April 2023: Understanding Reconstruction - the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments

Please join us in April 2023 for a Virtual Reading Group with Andrew Lang


Pre-registration is required, and we ask you to register only if you can be present for ALL sessions. All readings are available online. Participants who successfully complete ALL sessions will be eligible to receive an Amazon e-gift certificate.


The era of Reconstruction is among the most consequential—but also misunderstood—periods of all American history. Using exclusively primary source documents, this seminar introduces participants to the purpose, implications, and legacies of the Reconstruction amendments. It devotes particular attention to the ways in which Americans defined the scope of liberty, citizenship, and republican government in the wake of emancipation. It focuses also on the possibilities and limitations of the federal state in enforcing civil rights.

The seminar asks three foundational questions: to what extent did the Reconstruction amendments succeed in preserving the Union and amending the Constitution to bolster a self-governing republic? With the ratification of the Thirteenth (1865), Fourteenth (1868), and Fifteenth Amendments (1870), had Republicans occasioned a “second American Revolution,” replacing the Constitution of 1787 with an entirely new document? Or, had Republicans embedded fundamental principles of the American regime into a nation that had long forsaken universal republican government? To what extent should we regard Reconstruction as a conservative or radical enterprise?

Session I: Monday, April 3, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, The Thirteenth Amendment

Harper’s Weekly, coverage of Senate debates, February 1864

Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1864 (excerpt)

Harper’s Weekly, coverage of House debates, January 1865

Abraham Lincoln, Response to a Serenade, February 1, 1865

Harper’s Weekly, “The Amendment,” February 18, 1865

Henry Highland Garnet, “Let the Monster Perish,” February 12, 1865

Abraham Lincoln, Last Public Address, April 11, 1865

Frederick Douglass, “The Need for Continued Anti-Slavery Work,” May 10, 1865

Contract between a Georgia Planter and Georgia Freedpeople, July 8, 1865

Thaddeus Stevens on Reconstruction, September 6, 1865

Freedmen of Edisto Island, South Carolina, to Andrew Johnson, October 28, 1865

Andrew Johnson, Annual Message to Congress, December 4, 1865 (excerpt)

Thirteenth Amendment, December 6, 1865

Session II: Monday, April 10, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, The Fourteenth Amendment

Abraham Lincoln to Michael Hahn, March 13, 1864

Black Codes of Mississippi and South Carolina, 1865

Civil Rights Act of 1866

Andrew Johnson, Veto of Civil Rights Bill, March 1866

Edward Pollard, The Lost Cause, 1866 (excerpt)

Frederick Douglass, “Reconstruction,” Atlantic Monthly, December 1866

Congressional Debates on the Fourteenth Amendment, 1866

Charles Sumner, “Are We a Nation?” November 19, 1867 (excerpt)

Fourteenth Amendment, 1866/1868

Resolutions of the Mississippi Democratic Party, 1868

Session III: Monday, April 17, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, The Fifteenth Amendment

Ulysses S. Grant, Inaugural Address, January 1869

Reconstruction Nationalized,” New York Times, February 21, 1870

Ulysses S. Grant, Announcement of Fifteenth Amendment Ratification, March 30, 1870

Carl Schurz, “Enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment,” May 19, 1870

Excerpts from Proceedings of the Ku Klux Klan Trials at Columbia, South Carolina, U.S. District Court, November 1871

First and Second Enforcement Acts, 1871 and 1872

The Problem at the South,” The Nation, March 23, 1871

Congressman Joseph H. Rainey, Speech on the Enforcement Bill, April 1871

Session IV: Monday, April 24, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, Legacies of the Reconstruction Amendments

The Slaughterhouse Cases, April 1873

Civil Rights Act of 1875

Ulysses S. Grant, Post-Presidency Interview, 1879 (excerpt)

Joseph H. Rainey, “The Destruction of the Free Ballot,” March 1879

The Civil Rights Cases: Majority and Dissenting Opinions, 1883

Frederick Douglass, “The United States Cannot Remain Half-Slave and Half-Free,” April 1883