaning of the Civil War—they transformed the Consitution itself.

By
Noah Feldman
2-minute read
Episode #107
The Quick And Dirty

Does our understanding of the Civil War and the U.S. Consitution match Lincoln's understanding at the beginning of the war? Lisen to the full episode to learn how Lincoln's thinking changed, and how that led to the Reconstruction Amendments.

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This is The Broken Constitution, a miniseries from Unknown History from Quick and Dirty Tips and Deep Background from Pushkin Industries. I'm Noah Feldman. Over three episodes, I'm talking about Abraham Lincoln and how he needed to break the Constitution in order to remake it. It's all based on my new book, The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America, out now.

In the first episode of The Broken Constitution, I talked about how the U.S. Constitution was a compromise between northern and southern states, small and large states, and made several key compromises around slavery and the slave trade.

In the second episode, we looked at what happened when Abraham Lincoln became president, and to the moment in which he was forced to break the Consitution in order to begin to think about how to save it.

In this, the third and final installment of the miniseries, I turn to the most memorable, significant, and consequential breaking of the Constitution that Abraham Lincoln achieved, the one that transformed not only the meaning of the Civil War but also transformed the Constitution itself. To do this, we must discuss a fact that history has suppressed: when he began his presidency, Lincoln was committed to the compromise Constitution, and as part of that, the institution of slavery. Today, we track how his thinking changed, and how that led to the Reconstruction Amendments.

Click the red audio player above to listen. Be sure to follow Unknown History on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts for more fascinating history, and if you want to hear more from me, check out my podcast Deep Background from Pushkin Industries. On Deep Background, I bring together a cross-section of guests to explore the historical, scientific, legal, and cultural context of today's news.

Want even more? Order The Broken Constitution wherever books or audiobooks are sold.

Image use under Creative Commons License

About the Author

Noah Feldman Unknown History

Noah Feldman is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University as well as a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He specializes in constitutional studies, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between law and religion, free speech, constitutional design, and the history of legal theory. He is a contributing writer for Bloomberg View and the host of the podcast Deep Background from Pushkin Industries. He is the author of several books, including The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of AmericaCool War: The Future of Global Competition; the award winning and acclaimed Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Justices; The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State; Divided By God: America's Church-State Problem and What We Should Do About It; and After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy.